It’s 3:30 a.m. It’s almost time for class.
I take a moment to stare into my pitch-black room. I always set my alarm 30 minutes before class starts so I don’t oversleep. Sometimes I hit the snooze button to get an extra 10 minutes of rest.
After a few minutes, I get up and slowly open my door. I tiptoe to the kitchen to get a glass of water, careful not to wake my sleeping family members.
As I click the link into the Zoom classroom, my professor greets everyone with a “Good afternoon.” It’s 2 p.m. in Virginia, but 4 a.m. in South Korea. Some of my classmates sip on their afternoon coffee on their patio before class begins.
I wish I had coffee.
When the first couple of cases were reported in the United States in January, South Korea was the second most infected country in the world with around 10,000 cases. I was more worried about my family back home.
They would update me regularly about the strict coronavirus guidelines and how the government passed a mask mandate where people could only purchase two N-95 face masks per week.
When they asked how I was doing, I reassured them that I was fine and that there were only a few cases. This was in February.
But as cases began to climb at a frightening speed in early March, my parents and I decided it would be best to be with family during this bizarre time.
I was one of the thousands of international students who returned to their home countries that month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I knew that this meant I’d have to take courses during the middle of the night and become a master of time zones. Online courses are definitely not the most ideal way to absorb information, but because I was so close to graduating, I decided to finish my degree online in South Korea.
This semester, my synchronous classes started at 3 a.m., 11 p.m., and 10 p.m. Then Daylight Saving Time pushed time an hour back. Needless to say, I don’t really have a set sleep schedule at this point.
But like most people around the world, this year was all about adjusting and becoming flexible with one’s schedule and surroundings, so I told myself this was an adjustment I’d have to make.
“Zoom University,” a term frequently used to describe online classes, has left college students around the world dissatisfied and anxious.
“Six hours in school is better than three hours in online classes,” tweeted Muhd Akif Bin Azmi, a student attending Form Six college in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. His tweet struck a chord with thousands of people, garnering more than 99,000 likes and nearly 31,000 retweets.
In a report surveying 290 university students in South Korea, 56% said they were planning to take a leave of absence for the 2020 fall semester with low satisfaction for online courses being the top reason. The main complaint? “I would rather take a leave of absence than take a class that only reads Powerpoint.”
New enrollment of international students dropped 43% because of COVID-19 in the academic school year that began four months ago, according to the Institute of International Education. Nearly 40,000 students — mostly incoming freshmen — have deferred enrollment at 90% of U.S. institutions.
Many students struggled at the beginning of the year with the abrupt shift to virtual learning, prompting universities to switch to pass/fail grading options or cut back on tuition. Some universities extended pass/fail grading options for the fall semester as the coronavirus continued to spread at alarming rates.
Despite setbacks, I’m grateful for the position I am in and understand it is a privilege to be able to continue my education online.
Millions of other students have been derailed from their studies because the coronavirus pandemic has created a global education emergency. As of December 1, more than 224 million students have been affected by school closures, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
For children, the number is even higher. More than 1 billion children are out of school because of closures across 188 countries, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Students are not the only ones struggling with online classes. Parents, teachers and university professors have expressed their frustrations and concerns with online learning.
In the end, 2020 has proven to be one of the strangest and most devastating times for millions around the world. We’ve all had to sacrifice, adjust, adapt and heal in our own ways.
On the bright side, I’ve learned to work under tough conditions and deliver and become a flexible, strategic thinker.
And as my college journey comes to an end, I do think that this has been a character-building experience and I know I’m going to exit this situation better than when I came into it.
I have my graduation ceremony to look forward to! It will be virtual.
At 4 AM KST.