In Zama, Japan, English senior Kimberly Lopes logs into Zoom at 4 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for class. This synchronous online course, like her second one at 8 a.m., is held 16 hours later than she originally accounted for.
Lopes, who is also taking a third course asynchronously and interning at Cal Poly’s English Department, said that dealing with the time difference has caused her to miss deadlines, lose sleep and struggle to get her work done.
“Back at school, I was able to manage three classes, my senior project internship and a job at the library without any issues,” she said. “Now, I’ve been trying my best, but sometimes I simply can’t keep up.”
Due to the university switching to online instruction, mid-March emails from President Jeffrey Armstrong encouraged students, including non-California residents, to return to their permanent addresses for spring quarter.
With out-of-state and international students making up around 15 percent of Cal Poly’s student body, there are many students like Lopes taking classes in different time zones.
Industrial engineering junior Natali Markowitz is taking all synchronous classes this quarter from her home in Boca Raton, Florida, including one that she attends from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“The time difference has made me push back doing school work because it feels like I have an extra three hours in each day to complete it,” she said. “Also, being home usually means I am on vacation, so my brain has definitely struggled with getting in the mindset of schoolwork.”
For public health freshman Mia Russo, returning home to Bellmead, New Jersey, also meant being three hours behind. She said that even just the process of leaving California was a shock.
“Right before the school announced that spring quarter was going to be online, my parents decided to book me a flight home and I think I was the first person in my dorm to actually move out,” Russo recalled. “Everything just happened so fast that i didn’t really have time to process it.”
Russo said that her main courses are asynchronous with no virtual meetings, but she still has to navigate the time difference for office hours and a synchronous chemistry workshop that lasts until 10:30 p.m.
Although she claims to be more of a night person and hasn’t adjusted her sleep schedule to East Coast time, Russo said she would rather be able to relax at night than be in Zoom meetings with classmates.
While Markowitz and Russo have adjusted to being three hours behind West Coast time, general engineering sophomore Ethan Preseault is taking his classes three hours ahead, from his hometown of Paia, Hawaii.
“I had to change my schedule because I had a class that was supposed to be at 10 a.m. [in California], but I didn’t want to take it at 5 a.m. here,” Preseault said. “So my earliest class is at 7 a.m. now which is okay with me.”
Preseault said that, like Russo, most of his classes are asynchronous except for one, but being hours ahead is still makes it tricky to navigate his course load.
“I’ve missed a couple deadlines for a couple projects because of the time difference and I just completely forgot about it,” he said. “My professors were pretty accommodating and forgiving given the circumstance, though.”
Cal Poly faculty were counseled to take students in different time zones into consideration when planning their virtual classes, and asked to be flexible with these students if they chose to deliver them synchronously, according to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier.
Lopes also noted that her professors have been flexible and that she is still grateful to be able to interact with her professors and classmates, despite it being at 4 a.m. She also mentioned there are positive aspects of being home, like bonding with her family and seeing cherry blossoms bloom across Japan, something she hadn’t seen in years.
While these out-of-state and international students said adjusting to the time difference was a doable process, Russo said it’s not only about adjusting to a new sleep schedule, but also losing the normalcy of college life.
“It has not been an easy transition, I would say, and it’s still taking some getting used to for college at home,” Russo, who plans to stay in New Jersey until August, said. “Online school isn’t terrible, but I wish I was at school. I miss my friends, I miss SLO and I miss the sunshine.”