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Students abroad face disorienting time zones and inadequate Internet access

September 25, 2020

Every Monday, Jill Tian ’21, who is studying in Beijing, China, logs into her first Zoom class at 9 p.m. and continues to stay on Zoom until 2:30 a.m., eventually going to sleep around 3 a.m.

No, Tian doesn’t suffer from insomnia; she is an international student. The 12-hour time difference between Brunswick and Beijing means that, in order for Tian to attend synchronous classes, she must begin them when most people would start getting ready for bed.

This time difference has led to Tian having to decide which she values more: school or sleep.

“I really understand that they want me to be there for every class, but if you have a class at 2:30 a.m., you don’t want to get up for that,” Tian said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Kirstin Yip ’23, who is currently living in Singapore, said that, in addition to challenges with attending synchronous class, it can be hard to navigate due dates.

“It gets confusing, because sometimes it’s due [at] my midnight, sometimes it’s due [at] midnight in Maine, and that’s difficult to figure out,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Despite these issues, Wanshuang Zheng ’23 said that her professors have been supportive and willing to work through challenges with her, especially when she was experiencing shipping issues with her textbooks.

“I didn’t know about the Bowdoin library digital service, they have a scanning service and [my professor] talked to the librarians and figured that out for me. So I’m very, very thankful for that,” said Zheng in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Yip also said that her Japanese professor added an extra class at 8:30 p.m. Singapore time to accommodate her and another international student. She felt that the new block schedule has made it much easier for students in different time zones to navigate online courses.

“I’m definitely grateful that they did the time block thing because I know some of my other friends at other U.S. colleges don’t have that luxury, and I looked at my friend’s schedule… he’s mostly doing classes after midnight. That is insane,” Yip said.

The time-zone issue also extends to the realm of social events and keeping in touch with friends in different locations.

“You get a sense of [fear of missing out] because people are talking in the group chat…and [when] you wake up, all the messages are there and then the conversation is already over, and you’re like, ‘Okay, I guess I can’t jump in now,’” Yip said.

Tian agreed and added that organized events are also likely to be missed.

“You barely could participate in activities like [clubs], because…they would have lunch at my midnight and a lot of times a lot of activities are in the afternoon…I’m [asleep] at that time,” she said.

She added that it can also be difficult to arrange group projects; her group mates often have to get up early or work later than normal so that their schedules align. Yip also mentioned that she has to do a lot of code-switching when moving between speaking with people in her home and talking with classmates and professors in the U.S.

“It’s strange sitting in your own childhood bedroom and then speaking with this weird hybrid American-Singapore accent to people in your Zoom class,” Yip said.

Many students also have issues accessing the technology they need for the classes.

“We have had more reports of inconsistent access, limited bandwidth and slower speeds,” Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Cato wrote in an email to the Orient.

He added that the College is continuing to provide virtual private network (VPN) services to students who need it so that they can access Bowdoin resources.

Zheng, who has experienced some internet issues, said that Bowdoin Information Technology worked with her to try three different methods of VPNs before they settled on one. Frustration with Internet connection was also echoed by Tian.

“It’s definitely more difficult to talk with people, and especially because I’m in China. I’m using the VPN, and sometimes VPN doesn’t work, so I couldn’t get onto Blackboard as well,” she said.

None of the students interviewed for the article have received their iPads under the College’s iPad program, which are still held up at international customs.

“We knew the shipping part of the iPad Initiative would be challenging, but the rising international geopolitical tensions dramatically increased these issues in unexpected ways. Even the iPads being shipped to the U.S. were delayed in customs for much longer than we typically see,” Cato wrote.

He added that when the iPads arrive, they will be equipped with an eduroam global Wi-Fi network so that all students will be able to have Wi-Fi access.

Yip highlighted that being aboard has brought many added challenges to the college experience and that it can be hard to have to mentally juggle all of it.

“It’s kind of a privilege to not have to think about other time zones when you were in EST. When I’m talking to my friends and figuring out when to meet and stuff, they can’t even figure out what time it is in California… they don’t have practice thinking about it,” she said. “So, it would just be nice if people were more mindful and I wasn’t always the one who had to do the thinking for everybody.”


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One comment:

  1. student in asia says:

    Hahaha! As another student in Asia, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one in this mess.
    Also WHERE ARE OUR IPADS!!! lol At this point they should just give us money so we can buy directly from Apple.

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