Learning in Different Time Zones: What Is It Like to Be a Student in COVID-19 Age

Ever since COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, many things have changed in the education sector, as institutions had to move to online classes in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Numerous students had to commence their first-year studies remotely, while many of them were forced to head again to their home countries and continue from there their studies left in half.

Learning in different time zones can affect students’ lives in many ways, including their lifestyle, behaviours, schedules and more. For many of them, taking online classes was difficult and in some cases, almost impossible, as they could not attend courses due to time-zone differences.

Nearly 70 per cent of students had negative opinions over online education, a survey carried out by Easy Group, which is an education company established by University of Toronto alumni, has revealed.

For Sumaiya Tabassum from Bangladesh, who is a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, being a student in the Coronavirus age is quite challenging, yet unique.

In the beginning, she wasn’t entirely convinced whether she should start classes remotely or defer another semester due to the 12 hours time difference between her home country and Nebraska.

Nevertheless, in order to not waste time, she decided to take classes online. Although her classes are not synchronous and lectures are mostly recorded and uploaded on the “canvas platform” which the university uses, Sumaiya said sometimes it happens to have presentations at 4 am, and 5 am.

“It was quite tough. I stayed up all night because I was afraid that if I go to sleep, I would not be able to wake up on time. So I finished my presentation at 6 am and then went to sleep,” she told Erudera College News.

Currently, she is taking four classes online, in total 12 credit hours, each class having three credit hours.

Sumaiya, back in 2018 in Washington DC during a poster presentation in American Geophysical Union conference. After that she went back to Bangladesh.

Among other things, she noted that by switching to the online semester, professors have been very supportive and every time she has found any difficulties, they have replied within 1 or 2 hours. Moreover, she also pointed out that online classes have been very well organized so far.

“Professors upload lecture recordings and materials on canvas. We usually have 2/3 assignments each week for each of the courses. Assignments are also submitted on canvas. There are discussion boards on canvas where we can interact with our peers and reflect on our learning,” she said.

When asked whether the online classes are causing any difficulties in her life, Sumaiya claimed that there is a difference, especially in the interaction part, as according to her, in-person interaction is very important for growth in general.

Her only bad feeling during the online semester has been missing the outside world and connection with other people, which has sometimes caused her fatigue while being home all the time.

“I miss that real-world thing. I miss the interaction part, making new friends, talking, drinking coffee during breaks and all these staffs. I miss going to class, going to campus. I also have to sit in front of the laptop most of the time, which I do not like. I actually miss going outside,” she emphasized.

Sumaiyas’s graduation convocation in Bangladesh.

Similar to Sumaiya, Jen Wang, a student in the second year of studies described online learning as a challenge.

She told DukeChronicle that at the beginning, she was concerned to follow lessons remotely from China as it is 12 hours ahead of North Carolina, adding that she also had to choose courses which she was not supposed to take. Yet, she claimed that these courses had been more educational than expected.

Whereas, in a blog post published by the Daily Princetonian, Won-Jae Chang who is a first-year from New York and Seoul, South Korea, wrote that the feeling of being overlooked is the hardest thing as an international student in the Coronavirus times.

“Whenever I have a class past midnight, or an event that is held at 4 am local time, it is not just the time zone that presents an issue. It is also the mentality that comes with feeling that you and your fellow international students have once again been overlooked in a decision that could well have been avoided by a simple adjustment,” the blog post reads.

According to him, although international students could be a minority in the student population, they should not sacrifice sleep and life just to not be excluded.

Despite COVID-19 developments, many countries have begun easing restrictions for international students. The University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa has announced lately that it is considering asking students and faculty to recommence full-time in-person work on campus at the beginning of January.

In addition, due to a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in France, the French President Emmanuel Macron said that starting from January 20, 2021, sports halls and restaurants could reopen. According to him, 15 days later, high schools and universities will be permitted to resume face-to-face lessons.

According to UNESCO, there were more than 5 million international students across the world in 2017, up from 2 million, which were in 2000.

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