Attending class from the other side of the world

Typing on laptop
Randi Homola/THE REVIEW
Yusra Asif opens up about her experience taking online classes while being an international student.

Senior Reporter

Coronavirus has dramatically changed how students perceive education. The classrooms that we were so used to seeing everyday have been reduced to laptop screens, severing all ties to an authentic learning experience.

Every student at the university is feeling the agony of remote learning. But for me, being an international student, the misery does not quite end there.

I live in India, which of course lies in a completely different time zone where time is nine hours and 30 minutes ahead of the eastern United States. For all the folks who are bad at math (like me) when it is 12 p.m. in Delaware, it is 9:30 p.m. in India.

The university resumed its semester online last Monday. I usually had classes from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EST) prior to leaving the U.S. However, now my class would be from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., with an hour and half break from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

When I decided to fly back home amidst the coronavirus pandemic, I knew that I would be trading away my sleep in order to be home with my family.

On my first day of classes, my alarm went off at 12:30 a.m., pulling me out of my peaceful sleep, as my customized alarm tone “Time for class, time for class” rang in my ear. I dragged myself out of the bed, brewed some coffee (my lifesaver) and sat at the desk. With every sip of the coffee, I could feel the dead silence in my house, as everyone in my family was sound asleep.

My laptop screen was flashing “waiting for the host to start the meeting …” on Zoom.

With one eye barely open, it was a challenge for me to focus on what was being taught. Throughout the lecture, all I could think was, “I want to sleep.”

With phrases like “The dedication award goes to Yusra,” or “Let us all commend Yusra for her efforts by using the clapping hands emoji,” I was praised by the professors for attending their class at such odd times. It felt good, made the drowsiness go away for a minute, before it came back again.

My only saving grace was that the classes were shorter compared to the actual duration of an hour and 45 minutes, with the professors talking for the most part and minimal student interaction. Also, some of my professors were kind enough to offer me a chance to view the recorded lecture at a time that was convenient (They deserve a special place in heaven).

Attending class at 2:00 a.m. was exhausting. However, I felt a warmth in my heart when I saw the faces of my classmates on Zoom, some were curiously looking in the camera while others were shying away from it. Not so long ago, we were all seated a heartbeat away, in the physical presence of each other. Now, we were trying to achieve a false sense of normalcy, learning about math, science, politics and what not.

Bickering about the odd class timings, I must say that lack of sleep isn’t the only problem that I am facing. As I sleep at 3 a.m. (well not 3 a.m., it takes me ‘til 4 a.m. to actually be asleep), I end up waking at noon or sometimes even at one in the afternoon the next day. I come out of my room looking for breakfast when it’s actually time for lunch. My eating habits have drastically changed, upsetting the ecosystem of my body.

Also, being on a totally different schedule than the rest of my family has robbed me of the precious time that I would otherwise spend with them.

Being home is not turning out how I imagined it would. However, I guess the silver lining is that I am home, safe and healthy, unlike so many in the world right now.

From the other end of the line, my experience hasn’t been all that bad too. Since India is nine and a half hours ahead of the U.S., I have an advantage: I am always ahead of time. If an assignment is due by midnight in the U.S., I have a few extra hours and can do it in the morning here in India.

I feel like an ingenious time traveller.

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