Spread Across Drastic Time Zones, Students Struggle to Maintain Schedule

With many students living far away from the college due to remote learning conditions, a number of them have found their daily schedules drastically transformed by time zone differences. Since most classes take place in time slots similar to previous semesters, these students have often found themselves needing to stay awake late into the night to attend their classes and sleeping throughout the day instead.

The college has made some efforts to accommodate students in different time zones, creating possible course times for late-day instruction to match with the shifted schedules of some remote students. However, according to Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein, only a small number of professors have opted to teach courses at such times, a trend that seems likely to continue into the next semester.

Eugena Chang ’24 is studying from Seoul, South Korea and is using Korea Standard Time, 13 hours ahead of Amherst’s Eastern Standard Time (EST). Chang lives in the U.S., but traveled to South Korea for heart surgery and decided to stay there for the semester after minor complications arose. 

Chang’s earliest class starts at 9:30 p.m. while her latest class starts at 4:50 a.m. Provided that she doesn’t have plans earlier during the day, she will wake up between 2 to 4 p.m., do homework, eat, go for a walk and watch some TV before class. 

For Chang, it’s been difficult to adjust to the new late-night schedule. “It’s hard to stay motivated being at home, and because I’m in a different time zone, I can’t really go to student/office hours or go to club meetings easily. I also find that I’m always kind of tired since no matter how much I sleep during the day, the lack of sun and the fact that I’m alone while everyone else is sleeping in my house makes me a bit tired during class time,” she said. “I’m still figuring out how to manage my time so that I’m getting enough sleep, eating proper meals and meeting up with my friends.”

Arjun Kejriwal ’24, who lives in Mumbai, India and is on India Standard Time, nine-and-a-half hours ahead of EST, operates on a similar schedule, waking up at 4 p.m. and sleeping at 8 a.m. Although he has managed relatively well in adjusting to the new times, he still laments not being able to engage in the same extracurriculars and hobbies that he’d previously involved himself with.

“When I was locked down and college hadn’t started, I used to go play football with my friends or game a little, but that’s not as possible now, since most of my friends play at 9 a.m. in the morning, which doesn’t work with my sleep schedule,” he said. “Right now, all I’m doing is working. The rest of the time is just eating or taking small drinks at night.”

Cuong Nguyen ’24 — who is from Vietnam and uses Indochina Time (ICT), 11 hours ahead of EST — also expressed similar sentiments of regret over not being able to be as involved with non-academic activities. 

“As a first-year international student who is studying remotely, there are zero chances for me to make friends at Amherst. We just kind of know each other as acquaintances, but we’re not actually friends,” he said. “And for my friends from high school, they’re all college students too now, and they have other things they have to attend to: They’re going to college, they’re making new friends, they’re living their own lives. So, it gets a little bit lonely here.”

Both Kejriwal and Nguyen noted that, although they were appreciative of the college’s efforts to make things more accessible to remote students like them through asynchronous learning options and flexibility on certain academic requirements, there are still a few key aspects that they’d like to see more support on. 

For Kejriwal, he hopes that the college will explore more courses at later time slots so that his academic schedule will have less of an impact on other facets of his life. “Even if we’re not able to attend the main lectures, it would be helpful [for professors] to provide us with the recordings, ease deadlines or offer later office hours.” Still, he acknowledged that he can “easily shift his sleep schedule,” so he doesn’t feel as significantly impacted by the time difference compared to some of his friends in the same situation. 

Nguyen pointed to the attempts at engaging remote students outside of class as another dimension where the college could improve. Specifically, he cited a recent incident where he tried to attend a weekly activity held by the college, but he ended up unable to participate due to the wrong link being included in the email he received. “I know it’s hard for everybody, but we could do things more smoothly, especially for remote students,” he said.

“I’ve been sitting here, all bored, hearing about the fall festival and all the great things there, and personally, I feel like I’m just shying away from all those kinds of activities,” Kejriwalhe added. “Deep inside me, I feel like it’s not for me, or it’s not for remote students. I always feel a bit excluded from the groups, so I just don’t feel confident enough to participate in all the activities that are happening on campus.”

A common sentiment is a desire to return to Amherst next semester. Although Jae Yun Ham ’22, who is currently living in Hawaii and uses Hawaii Standard Time (HST), six hours behind EST, noted that “adjusting has been more manageable this semester especially after I had an internship in the summer that was also remote,” he also emphasized his desire to have an on-campus experience. “I am very much looking forward to coming back next semester. Even if I have to petition, I’m going back next semester, because I just don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.