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Reflections of a Student Doing Online School in a Different Time Zone

It feels like 2020 once again. After a semester of in-person classes, Barnard and Columbia (along with many other colleges across the US) declared two weeks of online school. This policy makes sense given the recent rise in COVID cases due to the omicron variant. However, for international students and others currently in a different country, online school is not the easiest form of learning. 

I am currently taking online classes in Seoul, South Korea, which might have one of the most incompatible time zones with the East Coast. We are 14 hours ahead of EDT, which means that most of my classes are somewhere between 12 am and 6 am every night. Most club meetings, which are usually at night in the US, are now usually around 9 am or 10 am. Unfortunately, I often end up falling asleep right after my last class and sleeping during club meetings.  

The first night, I was able to make it through the whole night without dozing off. I crashed at around 7 am and slept for around four hours before waking up to run some errands and go about my daily routine. The next night, however, I found myself falling asleep during my classes. As someone who needs 8 hours of sleep to function, it took just one night before I caved and slept through class. I woke up feeling guilty and mad at myself for falling asleep and missing a whole class. However, the sleep I got that night refreshed me and cleared my head. Essentially, I was stuck in a dilemma in which I had to sacrifice either my sleep or my learning. I realized my flipped schedule was unsustainable, not even for two weeks. 

The importance of flexibility hit me hard. I was already aware of how many instructors began prioritizing flexible learning during the pandemic, but I was never as affected as other students. But being in a position where my lifestyle has completely changed, I finally realized how important it is to be flexible and cater to each student’s individual needs. As an Education major, this online learning experience is particularly interesting. I’m reflecting a lot on my position right now and what solutions there might be to making the most out of this. 

The way I see it, I have two options: to sleep for small intervals of time or to go completely nocturnal. I’m leaning toward the first option, which would mean squeezing in as much sleep as I can when I can. I’m considering sleeping between classes and right after class, then getting stuff done during the day. While going nocturnal might be a better option for some, I find it too depressing to be only awake when it’s dark. I need to go outside during the day and get some sunlight in order to feel energized. 

The pandemic has been hard for all students and educators, and this is only one of many larger complications and inconveniences. I thought I would share some of my thoughts on online learning, and the situation I’m currently in, to shed light on how online school is different for every student depending on their situation. While it’s certainly comfortable taking classes in the comfort of my home, this is definitely not a sustainable option. Hopefully, COVID numbers die down again, and we are all able to return to campus to continue our studies without the burden of enduring different time zones.

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Fiona Cho

Columbia Barnard '24

Fiona is a sophomore at Barnard College still undecided about her major. She is passionate about education, social justice, and finding the best restaurants and cafes in New York City. In her free time, she enjoys film photography and watching cooking shows.
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