For many international students who have been studying from their home countries during the pandemic, TCU’s decision to move students back into the classroom next fall could mean a good night’s sleep.
Time differences between their homes and TCU can be more than 10 hours for some students meaning they are attending synchronous class in the middle of the night.
“Most of my classes are scattered around 9 p.m. till 7 a.m. in the morning,” said Hiep N. Nguyen, a first-year computer science major from Haiphong, Vietnam.
Even though most teachers are lenient with tests, allowing Nguyen to take them asynchronously, the Zoom classes are still taxing.
“It’s not a good experience but it’s tolerable,” Nguyen said.
There is a 12-hour time difference between Texas and Vietnam, where most of TCU’s international students are from, according to the 2020 TCU Fact Book.
International students struggle with time change difficulties
TCU’s International Services program director John Singleton said 30% to 40% of international students are not on campus. He said enrollment has not dropped, but some students have opted to defer, rather than do virtual learning.
“After the fall  semester, a number of our students did not choose to go online again for spring … because they found it to be so difficult,” said Singleton.
Most online TCU classes meet synchronously on Zoom, which can be hard for international students to attend when there are drastic time differences.
Christian Choong, a sophomore graphic design student from Hong Kong, China, returned to campus for the spring after completing his first semester of the school year online.
“I just couldn’t do online learning anymore,” Choong said. “I’m honestly glad that I came back.”
The time difference made certain things many people take for granted, like mealtimes, difficult.
“In Asian communities … eating with your family is a big thing,” Choong said. “I can only eat when they eat.”
And because his classes were spread throughout the night, due to a 13-hour time difference, that meant sleeping instead of eating lunch with his family.
“In between dinner and breakfast, I would have no food and barely snacks,” Choong said.
Choong also thought TCU would have offered more asynchronous options for international students.
Optimism for the fall
Other international students are choosing to finish the academic year online, before coming back to campus in the fall.
“I am a first-year, so all of my experience has been online,” said Khánh Phạm, first-year economics and math major, who is also from Vietnam.
A week before her scheduled move-in day to TCU, Phạm got on a flight back to Vietnam after realizing all her classes would be online and feeling homesick.
Because of further concerns over the pandemic, Phạm’s parents did not let her return to campus in January. She then went into her second semester of all online classes.
While she has joined some student organizations, she usually can’t attend meetings because of the time difference. She uses her free time after her day of classes to catch up on sleep.
After nearly a year of online, she is ready to come back.
“I want the interaction with people… real interactions with my classmates and professors,” she said. “I also want to go back to my normal sleeping schedule.”
As for her reaction to the fall in-person classes: “That’s awesome” Phạm said. “I am ready to … get back.”
Nguyen reacted similarly. “That’s actually very exciting news,” he said. “Finally a social life.”
He added that he is excited to meet fellow students who he has only interacted with virtually.
“The first thing I’d do [once on campus] is meet all of my new friends from online classes that I’ve talked to over the year but I have not met in person,” Nguyen said. “It’s [been] kind of like a long-distance relationship with friends… all across the country.”
For other international students, who have gotten used to an online learning routine, walking to in-person classes may take some time to adjust back to.
“I’ve gotten so used to [online learning] … once in-person classes startup, I have to roll out of bed and get changed,” Choong said.
TCU announced its plan for in-person classes on March 12.
“The university will utilize its full schedule, Monday through Friday, to achieve an on-campus experience with nearly all classes in-person. Space limitations and classroom structure mean only a small number of classes will be held online,” Chancellor Victor Boschini wrote in an email to the campus community.
Singleton said that international students need to come back.
“Every international student has to be back at TCU,” Singleton said. “They can’t do distance learning.”
In-person classes for the fall are set to begin Aug. 23.