Studying online across national borders

Challenges of COVID-19 puts pressure on those studying internationally

Eryn Tan Zhi Ying, Staff Writer

In response to COVID-19, many universities have closed their campuses or instigated online classes. The advice being to stay at home and minimize interaction with other people. It’s no surprise that many students have returned home where they can pass these troubling times in the comforts of their own house and their own family.
Being at home has many advantages, such as a familiar environment, easy access to essentials for school and everyday life, and the support system of a family. In light of this, travelling home has been the obvious reaction for most students.
But international students are faced with a slightly more complicated decision when contemplating whether or not to make the long journey home. There are many other factors to consider aside from the mere comforts of being home with their families.
The first of these factors is the health of themselves and of their families that they are returning to.
With the current conditions, some international students may be hesitant to travel home since they will need to travel to the airport and sit on a plane for several hours. Airports being generally crowded and airplanes being enclosed spaces, the entire travelling process makes international students vulnerable to contracting the disease.
In tandem with the concern that they will contract the disease in their travels home is the concern that, if they do contract the disease, their families will then be at risk because of them. This concern is heightened if the student has elderly relatives living with them. In view of these health concerns, some international students have chosen not to travel home.
Another factor that international students must consider is the COVID-19 policies and measures being taken by their home country. In certain cases, this could prove terribly inconvenient to the student and obstruct their studies.
Cheng T-Kern, a sophomore who traveled home to Malaysia from Ohio, but because Malaysia was not allowing any flights into his state, he had to arrive at the nation’s capital which is about five hours away from his hometown.
Moreover, anyone arriving on an international flight had to be quarantined for two weeks in whatever location designated for that day. Unluckily, my friend was placed in a low quality hotel with poor accommodations and no wi-fi. This student had to buy himself extra data just to get in contact with others and to do his schoolwork.
Consequently, though being at home and with family is an attractive concept, international students must also consider the grievous inconveniences and obstructions to their studies that their home country’s COVID-19 policies and measures may inflict on them.
Furthermore, an important factor that must be weighed before deciding to return home is the time difference.
While some lectures are recorded and asynchronous, many classes still meet online at specific times. If the international student lives in a vastly different time zone, the time difference could significantly hinder their ability to participate in classes.
The impediments of living in a different time zone are exemplified by Yolanda Wu, yet another sophomore who chose to return to live with her family in China rather than stay alone in the dorms of her university campus in Seattle. In China, her time zone is 15 hours ahead of Seattle. So for her, a 9 am class would begin at midnight, while a 1bpm class would begin at 4 am. Because she lives in a different time zone, she must now change her lifestyle and sleep schedule to accommodate the class times of her university. For example, she has been going to bed at 8 pm so that she is more awake and alert for her classes that start at 4 am. Though the transition has been hard and she is still unaccustomed to such a sleep schedule, Yolanda expressed no regret at having travelled home. Being with her family outweighs any inconvenience that it causes.
These are some examples of the factors that international students must consider when deciding to travel home or not, and there are many more possible factors that could contribute to this decision as every international student is faced with unique circumstances. There is no right or wrong answer in making the decision to travel home or not.
Every student has a different relationship with their family, different preferences for their optimal study environments, and different individual concerns for their mental and physical health. As a result, each international student must decide for themselves what would best serve them and those around them.
It is not an easy decision, but hopefully every international student will manage to both stay in contact with their families and stay healthy during this crisis.