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Normality has been but a long forgotten mirage for most of us over the last six months. Current first-year students ended their high school careers without graduation, prom or any standard sense of closure or goodbyes, unsure of what would come next. However, some hope remained that this brief lockdown would burn itself out, NYU Abu Dhabi would welcome us to campus in the fall and we would begin university in a much different way than we ended our final year of high school.
Unfortunately, the growing spread of Covid-19 across every continent made that ideal situation unrealistic for most of us. As such, it was announced in late June that first-year students would face a Remote Plus start to the fall 2020 semester. Reactions were varied, more focused on the remote than the plus, with many students concerned about beginning their university years from their childhood bedrooms and possibly, even in the middle of the night.
“None of my other friends had even thought of the possibility of the quarantine leading into the next school year. I had still assumed I would be flying over at some point, maybe wearing a mask,” shared Michelle Kim, Class of 2024, who lives in Vancouver, Canada — a timezone that is 11 hours behind Gulf Standard Time.
For students living in various cities across the Western Hemisphere, seven to 12 hours behind Abu Dhabi’s time zone, a set of unique challenges presented themselves. Taking coursework very late in the night causes a disruption of many fundamental aspects of life that we may normally take for granted. Sleeping at extreme hours to successfully attend classes has resulted in feelings of detachment and isolation.
“My mom told me that I might as well have gone to campus, because I never see her anymore,” remarked Gelila Kebede, Class of 2024, who lives in the U.S. state of Virginia — eight hours behind Abu Dhabi’s timezone.
For many, every outlet for social interaction is through a screen, and any in person socialization has become a distant memory. Even virtually, Kebede said that it was difficult to find time to call her friends when she was waking up as they went to sleep.
Another concern with attending university virtually is sharing space at home. Kim, who lives in a two bedroom apartment with a family of five, mentioned that her classes demand active participation from her at a time when the rest of her household is asleep. “Just finding a balance between that is hard,” she shared.
Participating fully in classes is made more difficult not only by the individual complications of each student’s home life but also by the permanent jet lag of sorts induced by these sleep patterns. I know that I am far less witty and able to contribute to class discussions at 4 a.m., and these sentiments are shared by most of the students in similar situations.
Professors face the challenge of maintaining the rigor and substance of their courses while accommodating many unique difficulties. How responsive do students feel their individual classes and professors have been to their needs?
The UAE Ministry of Education’s regulatory standards
require a minimum of 75 minutes per week of synchronous contact for standard courses. Some students have said that their professors have provided plenty of asynchronous opportunities, yet Kebede and Kim both bemoaned the unavailability of recorded lectures and requirements to constantly keep cameras on during class.
Clearly, situations vary immensely from course to course. However, in a general understanding of their difficulties, many students feel that professors are doing their best with what little control they have.
“It’s overall so scattered that there’s only so much you can do. They’ve been trying their best, providing the materials and giving us constant reminders of what’s due when. I really appreciate that,” stated Kebede.
Regardless, not all is doom and gloom in this nocturnal Remote Plus era. First-year students Ella Goeckner-Wald and Addie Mae Villas, both from Texas, are running a support group on WhatsApp for those living in strange time zones to share rants, laughs, advice and everything else with each other. Students who are involved in this group feel that it may help create deeper connections that last beyond this online semester.
“I think that we’ve been a lot more intentional in making friends and it’s nice knowing that I’m not the only one struggling,” asserts Kebede.
Perhaps this situation could even connect us further as a class. “I think the pandemic has made us grow closer together, so I definitely think we’ll be more connected than other classes,” claims Juno Yoon, Class of 2024, who lives in Mexico, nine hours behind Abu Dhabi.
Our present is complicated and our future uncertain, but we have each others’ backs regardless of what happens next semester or next year. This is what the community at NYUAD is all about, and no physical distance can limit that.
Ethan Fulton is a contributing writer. Email him feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.