International Students Studying Remotely Face Challenges During Fall Semester

Published: 09/28/2020


As the campus continues its reopening effort amid the COVID-19 pandemic, international students studying remotely face academic and social challenges. With difficulties in scheduling and accessibility, remote international students in different time zones adapt to remote learning and socializing in creative ways, at times with faculty accommodations.

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Senior Molly Meng is studying at home in Beijing, China with a 12-hour difference EDT and a 13-hour difference during non-Daylight Savings time.

“Most of my classes start in between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Beijing Time, so I stay fully awake during this time period, and then go to bed around 6 a.m., wake up at 12 p.m. and begin to plan my schedule in the afternoon,” Meng said. 

Students in other time zones, such as first-year student Josh Docking studying in Coventry, England with a five-hour time difference, also found it helpful to adjust their sleep schedules to course schedules.

“On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d start classes at 1:30 p.m. and finish at about 1 a.m. My sleep schedule gets me about seven to eight hours of sleep from 4 or 5 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” Docking said. 

Besides making changes to his sleep schedule, Docking often found himself eating meals at different times than his family.

“My meal times are where I struggle the most really,” Docking said. “Because while all of my family are eating dinner, I’m usually either in class or just not hungry, so I’ve had to start making separate meals for myself later on without disturbing anyone.”

Other students took time differences into consideration while registering for classes. Junior Elena Li double-concentrates in international relations and theater while studying remotely in China with a 12-hour difference.

“Uncertainty about remote [modes of instruction] during the time of registration was the biggest thing,” Li said. “I didn’t really know which time zone I was choosing with. As a compromise, I chose two morning-classes and two afternoon-classes. A lot of [international relations] courses I was interested in are scheduled to be in the afternoon, but there are limits to that. I don’t think I would take a 3:35 to 4:50 a.m. [course] because that would be too much.”

However, Li still found her classes considerably disruptive to her schedule.

“Classes go on till 3:15 a.m. on three nights a week, and 1:40 a.m. on another night. I don’t have a fixed time for eating, basically whenever I have a break from studying,” Li said.

Many remote international students have received resources that enable them to access parts of their course materials asynchronously and are appreciative of such faculty effort. Some professors have also been more flexible with deadlines and exam schedules for international remote learners.

“[Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies Ani] Maitra told me to assure my sleeping schedule before catching up with papers and offered both available recorded lecture videos and great flexibility on assignment deadlines,” Meng said.

While many faculty members have offered students lecture recordings and other asynchronous resources that accommodate time differences, many still find synchronous learning indispensable to Colgate’s Liberal Arts education. Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Timothy McCay requires all students in his Biostatistics class to interact synchronously each week even though most of the class material is accessible asynchronously through online recordings. 

“Recording lectures allows for very precise delivery of material, but it will never take the place of in-person classes. Only by being in-person in the same place can I really tell how well students understand things and adjust accordingly,” McCay said.

To optimize synchronous interactions and class discussions, Senior Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric and Coordinator of Second Language Writing Suzanne Spring opened a second section at 10 p.m. of her FSEM seminar, Rhetoric/Research-Public Sphere, for two remote international students, while welcoming other remote and on-campus students to take the class at a time of their choice. 

Despite accommodations to international student schedules, faculty and students also expressed regrets over not being able to interact with everyone in the class and on campus in academic or social settings. 

“It is also disappointing to not have an easy way for all of the 18 students in the FSEM to get to know each other,” Spring said. “A couple of the students in the 3:35 [p.m.] section have expressed sadness about this as well, saying that we are incomplete as a community without everyone being here on campus.”

First-year Aranya Pal is studying at home in Bengal, India and expressed his wish to be on campus and meet students and professors in-person.

“I think my experience as a remote learner has been different from people on campus in the sense that I feel more like an isolated learner, I guess. Also, I am really unhappy that I am not able to meet professors in-person; that is something that I had been really looking forward to,” Pal said. 

Besides time differences, technical difficulties have also posed significant obstacles for international students studying remotely. Students who attend classes remotely while the rest of their classes learn in-person often find it difficult to hear their professors and classmates clearly. As a result, remote students are often unable to keep up or participate in class.

“The biggest problem I have is with hybrid classes in tents. We can barely hear the professor over the wind let alone the classmates. It was worse than just Zoom,” Li said. “Professors are trying really hard though, but it’s just horrible.”

“During my [hybrid] Legacies class, I can hardly hear what my professor and class was talking about,” first-year Rebecca Zhu said. “For a class that talked about literature like that, I found it hard to keep pace with the rest of the group.”


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