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Studying Abroad is Hard; Studying at Home is Harder

By: Nicole Lee

Nicole is a 3rd year international student majoring in Computer Science with a Minor in Collaborative Innovation at the University of Notre Dame. She loves meeting new people, is addicted to fried kway teow, and will stop to pet every single Golden Retriever she sees (even if that makes her late for class).

Gone are the days of scrambling down lofted beds, speed-showering and rushing to class; all of which could have been easily avoided had I not hit snooze on my first five alarms. Instead, my new norm now includes classes at midnight, tutorials at 4am, and a weekly lab session at 6am just the tip of the iceberg of the many challenges students have had to adapt to amidst the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just as offices have made the transition to a work from home (WFH) model, countless schools and universities around the world have rapidly migrated online from in-person classes.

As an international student studying at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, this study from home model (SFH) was taken quite literally for me, as I suddenly found myself halfway across the world, back home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My life had taken a 180° turn, where I had gone from expecting to return to campus after spring break, to flying the opposite direction home instead.

This drastic and sudden change was hard to accept. It felt like your whole world was being pulled out from under you. As hard as it was to travel to a foreign place to study, I found it significantly harder to make the transition from in-person college to SFH.

I didn’t know how to do university on my own, away from my friends, peers, classmates, teaching assistants and professors (and I still don’t).

Where my first class of the day once started at 9:30am, it was now 9:30pm given the 12-hour time difference between Kuala Lumpur and Notre Dame. It was bizarre going to your first class right after dinner not to mention, continuing until 2am, trying your hardest to focus and pushing yourself through the first few stages of sleepiness. It’s not easy!

Studying online takes a toll on you, and when paired with the time difference, it just becomes that much harder.

One of the biggest challenges that we faced with SFH was that we no longer had a dedicated work space. Where studying once took place in the library, study lounge or student centre, study, play, and relaxation have now merged into one the bedroom. This made it hard to fully immerse yourself into one activity, because your environment felt just as suited to one as the other two.

Picture this: it’s 10:30pm and you have a Zoom lecture that’s scheduled to go on for another hour. It’s also that point at night where you’re starting to feel very sleepy. It’s not long before temptation takes over. You mute your mic, turn off the video and take a nap, telling yourself you’ll watch the recording tomorrow. (A tomorrow which never comes.) Yet the nap isn’t all that satisfactory. Your mind is running on autopilot not fully able to switch from the study mode.

At university, other things distract you from studying and getting your work done, but these are all outside distractions, which are easier to shut off and control.

When it comes to SFH, these outside distractions are no more, making yourself your own worst enemy. With the mute and video-off buttons, there’s no one to hold you accountable when you decide to take your phone out to scroll through Instagram or log onto Pokemon Go. Even the fear of being judged by the person sitting behind you is gone.

It therefore comes down to self-discipline. Self-discipline is tonnes harder than discipline. It’s a lot easier to tell your friend whispering to you across the aisle to shut up, than it is to put your phone down and not pick it up again.

With that being said, I somehow also found it easier to get better grades with online classes. It didn’t mean that I was understanding more with online lectures than in-person ones. Perhaps it was due to the fact that academics was the only thing I devoted my time towards.

The good news is that as countries slowly begin to emerge from lockdowns, and as new health and safety procedures are being put into place, students are slowly allowed back on campus for in person classes. This is much welcomed change for university students (myself included)! Even if I had to work that bit harder to study in person, I would choose it again and again for that all-round experience.

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