Art by Madeline Duvall
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pepperdine decided to hold the fall 2020 semester online. International students, unlike students living in the United States, will face new challenges because of this decision.
“International students have to fight against distance: between time, place, people — and everything in the future is unknown,” graduate student Liuyi Jiang said.
One major problem affecting international students is obtaining all the materials needed to enter the U.S., including visas. First-year Yuka Shimazaki said visa reservations at the embassy are limited. She checked the webpage often, and each time, the spots were full.
“First-year students from all over the world need visas before entering the U.S., and all of us will compete for visa interview appointments before coming to the U.S. next spring — and at this rate, we might not be able to secure a place,” Shimazaki said.
International students also struggle with certifications and plans. Jiang said she had to reschedule countless personal affairs for the fall, including booking her international student visa and the plane ticket.
An additional problem for international students is what Shimazaki calls “the jet lag problem.” Shimazaki said she now has to wake up early in the morning or stay awake until midnight to take online courses.
“We have to adjust our biological clock to fit in with Los Angeles time,” Shimazaki said.
In addition to the problem of different time zones, Shimazaki said she thinks learning efficiency has declined due to the change in class format.
Shimazaki said both in-person and Zoom courses involve group discussions, but she found last semester that both students’ attitudes and participation differ online. In Zoom classrooms, she said she thinks students in quarantine are more likely to converse about their daily life than they would in in-person classes.
Weina Li Chen, a professor at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, said instructors need to develop more engaging techniques for online courses, such as group discussions or warm-up activities.
“After the courses moved to an online space this spring, it greatly impacted teaching,” Chen said. “A welcoming and connected learning environment is critical.”
Chen said she designed a warm-up activity that allows students to introduce their surroundings and share their personalities and lives. She asked students to choose three things in their room and explain how each represented themselves.
“Warm-up activities increase the social presence in this online space and therefore increase student engagement and a sense of togetherness,” Chen said.
Chen said she also invited students from other courses to be guest speakers, promoting cross-curricular learning and maintaining students’ interest.
Jiang said fall-semester courses are always hard for international students adjusting to living in a foreign country, but since international students cannot come to the U.S. this fall, they may face additional obstacles.
“The fall semester is all about learning to adapt to a new life,” Jiang said, adding that because of remote instruction, “We miss the transitional period.”
Angie Hoang, enrollment officer of Graduate School of Education and Psychology, said international students may also face internet issues because some students require breaks to access the internet.
“If the WiFi or breaks do not work well and we don’t record the class, we might miss an important part of the course,” Shimazaki said.
Chen said online courses require teachers to master electronic devices. Graduate student Siqi Liu, however, said she worried about some professors’ capabilities in handling web-based tools; if professors cannot operate the electronic equipment well, the learning efficiency will decline.
Jiang said her Business Analytics program needs additional software to operate, and if the professor cannot use Zoom well, then the class would be a waste of time.
“In an instance of too many technical difficulties, some professors might not offer their courses live, or the seminar courses may turn into lectures,” Liu said.
Moving to an online classroom is a major challenge for Jiang’s program, she said, because students consequently lose chances to communicate face to face.
Jiang said most job interviews in her area ask applicants to explain and analyze a case in person. She said students have already lost opportunities to speak in front of physical audiences, so more practice in this presentation style is essential considering the purpose of the classes.
International students also face the challenges of purchasing textbooks that are both expensive and primarily manufactured in the U.S., Jiang said.
“Some textbooks are not able be found in my home country, and so it is inconvenient for international students, who spend their first semester in their home country, to find these course materials,” Jiang said.
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