This year, thousands of students have taken their college classes from their childhood bedrooms. While many complain of monotony, turning cameras on and unmuting microphones, some international students are taking classes in the middle of the night because of a time difference. This is the reality of their remote semester.
Taking online classes as an international student means losing simple interactions between professors and peers. Some watch recorded lectures, while others wake up at the crack of dawn because their professor won’t allow them to watch a recorded lecture. Group projects are a struggle because international students need to find unfavorable times to meet with peers who live on Eastern time. It’s lonely to be an international student right now, prompting some to take a leave of absence, but professors could do more to make them feel like they’re getting something out of their education.
Faculty must find new ways to accommodate international students as we approach another online semester. If not, we risk losing this population of students who are integral to the University community, or at least leave a sour taste in their mouth when this pandemic is finally over.
Professors can start by adjusting participation requirements. One issue I’ve heard from international students is that they are required to participate in synchronous classes even with a time difference that has them up at 4 a.m. Participation does not just come through in-class unmuting and discussion, but also in discussion posts, blogs and more options outside of class. Faculty could require international students to make up for the time lost in class by completing a blog post outside of class or merely trusting that they will watch the recorded class lecture.
If anyone has questions about the recorded lecture, professors could set up office hours to be specifically used by international students. These office hours would ensure they can still lean on their professors for questions, rather than feel left in the dark because they were unable to attend class at the designated time. Faculty essentially need to show up for international students, even if it may take more effort.
Time differences also prevent international students from actively contributing to class discussions or group projects. Students working on Eastern time might be able to set up a study session or group project meeting with ease, but not everyone can say the same. Faculty could replace group projects for international students with individual assignments, or they could cluster those in similar time zones in the same groups. That change would ensure students can coordinate their schedules without worrying where they are in the world. On top of that, it would greatly help protect the stress levels of students who are already struggling during this pandemic.
Aside from the time difference, one of the biggest challenges international students face is the decision of whether to return to campus or stay with family. International students are all but forgotten by officials during this pandemic. Everyone is suffering, yet for the record number of international students from the 2018-2019 school year, the difficulty is magnified. With GW’s limited housing, international students have to find D.C. housing or find flights home to see their families. If they do choose a flight to D.C., they are risking not seeing their families for a long time. And if they choose home, they’re stuck with unfavorable time differences. Professors can’t do much to help them in this regard, but they need to at least understand that international students only have so much control over where they live while taking classes.
Professors essentially need to be cognizant of the tricky situation international students are facing. They need to touch base with their international students and ask them if they need help, even if they don’t reach out themselves. We’re all hurting from this pandemic in different ways, but we cannot forget about the populations of students who need an extra hand to help them navigate a semester of online learning that none of us signed up for.
Allyson Bonhaus, a sophomore majoring in history, is an opinions writer.