Time for class

·3 min read

Yuhang Liu was 13 hours ahead of his classmates, but he couldn’t keep up with them.

It was mid-October and Liu’s collection of empty energy drink cans in his bedroom — which, ever since he had flown home to Hong Kong during the initial COVID-19 lockdown in Winnipeg, had also turned into a lecture hall and library — had become a constant reminder of how sleep-deprived he was.

“It was like life-support in the middle of the night,” recalls Liu, a third-year sociology student at the University of Winnipeg, about Monster Energy’s original pick-me-up.

From concerns of excessive screen-time to exam-monitoring software issues, post-secondary students have faced no shortage of challenges with remote learning over the last year.

For many international students learning from home, time zones have only caused further confusion.

Liu admits he was overly optimistic about his ability to manage a full course load in a different time zone than his instructors when he planned his schedule; tuning into synchronous lectures at 2:30 a.m. Hong Kong time proved to be extremely difficult even for a self-described night owl.

As soon as Ottawa announced eligible international students would be exempt from a pandemic travel ban halfway through his fall term, the 20-year-old booked a trip back to Canada’s Central time zone.

Since then, Canada has implemented new guidelines that require travellers to have a recent negative COVID-19 test upon entering the country, get tested upon arrival and quarantine in a hotel for three days until results are in, and then take another test on the tenth day of self-isolation.

Given the price tag of a return and uncertainty around in-person classes resuming, Kazi Ashique Mohammad remains in limbo — located in Bangladesh standard time, with a sleep schedule adjusted around Winnipeg time, 12 hours behind his family members’ schedules.

The University of Manitoba business student went home in early December when he learned his father had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized.

Mohammad took his remote exams in the middle of the night, which he said required willpower not to either fall asleep or cry of frustration. He set up three internet hotspots to ensure his poor internet connection didn’t falter and affect the exam-proctoring software he was required to run.

“When this is all over and I look back at this moment, I will not hold any regret. I would just be proud of myself that I coped with the situation,” said Mohammad, 22, during a call amid a study break around 3 a.m. in Dhaka.

International student hubs at both the U of W and U of M have reported time zones and internet connectivity as the top issues facing their populations doing coursework in other parts of the world this year. Even still, both schools have recorded overall increases in international enrolment — by 11 and six per cent, respectively.

Ashley Dunlop, director of international, immigrant and refugee student services at U of W, said she was pleasantly surprised by the increase, given the pandemic disruptions: “It speaks to how driven these students are to achieve their goals.”

Asynchronous courses and compassionate grading are both in place to support students in different time zones, Dunlop added.

In Oman, which is 10 hours ahead of U of M time, Ishaanee Didwania starts her school day around 8:30 p.m. and goes to sleep around 2 a.m.

The 22-year-old student took as many early and asynchronous classes as possible this term. Daylight savings and Oman’s different weekends (Fridays and Saturdays) have proven challenging, she said, but she’s now in a rhythm.

“I do sometimes feel I’m missing out because I’m missing out on live lectures and can’t participate in discussion questions,” she said from Oman, “but at least I can still get an education.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press