I was really excited about college when it first started, but after over a month of virtual school, I feel more like a senior than a freshman. My back is sore, my eyes are tired and I feel like a sloth, needing to sleep most of the day when my brain is hyper-awake at night when it is not supposed to be. But that is only the surface of our pain.
I know more than enough first years who have never visited the campus and are meeting American classmates for the first time. Imagine studying abroad, over Zoom, when it is a lot more frightening to speak up and raise hands to participate. Living in different time zones, our family life is disconnected. When all the rest of them are awake, I am in bed resting; when they are asleep, I am up, camera on, and working my way to function my brain. Our social life is also disconnected because as first years, you have never met anyone from school, and other friends you might know from high school have moved on with college, or just like you, are attending school fully online with more time needed to rest then being active. While there are clubs locally to help you make friends, where you might get some luck in forming a close circle, it is very easy to feel left out among others. Some say the friends you make in your first year of college are your friends forever—what if you didn’t have any friends in your first year, then what do you do?
It’s easy to fall asleep in class, but it’s way easier to fall asleep in class if you are in bed and the camera is off. Try to imagine going on Zoom at 3 or 4 a.m. and being ready to engage in conversations, when your body is awake and your brain isn’t. Even worse, professors don’t send in recording links soon enough when they have it, if they remember to record at all, causing us to lose the knowledge of a whole class period. With such a conflicting schedule, there are many webinars and classes that fully virtual students cannot attend or listen in on; it always feels like our group of students isn’t considered in the whole dynamic of “why we are virtual in the first place.” All due dates are moved to a different time slot, and we find ourselves switching time zones from one to another to find the best meeting times. Student interests are being discounted, and many are considering transferring out of the university because of low-quality Zoom sessions when in-person classes are a lot more interactive and different.
COVID-19 is hard for everyone, but it is especially hard on fully asynchronous international students. It took me over a month to adjust to the frantic schedule, but so far, I have been welcomed into a friendly, warm Brandeis community, with caring peers and kind upperclassmen whom I am very grateful to know. But many are left in isolation and depression, as they can’t connect to peers, friends and family members. At Brandeis, we value an inclusive and collaborative environment, and that can’t happen if we don’t take international students into account. When we are the marginalized group, both in-person and online, how are we, as a community, living up to our own standards? We aren’t the first university in the world to establish an online school, but we can be the first to truly implement one another’s needs. So, I am urging the school and administration to record all classes, webinars and hangouts and make them available for the rest of the school year, making life on Zoom a lot more enjoyable for all of us.