Life isn’t easy for students who live abroad and are enrolled in U.S. universities that operate on American time zones.
On the whole, college students are a caffeinated bunch.
They guzzle soda by the gallon, buy energy drinks in bulk and consume calorific coffee shakes on the daily. Caffeine helps students pull all-nighters, then keeps them awake in early morning lectures. And, when it’s finals week, make it a triple shot.
Add in a 16-hour time difference and caffeine becomes an elixir of life.
“I need this,” says Xiaoyu Liu, shaking an empty energy drink at the screen from her room in Shanghai, China, where she’s currently enrolled as a freshman at UC-San Diego studying theater, a 16-hour time difference from the West Coast. For winter quarter, most of Liu’s classes start at 5 or 6 p.m. and end at 1 a.m. That’s at least marginally better than fall, when one class ended at 2 a.m.
When COVID-19 forced most colleges and universities across the world to switch to an online learning mode a year ago, international students bore the brunt of a change no one saw coming. Enrolled in U.S. universities — which operate on American time zones — but stuck abroad, thousands of students are taking classes into the wee hours of the night, desperate to keep up with their classmates.
You think watching a Zoom lecture is boring and sleep-inducing at 3 p.m.? Try it at 3 a.m.
“I feel like a vampire,” says Dorothy Ga0, 18, a freshman studying from Shanghai, where she’s 13 hours ahead of her classes at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. “I cannot see the sunlight.”
The challenges seem endless: Many students must quietly study while their families sleep. Bright lights are a no-no if you’re in a shared space. And when students do try to get some shut eye, their families often aren’t quiet in return. Many students miss out on family time, including shared meals.
“I really need to nap during the day, but I don’t have time for that because I have to watch all the recordings, do all the readings and plus my other assignments,” Liu says.
Because of a zombie-like schedule, having a job isn’t really possible. Joining any sort of student club or co-curricular activity — slated for noon California time but 1:30 a.m. India time or 4 a.m. Shanghai China time — is nearly impossible after staring at a screen all night.
And don’t even get them started on Daylight Savings Time.
“Why does California have two different time zones,” asked an exasperated Deepak Singla, a question that has long befuddled many Americans. Singla is a first-year UCLA graduate student in neuroscience currently studying from Punjab, India, a 13.5-hour time difference. After DTS tripped up international students everywhere in the fall, universities and colleges took note.