International students reflect on struggles of remote instruction

Photo of International House
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Several international students at UC Berkeley — unable to work with classmates or take advantage of real-time campus services — indicate that time zones are a contributing factor to the difficulties they endure. Likewise, some international students state that they are unable to gain access to virtual services that are necessary for online instruction.

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While most students are taking classes in the same country as their respective universities, international students have to deal with time zone differences, access to course materials and visa complications, along with their regular school work.

International students can opt to take classes asynchronously, and some professors record their lectures so students do not have to attend during the listed class times, according to UC Berkeley’s International Office director Ivor Emmanuel. He encouraged students to contact their instructors for help addressing their needs. Several international students, however, cite time zones as a source of difficulty.

“Students are coping with stress related to global/pandemic issues, finances, school/life balance, difficulty planning for the future, and continuing complexities in immigration processes related to travel, enrollment requirements and employment,” Emmanuel said in an email.

According to campus sophomore Frank Hsu, the level of support for students in different time zones depends “solely” on the professor and GSIs. Students in different time zones also cannot collaborate with classmates or utilize real-time campus services in California, according to ASUC Senator Rex Zhang, who represents international students.

For campus freshman Yuerou Tang, watching recordings is “very different” from live lectures. She added that it can be difficult to concentrate because there is no interaction with the class.

Campus sophomore Kanav Mehra said managing personal and academic responsibilities has been a struggle this semester. Three of the four classes Mehra takes have mandatory attendance components, and he has found himself going to bed anywhere from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., waking up in the late afternoon and racing against the clock to finish anything he needs to do at home in India, as there are only a few hours before everything closes.

“When I was on campus I had multiple hours every day to spend with friends, explore Berkeley, and generally enjoy myself. That’s not the case anymore,” Mehra said in a Reddit direct message. “In general, it’s very hard to have a life that’s not lived over Zoom and it’s definitely come at a great cost both my mental and physical health.”

Another issue some international students face is the inability to access virtual services necessary for online learning. According to Hsu, in some jurisdictions, networks and online services — such as Google Docs — are restricted, and virtual private networks provided by UC Berkeley’s library do not always work properly.

On campus, international students have access to resources such as support services for financial difficulties, Career Center support, mental health resources and other virtual services, according to Emmanuel.

“I see people posting pictures of the campus, but as a freshman who has never been to the campus, I can’t recognize the place,” Tang said in an email. “The only connection between me and the university seems to be Zoom.”

ASUC Senators Samuel Peng and Zhang have made their platforms about supporting international students. Both senators said they hope that accommodations will be put in place for international students in different time zones.

While there is no official data, Emmanuel added that campus has noticed more students withdrawing than in pre-pandemic times, with most of these students taking a one-semester break or waiting until in-person instruction resumes.

“I do believe Berkeley provides support for international students,” Mehra said in a Reddit direct message. “Still, the breadth of challenges facing international students is vast.”

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.