Students in different time zones face added stress with online classes

Students who are back home in California, Morocco and Vietnam weigh in


An aerial view of Washington and Lee University. Photo by Coleman Martinson.

Sydney Lee

As students gear up for the start of online classes on Monday, March 30, those who live far from Lexington have an additional challenge: attending Zoom discussions and meetings in different time zones.

On March 13, when Washington and Lee University President Will Dudley announced the suspension of in-person classes and asked students to return home, students whose homes and families were far from Lexington scrambled to get home by the five-day deadline.

Andrea Rojas, ’23, said she felt scared and worried when she saw Dudley’s email. She had to quickly figure out plane tickets, storage of belongings and how to get home before her state of California, which had a growing number of reported coronavirus cases at the time, released a “stay-at-home” mandate to all 40 million residents. 

“Tickets were almost $700, and I nor my family could pay that,” Rojas said. “Fortunately, the school came through and bought my plane ticket and my friend was able to store my stuff with their stuff for free. I was miserable that Friday, but I really had the full support from the school and my friends that helped me get through the weekend and the entire moving-out process.”

Kenza Benabdallah, ’22, who lives in Morocco, was anticipating Dudley’s email before that Friday evening. She hoped that Washington and Lee would follow the lead of other top universities and make the transition to online classes before Morocco, along with many other countries, initiated intense travel restrictions and closed its borders to all arrivals.

“The last week before W&L announced that we were going online, I started panicking because the Moroccan government was already announcing a general lockdown and was planning on closing the borders before the end of the week,” said Benabdallah. “At that time, I was told by the administration that the school was not planning on going online, and that if I decided to go home before they close the borders, I would risk my student visa as well as the completion of my winter term. Less than 24 hours later, the school announced its plans of going online and I had about a day to pack all my clothes and catch the last flight landing in Casablanca, Morocco before the borders closed. I am very grateful for being able to go home, but it has been a stressful experience for my family and myself.”

After facing the stress of getting home, students who live far from campus have yet another possible worry to contend with: attending online classes from different time zones.

For students like Rojas, whose earliest class on campus was at 11 a.m. EST, attending Zoom discussions from California will mean waking up for an 8 a.m. PST class. Or for students in the PST time zone who usually have an 8 a.m. class will now have a 5 a.m. class.

Her main concern with online classes is “a lack of a quiet place in my household,” she said. “I don’t think I will finish this term nor spring term the best that I could now that I’m home.”

For Benabdallah, classes will end much later in the evening than usual. 

“Morocco is six hours ahead of EST, so I will be having classes late in the afternoon/evening,” she said. “I am a little nervous about finishing class at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I know I can handle it and I understand that it would be too hard for professors to adapt classes to my time-zone.” 

Danh Nguyen, ’22, who is from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, faces an even larger time difference. Vietnam is 11 hours ahead of EST, so all of his morning classes will be at night.

“It’s okay for me because I am naturally a night owl, but I can see how it would be difficult for others,” Nguyen said. “On campus I had a computer science lab from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., so Vietnamese time, it will be from 12:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.”

In spring term, Nguyen will be taking aerobic running and he wonders if he will have to run at 12:30 a.m. 

“If I need to aerobic run at 12:30 am, I will for the credit,” Nguyen said.

Still, many students have said that professors have been very willing to accommodate and work with students who have time differences or other circumstances that will make online classes difficult.

“Professors have been very accommodating, saying that they were willing to help if the time zone was too much of a problem,” Benabdallah said.

Rojas said her professors have asked about the time difference, but for now, all of her classes are meeting at the same scheduled time.