Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Student Life in the Time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted students all around the world. Cady Deck, HNC Certificate '19 + SAIS MA '20, interviewed current HNC students about adjusting to online classes and stay-at-home orders. 

Joe (HNC Certificate to MAIS): Guizhou, China
Dwight (2nd year MAIS): Nanjing, China
Morgan (2nd year MAIS): Washington, DC
Randall (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, China Studies): South Carolina
Alex (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, International Development): Washington, DC
Ryan (HNC Certificate + SAIS MA, China Studies): Washington, DC

Empty Metro station in Washington, DC.

How is the adjustment to online classes going?

Morgan: The adjustment to online classes hasn't been too bad. Luckily, I took nearly all of my classes at the HNC during my first 3 semesters. This semester I am only taking one class so I can focus on writing my thesis. The class I’m taking, 全球环境基础 (Global Environmental Fundamentals), has been as good as can be expected! Professor 张海燕 (Zhang Haiyan) is really great and has worked hard to make the transition as smooth as possible. I’m happy to report that all of her graphs are legible, her microphone always works, and we don't seem to have any technology-related issues. She has been extremely understanding of the challenges people are facing during this time.

A meme that sums up Ryan's
Ryan: The transition to online classes has been relatively smooth. I think all of my professors realize the gravity of the situation and as a result made some pretty important adjustments to class requirements and expectations that made it more manageable with moving online. I do find that it’s easier to stay engaged in my classes that do weekly Zoom calls compared to my two classes that do pre-recorded lectures.

Randall: Adjusting to online classes has been a challenge. I am a creature of habit who is used to arriving at the classroom early to find a front-row seat, then finding a quiet spot in the library to study, and finally going home to cook and unwind. Now that these three places have been combined into one, it has been a challenge to switch between mindsets I had associated with different physical locations. Along with that comes plenty of distractions, including having so many blinking faces on my computer screen when class is in session!

How has your internship been affected by the transition online?

Alex: At my internship with the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) we have weekly Zoom meetings, and I work with my partner on a 6-hour Zoom call which replicates pre-shelter-in-place conditions pretty well. I also have a summer internship lined up that’s gone through some pretty drastic changes. Originally, I was slated to spend 10 weeks in Zambia working on a lessons learned report for a project taking place there, and while I’ll still be writing that report it will now be based on video interviews and information passed along from colleagues on the ground in Zambia.

Ryan: C4ADS has been very accommodating about internships moving remote. I’d previously been handed a fair bit of independence (for an intern), so I could continue working on my projects on my own with somewhat reduced communication with my supervisor. It hasn’t all been perfect though: last week I spilled coffee on my work laptop and it’s kaput! I’m now set up on my personal computer, so I can keep working! 

How are you staying focused to finish your thesis? (MAIS-specific question) 

Morgan working on her MAIS thesis.
Morgan: I find that the best way for me to stay focused during this time is to set up tasks that I need to accomplish before I can do the fun things I want to do. I have a lot of thesis deadlines this semester, so I set a daily character count that I need to reach before I can relax. 

Because my thesis partner Leilei is still in China, we message pretty much every night and send each other drafts for review. In the mornings sometimes we have calls to go over any questions we have. But we also spend a bunch of that time catching up because I miss her. It's been really great to stay connected even though we're not physically together.

How do you spend your free time?

Joe: Free time these days is spent sending out summer internship applications, doing thesis readings, going on walks, and occasionally meeting with people in the area I haven't seen in months. There hasn't been a reported case of COVID-19 here in Tongren for over a month now, so it's starting to feel like things are getting back to normal.

Joe exploring Tongren.

Dwight: I’m in Nanjing now and the city has lifted most restrictions related to travel and group gatherings. So, I’ve been able to see a few classmates who happen to be in the city. Besides that, I’ve walked all over the place and finished quite a few novels. 

Randall: I went to my grandmother's house for Spring Break and decided to stay and look after her until the situation improves. She and I have spent time together cooking, flipping through old photo albums, and sneaking out for quick walks when the coast is clear. Looking at old pictures may have rekindled my childhood passion for drawing, though, because I’ve been making pictures depicting funny things that happen each week and sending them to family and friends to make them laugh. 

A local playground in South Carolina taped off.

Alex: Schoolwork has kept me pretty busy, but in the evenings and on weekends I’ve been doing a variety of things to stay sane. My roommates and I started with the quarantine right-of-passage viewing of Contagion and we watch movies on a pretty regular basis. We also play board/card games and indulge in the occasional pancake brunch together. I’ve also gotten in touch with some friends and family that I hadn’t talked to in a while, which has been nice.

(Left) Alex playing Betrayal Legacy with his roommates.
(Right) "HNC house" pancake brunch.

Ryan: In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t had much extra free time because my workload and internship schedule have remained mostly the same. But I’m taking every chance I have now to run every day. In lieu of our weekly bar trivia, my roommates organized a group of around 15 people from undergrad to do weekly Zoom trivia! Each week, there’s a trivia host who arranges a trivia night in the same vein as any bar trivia. We split into virtual teams based on where we’re currently living (Baltimore vs. DC vs. Virginia). It’s been a lot of fun!

Sunset run over the Connecticut Avenue Bridge
in Washington, DC.

Morgan: I'm lucky to be self-isolating with 5 of my best friends from the HNC in DC so I'm honestly having a great time! We set up an events calendar for the isolation period. We've been playing a lot of Overcooked, started the board game Betrayal Legacy, did some yoga on the porch and binged a lot of Netflix/movies together. When I'm not hanging with the housemates, I've been enjoying having some free time to actually read books for fun.

(Left) Morgan and a few of her housemates enjoying an afternoon yoga session on the porch.
Morgan watching Saw VI with housemates, cookies, and popcorn.

Any final thoughts?

Randall: Having lived in Wuhan for just shy of two years before ultimately becoming a SAIS student, I have been in more frequent contact with close friends there for the past several months. Although Chinese New Year greetings via WeChat were not as cheerful as they had been in years past, fortunately everyone I know there is safe and healthy. It has been remarkable to see the city bounce back with the Wuhanese resilience I have come to know and love for the past seven years. It has also been very touching to receive messages back from friends in Wuhan and all across China checking in on me and my family during these uncertain times. Stay safe and stay healthy, everyone!

Cherry blossoms line a neighborhood street near the "HNC house" in Washington, DC.

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate '19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '20.