International students adapt to a new normal

A moment from Mr. Thomas Stambaugh’s English IV Journalism seminar with virtual student Gary Gao ’21 on screen, February 1, 2021 — photo by Nachikethan Srinivasan ’21

9:45 p.m. That is when Fifth Formers Julius Huang and Huaidian Hou begin their first classes of the day from their homes in mainland China. With the COVID-19 pandemic triggering the immediate vacation of school campuses and the mass recall of international students, many of Haverford’s own international students were left with the option of returning to their country of residence or remaining in their housing accommodations to self-isolate. After Haverford announced its immediate closure on March 12 last year, both opted to return to their homes in mainland China. 

     Both students now attend their classes on a thirteen-hour time difference, meaning that by the time classes finish, the local time will be just before 4 a.m. For Hou, this has affected his sleep schedule. “So after class ends, I go to bed at four and get up again at noon. So I will be doing my homework while you guys are asleep,” Hou said. 

     International students must also grapple with access to online services. Google’s Chinese search engine was shut down in 2010 in response to disputes over inquiries of censorship. This has affected students’ access to the GSuite, the work programs run by Google that Haverford uses for its students. Huang and Hou both managed to have “no problems connecting with teachers,” largely thanks to VPN services. 

     “I have had no problems in attending classes except frequent bad connections,” Huang said. “I think because there’s a network firewall in China, I would have to use the VPN to use Google Meet,” Hou said, “but even then, the quality of the call can be very bad.”

     Despite living under internet restrictions, both Huang and Hou say they have managed to keep up with school work. History Department Chair and United States History* teacher Ms. Hannah Turlish has taught both Huang and Hou over the course of this year. She has viewed the performance of both students with admiration, despite the setbacks they face in another time zone.

     “In large part, my classes are still very content-heavy, with taking notes and discussions,” Ms. Turlish said. “And what that means for the kids who are virtual is that I do my best to integrate the kids into the conversation.” She remarks on the virtual students’ abilities to keep up in class and at home. “Their tests and quizzes are just up there with everybody else’s,” she said. 

 “In large part, my classes are still very content-heavy, with taking notes and discussions, and what that means for the kids who are virtual is that I do my best to integrate the kids into the conversation.”

United States History* Teacher Ms. Hannah Turlish

     As far as educational outreach goes, Ms. Turlish is hopeful that their commendable performance can be attributed to the efforts she makes. 

     “I’m not going to say that it’s perfect, but I am hoping there is some agreement that I am effective,” she said. “And it’s hard, but I also don’t mind it, because I know what they’re going through is harder than what I have to go through.”

United States History* teacher Ms. Hannah Turlish speaking to her virtual students before class begins in Virtual Village, February 2, 2021 — photo by Nachikethan Srinivasan ’21

     Not all international students were keen on making a similar choice. A considerable number of these students stay in their housing accommodations to take virtual classes. For Sixth Former Xiaolong Huang, going back to China was next to “impossible.”

     “First of all, the plane tickets are absurd,” Xiaolong said. “I think the prices were 6,000 to 10,000 U.S. dollars, so that was impossible.” Xiaolong was also cynical of the lack of direct connections between the U.S. and China following the lockdown. “You need a transfer, you cannot just fly directly from the United States to China,” Xiaolong said. 

“My parents were asking me to go back.”

Gary Gao ’21

     Fellow Sixth Former Gary Gao shares Xiaolong’s reluctance, as he does not think that “traveling through a plane is very safe.” 

     “My parents were asking me to go back,” Gao said, “especially in April and May [2020] because starting from that time, the cases were spiking up.” 

     Gao decided against the decision to come back for that reason, as well as having concerns about “not being able to return to the U.S.”

     As of now, students currently staying abroad are in the midst of determining whether to stay or come back to Haverford, depending on the feasibility of current conditions.      

For Julius Huang, there is still hope for returning to the U.S. in the near future.

“I would definitely love to stay in the U.S. for my undergraduate and graduate studies,” Huang said.

Author: Nachikethan Srinivasan '21

Nachikethan Srinivasan ‘21 is the current Arts Editor for the Index and a student in the Journalism seminar. He is a believer in the importance of the press and its ability to not just inform, but to enlighten others about topics unknown to others. Srinivasan also serves on the editing staff for the school literary magazine, Pegasus. Outside of writing, he is the current Vice-Chair of the Diversity Alliance, Co-Head of the Pan-Asian Alliance, and member of the Notables.