A Year Of Online Learning: One More Experience
It has been a year since I studied online in HSE, due to the spread of COVID-19. At first, everything to me was very confusing, problematic and I had a lot of difficulties to adapt to these changes. Yet, over time, when I finally adapted to remote learning, I no longer saw its disadvantages, but also its strengths. Everything now is easy to me and I, for some moments, even enjoy distance learning.
I remember the day HSE decided to switch to remote learning was March 16th, 2020. That day was a beautiful March day, I even bought some donuts to celebrate it, not knowing something very surprising would come. I had only two lectures in the morning and the decision to study online only came in the evening. HSE decided to work online, which meant we as HSE students would study remotely, while professors, teachers would teach online. It was almost the 3rd module session, so my faculty decided to move the exams to the following module.
At that time I also had a very important decision to make. There are two choices for me: to stay in Russia or to come home. A lot of people told me that I should stay in Russia. They believed that the situation would get better soon and we could come back to offline learning in a short time. To them, there was no point in coming home at that moment. Furthermore, there were lots of cases of COVID-19 infection from people traveling on the same flight. That is why returning home is a very risky, thus dangerous decision.
I knew that my family would always be there for me no matter what
However, I could also list many reasons to come back home. First of all, the number of COVID-19 cases in my country, Vietnam, was much less than in Russia. At that moment there were just more than 10 cases in Vietnam and the government tried their best to fight the pandemic. I could say that it was much safer to stay in my country. Moreover, if there is a lockdown, it is always better to stay with your family. Due to social distancing, people could not go out and they had to stay at home. That made them stressed, nervous and even lonely. As a result, people needed their family to support them in these circumstances.
As for me, an international student, even under normal conditions, sometimes I feel very lonely in a foreign environment, I miss my family so much that I want to come home. Whenever I feel like that, I have my friends to share these feelings with, but if there is a lockdown, meetings with friends would become difficult. Therefore, I chose to go home, knowing that there was a probability that I might get infected with COVID-19 during the flight. Yet, I knew that my family would always be there for me no matter what. I could say that I did not regret this decision.
However, the thing that made me sad the most is that I could not congratulate my roommates on their graduation day and even say goodbye to them when they moved out of the dormitory. At first, I really thought that the situation would get better soon and I could come back to Russia at the beginning of May. However, by that time the border between Vietnam and Russia still remained closed and there was no direct flight. My roommates went through the online graduation ceremony and started moving out of the dormitory in early July. They even left a lot of presents for me, while I could not give them a proper greeting. To be honest, I was so desperate when finding out that I could not go back to Russia in time to see my roommates again.
I started studying remotely in the 4th module. At that time we studied in two main video call services: Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Both we, students, and teachers were first exposed to these applications. We did not know how to use these services and it took us some time to get used to them. In the early period, classes often started later than scheduled because teachers had some difficulties when hosting a meeting, meanwhile students were kicked out of the conference because of their unstable Internet connection.
Since there are so many international students in our group, we could understand and share feelings with each other.
I remember that time, when we had not purchased Zoom professional version yet, my classes all stopped after 40 minutes and teachers always had to create a new meeting room again and again. It was so inconvenient and annoying at the same time. Especially during exams, you have to guarantee that your computer battery level is high enough and your Internet connection is still stable, or else your work cannot be saved and sent to the system within the allowed time. Luckily, I have not met this situation yet, but there were friends of mine who were unable to submit their tests on time and it affected their academic results a lot.
In the later period, HSE has adapted to online learning and could eventually combine it with offline learning. That was when we started the new academic year in September. At that time, I still could not come to Russia and neither did other international students of my programme. As a result, foreign students like us who could not enter Russia and Russian students who could not study offline for some particular reasons were gathered in a separate group and we would learn online only. This meant that I had to bid farewell with my friends from the old group and it was very sad. Talking about my new group, it is so small that we only have 16 members. Some are Kazakhstani, some are Uzbeks, some are from Russia, some are from Vietnam,... Since there are so many international students in our group, we could understand and share feelings with each other. The classes have also become a lot easier because everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion and teachers can also answer every question from each of us.
However, one of the things that makes learning online so difficult is the time zone difference. Time in Vietnam is four hours faster than in Russia, which also means that sometimes I have to study until midnight, 1 a.m. My biological clock has turned upside down because of this. I have to stay up later and I cannot spend time having dinner with my family. I thought that my academic results would be affected a lot by this. Yet, somehow my results have gotten even better than when I was studying offline.
Although there are things that I like and dislike about learning online, I truly believe that it is an experience that I will never forget. I could not go back to Russia in this module yet but I wish I could make it before the new academic year. Hopefully the pandemic will soon be pushed back so that we can return to our normal life!