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An International Student’s Guide to Surviving Zoom University

Just like every other college freshman, I’m pretty bummed that my first year has been spent staring at a computer screen. However, my biggest struggle by far has been navigating online classes while in a completely different timezone. Prior to coming to California for winter quarter, I was based in the Philippines, which is fourteen to fifteen hours ahead depending on daylight savings. There were times where I had to take tests at four in the morning, or go to office hours at midnight. 

 

Here’s what I learned after spending my first quarter at UCSC in a timezone fifteen hours ahead. 

Find out what works for you.

For the first two weeks of fall quarter, I tried to rewind my body clock by a couple of hours: sleep at 7pm so I could get eight hours of sleep before my 3am lecture. Long story short, it did not work out; I was grumpy, tired, and on edge all the time. What I found worked best for me was to sleep for around four to six hours a night while taking short, frequent naps throughout the day. One of my friends currently does remote learning twelve hours ahead of his college’s timezone, what he found worked best for him was to flip his body clock around by waking up at 9pm and sleeping at noon. Everyone’s body is different; listen to it, it’ll work wonders. 

 

This extends to remote learning as a whole! If you find that you can’t take the physical toll of staying up too late or waking up too early, try to sign up for all asynchronous classes. Though I know this isn’t always possible, you should lighten the burden for yourself as much as you can.

Your health is key.

We’ve all been wearing masks and washing our hands a little extra lately, but taking care of your health isn’t just about protecting yourself against COVID! When your circadian rhythm is all out of whack it takes a toll on both your physical and mental health, but there are definitely ways to prevent that. A friend suggested that I start taking vitamin D supplements to compensate for my lack of sun exposure, and though I was skeptical, I felt loads better afterwards. For years now, I’ve been a big believer in melatonin in order to combat sleepless nights, and I can’t recommend it enough for sleep deprived international students like you and me. 

 

With that being said, supplements aren’t going to do all the work for you. Regular exercise is an important step to keeping your body healthy. Sleeping the day away might feel great at first, but you’ll feel constantly exhausted in no time.  Try to walk or jog outside for half an hour a few times a week to get your blood pumping! If COVID restrictions in your area don’t allow that, invest in a yoga mat. There are loads of short fitness videos on Youtube that you can follow in the comfort of your own bedroom.

Do everything ahead of time.

I truly consider myself a master procrastinator, but one thing I couldn’t get away with this year was leaving all of my work to the last minute. If I haven’t made myself clear, the time difference really messed me up. Because my brain was constantly going back and forth between dates, I was always afraid that I had missed deadlines even though I hadn’t. Do yourself a favor and try to do everything ahead of time. “I’ll wake up early and do it tomorrow,” and “I still have time,” are the devil! Something will come up, or you’ll be so tired that you’ll sleep through your 3pm deadline (like I did). Save yourself the stress and finish your assignments a day in advance. 

Your professors are here to help you.

Being an international student is already daunting in itself, and sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough support for us. Explain your situation to your professor and try to schedule different office hours, or request to switch to a section time that better suits your schedule. 

 

Considering California’s wildfire season, you’re probably no stranger to natural disasters disrupting your school schedule. In November of last year, the Philippines was hit with three massive typhoons three weeks in a row, causing power outages and intermittent wifi. I felt a little silly emailing my professors every week, even going so far as to write, “I promise I’m not lying!” Not once did I receive a reply that wasn’t understanding or full of concern. Sh*t happens. Your professors will always be there to give the support you need, you just have to take the initiative and ask for it. 

It’s okay to be tired, hell, it’s expected. Between attending lectures during the wee hours of the morning and sacrificing sleep to go to online club events, who wouldn’t be? The fact that you’re continuing your education during a global pandemic, in a different timezone no less, is already a huge accomplishment. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back for me.

Maxine is a freshman studying applied linguistics and multilingualism at the University of California Santa Cruz. She enjoys writing about all things travel, lifestyle, and beauty. You'll likely find her napping, drinking boba, or watching Idol Producer reruns. She also hopes to raise a cat one day.
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