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Students in different time zones face challenges, express gratitude for professors

As if online classes weren’t strange enough, many Duke students are studying in different time zones this semester. 

Some remote students said that although professors have been generous and accommodating, Zoom interactions with classmates have been disappointing. 

When she realized that she couldn’t come back to the United States to take classes, sophomore Jen Wang was worried about taking online courses in China, which is 12 hours ahead of North Carolina. She recalled the challenge of choosing a course schedule that would be feasible given her time zone while fulfilling requirements. 

“I was forced to pick classes that I did not originally intend to take,” Wang said. “However, they have proved to be more educational and entertaining than I expected.” 

Wang is taking four classes, including psychology and political science courses. She said that her professors have gone out of their way to accommodate students who are learning from other time zones. 

Wang also noted that she especially enjoys her psychology class, as she has formed a close bond with her professor. 

“I love my professor. She is very compassionate about the situation and has been trying to make me feel like I am part of the class. I recently just scheduled a chat with her and talked to her about the stress I’m feeling. She was extremely understanding,” Wang said. 

During a typical semester Wang enjoys connecting with classmates during collaborative projects. During the pandemic, however, she said she has experienced a disappointing lack of meaningful interaction with her peers.

“Usually, I make friends with my teammates through the project we’re assigned. However, since we only work online now, I don’t know whether I should make friends with people. Not many people interact in the Zoom class,” she said. 

Sophomore Francisco Banda is taking courses from McAllen, Texas this semester. Banda said that on several occasions he has gotten confused about the time zone difference between McAllen (Central Daylight Time) and Durham (Eastern Daylight Time). He said that on several occasions, he has arrived an hour early or late for class. 

Banda also expressed disappointment in online class participation. 

“Most of [the students] turn their cameras off and don’t speak during breakout rooms, which can be a bit depressing. It makes you feel like it’s just you, two or three other students and the professor,” he wrote in an email. 

Banda echoed Wang’s appreciation for his professors’ willingness to be accommodating during this strange semester. He recalled his music professor checking in on him after a hurricane hit his area. 

“My music professor knew I was in south Texas when Hurricane Hanna hit the region. In the very next class, he checked in with me to make sure I was safe,” Banda said. 

Sophomore QiHan Zhao, who lives in China, said that the asynchronous format of most of his classes has allowed him to easily set his own schedule. 

Zhao also said that while many of his professors have been considerate of time zone differences when designing assignments and exams, technical issues, such as Internet connectivity and Zoom crashing, have caused problems in his classes. 

“Occasionally, technical issues happen. The professors have been really patient with the issues,” he wrote in an email. 

Despite the challenging format of this semester, Zhao said he has tried to remain positive. 

“We know it is hard, but we have expected this. We will try to make the best out of this situation,” he said.

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