International students working virtually, twelve hours ahead

Virtual Students Baoer Li ’21 and Huaidian Hou ’22 in math class – photo by Tyler Zimmer ’21

The upper school building has a new gleam to it, a welcoming presence like an old friend. I might not have noticed how its modern glass and old-fashioned stone intersect if not for all the time I spent away from Wilson Hall’s grandeur. This is why so many of us returned to campus—it feels like home. 

    Even students studying from their actual homes feel welcome. Paul Li often reads aloud in Mr. Keefe’s English IV*, and Jaamir Shaw answers physics problems for Ms. O’Brien, both virtually. Everybody seems to feel close to home, no matter which one they chose. But this is not so. For some, home is across the world; and as our clocks hit noon, three students’ clocks strike midnight. 

     Haverford is rich in devoted students, ready to take on a challenge no matter where they choose to study. Three Haverford Fifth Formers, Daniel Hou, Julius Huang, and Shibo Zhou, have decided to take on virtual Haverford from China. 

     “When school ends at 2:45 p.m. for you, it ends at 2:45 a.m. for me,” Hou explained. 

     After school, local students play sports, do homework, and eat dinner. For Daniel, after school activities include brushing his teeth, tucking himself in, and going to sleep. This means all homework and activities are pushed to the following day. 

     “I had to push my bedtime to 3 a.m.,” Hou said.

     To compensate, his teachers push deadlines back twelve hours.

     “They were nice enough to never set the due time at 11:59 p.m. This way, I can do my homework while the guys in America are asleep.”

     Fifth Former Julius Huang, studying virtually from Shanghai, China, is in the same boat, but sleep doesn’t seem to be his concern.

     “It pushes my schedule back three hours,” Huang said. “I’ll still be fatigued after a long week, and a nap is quite necessary to keep my energy.”

     Huang’s concern lies in human connection, or lack thereof.

     “My advisor does not ask me to join lunch meetings,” Huang said. 

     While Huang has no need to eat lunch at midnight, he still misses out on the light-hearted conversation that provides a break from demanding courses.  

     “Also, sometimes my lack of sleep affects my ability to participate in my activities, and I’ll have to take a day off.”

     In a busy Fifth Form year full of extracurricular activities, both Hou and Huang worry about aspects of their separation. 

     “Because I’m studying online, I’ll have to temporarily put down robotics practice, which is the single most important group activity I have at school,” Hou said. “This is very hard, but it’s the only option I have right now.”

     Hou’s loss of robotics and Huang’s fewer human connections certainly pose problems, but both students agree that continuing Haverford from China is better than the alternative.

     “The United States, Haverford in particular, provides a highly valuable education. The critical thinking skills it cultivates and its encouragement for independence and self-study have no match in China.” 

     Alongside the top-tier education neither student wants to forgo, Hou thinks staying in China has its perks. 

     “I am able to stay with my family for a long time. I haven’t been with them for this long in years.”

     Coronavirus fears in China have decreased.

I get to go outside every day without needing a mask. Everything has almost gone back to normal in China.

Fifth Former Daniel Hou

     “I get to go outside every day without needing a mask,” Hou said. “Everything has almost gone back to normal in China.”

     7,000 miles and a twelve-hour time change certainly create a barrier between these three students and normalcy. Still, they’ve taken the challenge in stride, not only succeeding in the gradebook but also taking an active role in class. 

     Dr. Gottlieb, who teaches both Hou and Shibo Zhou, thinks that each student is not only making attendance but thriving in his class.

     “They’re turning in their work,” Dr. Gottlieb said, “they’re asking good questions, and they’ve done an impressive job.”

Author: Tyler Zimmer '21

Editor-in-Chief Tyler Zimmer '21 has written for each section of The Index since 2018. He previously served as Managing Editor and Arts Editor. In addition to journalism, Tyler plays baseball and golf, and he is often found working in the art studio.