Living simultaneously in two opposite locations on the earth

A visualization of time difference between Philadelphia and Shanghai during an afternoon class. March 24, 2021 — Gary Gao ’21

When the clock hits 5:30 a.m., it is finally time to sleep. 

     Every day around when a smudge of yellow appears next to the navy blue in the sky, Fifth Former Julius Huang finishes his day and goes to bed so that he can recharge his mind and prepare for the “next day”—another round of activities on his schedule.

     Since last March, like several other international students, Huang has been living like this because he faces a major challenge physically: he lives in Shanghai, China, which is over 7,300 miles away from the Haverford School and has a 12-hour time difference from the Eastern United States. 

     Normally, Huang sleeps when the sun is about to rise and gets up around 1 p.m, and sleeping during such abnormal times has negative impacts on his well-being. “The first problem is: how do you fall asleep when the sun is rising? The quality of sleep is quite bad… sometimes I need to take some Melatonin [a short-term treatment for insomnia] before sleep,” Huang says. “We cannot disobey the rules of nature. I usually feel more tired after I get up, and it makes me feel like not wanting to do the stuff on my schedule.”

     When Huang wakes up, it is well after his family members leave for work. Although he gets “what other family members are getting for lunch,” he has to “sit and eat alone,” unable to enjoy the time with family members or friends at school.

     “[With] the disrupted calendar, the meal just doesn’t taste as good,” Huang says. 

     In the busy afternoon that starts at 2 p.m., Huang mostly dedicates his time to extracurricular activities because he cannot attend the normal meetings and practices. 

A screenshot of what Huang sees on his computer screen during a history class in the middle of his night — Julius Huang ’22

     Huang has been playing violin for many years. He loves the instrument, which is why he works hard every day towards becoming a more extraordinary violinist by practicing “three to four hours a day.”

     “The major extracurricular activity I’m doing for school is orchestra,” he says, “but of course there is no way for me to play with other people in the orchestra at the same time.” Fortunately, there are some alternative activities he can do.

“The conductor sends out the pieces we are playing for the semester, so that we can practice at home according to the calendar, and we turn in some videos at certain times. Playing with others is fun, and I can learn [by doing it],” Huang says. “Not attending normal practices certainly does have negative impacts on me.”

     Sports is another issue. Huang was a skilled player on the golf team. “Now, I’m not doing any sports for school. I’m doing some sports on my own. I play golf not quite as often because I need to make compromises on schedule conflicts. Sometimes [I] maybe only play once every two weeks,” Huang says. “It’s pretty bad for me.” 

     After a long afternoon, at 7:30 p.m, Huang has dinner with his family members. On the dinner table, he and other family members talk to each other and savor the meal. “I feel bad about missing other meals with my family; when they are at home I’m mostly in class, so dinner is the only thing I can enjoy with my family,” Huang says.

     At 8:45 p.m., it is time to “go to school” for Huang. He logs into Google Meets every day, just like other virtual students, which means he faces the most common challenge for attending online classes. “In the junior year, a lot of classes, especially history, tend to be more conversational. So it is not that easy for me to participate in discussions,” he says.

Huang encounters an additional internet issue that never bothers U.S. students because he is not able to access services provided by Google in China without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection, which causes “slow internet speed and frequent disconnections” during classes for him. 

Huang’s simple midnight meal: a piece of bread and some beef. — Julius Huang ’22

     At 12:00 a.m., Huang is able to log off the Meet and eat something, just like his peers in the U.S., but he does not feel excited about having a midnight meal. “I have my midnight meals alone. I have to have some food and some tea to keep myself focused on studying later,” Huang says, “and they are also bad for my health. They make me put on more weight.”

I wish to go back to school after this pandemic ends

julius huang ’22

     3:00 a.m. marks the end of his night at school.  “It is hard for me to sleep right after school. I just kept doing my homework until in the early morning,” Huang says. Eventually, at 5:30 again, he goes to sleep and prepares himself for another 24 hours of an inverted schedule.

     Huang, like many other students who go to school internationally, does not choose to have such an abnormal daily life. “The travel ban is still there,” Huang says.

The government of the United States currently forbids the entry of individuals that have been physically present in some countries within 14 days prior to the arrival. China, Brazil, South Africa, and most countries in Europe are still on that list. Some groups of individuals, such as U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members, are exempted from the rule, but students are not among them. “If I want to return to the U.S., I have to go to another country for 14 days, and I have to quarantine for another 14 days after arriving,” Huang says, “It’s difficult to arrange, and I will have to waste a month of time on the trip.”

     Although no official moves are taken by the Biden Administration regarding this issue, as the vaccination progress advances globally, Huang and his family see some hope in resuming his education in the U.S. in person. “I wish to go back to school after this pandemic ends,” Huang says,” and I think it is going to be easier to travel the next [school] year.”