Mina Samortin was looking forward to defending her thesis to complete her Master’s in English Language and Literature Education course at Far Eastern University-Institute of Education. However, once the national government implemented the nationwide Enhanced Community Quarantine in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was restricted from leaving her hometown of Barangay Naguilan in Camiguin Island, a part of the Babuyan Group of Islands in Cagayan Valley.

To reach Camiguin Island, one must take a 12-hour bus ride and a 5-hour motorized boat ride in Luzon Strait. Mina said she did not mind going through the 17-hour 590-kilometer trip to FEU because she was motivated to earn her post-graduate course, which she started in 2018. 

FEU shifting to full-time online learning enabled the semester to continue and eventually gave Mina the opportunity to do her defense without the need to leave home. However, the poor internet connection in her area was a big problem. 

The internet connection in Camiguin Island is acceptable on ‘’friendly days’’, but on regular days it is comparable to speeds during the ‘dial-up’ era of the internet, she said.

“Unfortunately, these friendly days are hard to come by so I could only get a signal by chance.”

When it was time to start her defense in the early evening of June 5, 2020, Mina chose to be on the veranda of her house fronting the Luzon Strait. The activity was done via a group call in Microsoft Teams. Before they started, she joyfully showed the ocean view to the panel, which include the examiners and the graduate school department of IE.

The seascape became the background of the defense. The gushing of the wind and the splashing of the ocean water was heard throughout the oral examination. She told the examiners that it was the best spot for internet connection but only before sunset.

However, the expected connection issues started to happen. Everyone had to wait for Mina to be reconnected and eventually the oral examination could not continue in real-time anymore. She completely lost internet connection 30 minutes into the defense.

By this time, Mina had to scramble for a quick solution as she did not want to use the lack of internet connection and the occasional brownouts as excuses.    

Mina called her adviser, Dr. Rose Suatengco, who then became the conduit for the group. The professor connected her phone speaker to her laptop so that everyone in the MS Teams meeting could participate. This was the only way that Mina could continue her defense. Her phone call would last only for eight minutes, then she would need to call again, which continued for more than an hour.

“Doing a phone call was my only way to defend my thesis. I had to use whatever gadget was available to connect with my adviser. She helped me continue my presentation to the panel.”

Mina said she is thankful for the support given by IE and plans to teach in a school in her area. A doctorate degree is not far from her mind and she will strongly consider going back to FEU because of the great experience.

IE’s Teacher Education program, which is a Center of Excellence certified by the Commission on Higher Education, prioritizes offering quality research for the graduate programs, according to IE Dean Harold J. Culala.

Mina believes students should do their best to carry on with their studies because teachers are willing to help if they do the required hard work.

“Certainly, fortitude transcends time, space, technology, and a pandemic,” she said.