Almost a year ago, I was excited about the Costa Rica trip and getting away from CA for a few weeks. Flash forward, I’m writing this article sitting in my bedroom halfway across the world in Johannesburg, South Africa. No one could have predicted a global pandemic that has touched all of our lives this past year.
The 2020-21 academic year was off to an unprecedented start, from the incoming freshmen who never got to experience sitting in the chapel for the first time to the seniors who never got to stand in front of the whole school and reflecting on their dwindling time at CA. As I reflect on my own experiences as a junior, I found it essential to recognize that a day student’s fall semester experience will, without a doubt, differ from that of a boarder, from local, domestic, to international.
Day students, unlike the majority of boarding students, are used to studying at home. They have pre-established routines and are more than likely to have a space at home to focus and to do their homework. However, there is a significant difference between doing a couple of hours worth of reading and being on Zoom in class from 7:30 am until 3:45 pm.
To further understand the experience of a junior day student, I interviewed Kiran Bhat ’22. When asked about how her learning experience was during the hybrid learning period, Bhat responded with, “Being able to play soccer and see people throughout the day really positively impacted me, and I felt like we were finally able to have that chit chat before and after class which really animated the learning experience.”
However, her experience with remote learning was much different. When asked how remote learning impacted her learning both positively and negatively, Bhat said, “I wasn’t doing too good academically. I had an A block class in all three STACs, and that was just really hard because I didn’t feel present in class at such an early time. Especially when we had homework from every single class every single night, I found myself staying up late to finish homework and getting very, very little sleep every night.” Two of the most crucial aspects of school are the ability to socialize inside and outside of the classroom and being in a school. Without them, students lose their drive to learn more, and sink further into the bleak routine of waking up, opening a computer, staring at a screen for nine hours, doing homework, and going to bed.
Most boarders were remote for the majority, if not all, of the fall semester, and despite the effort put into remote learning, it is still not the same as being in-person. When asked how her fall experience was as a boarder from New Jersey, Ravyn Hamer ’22 said, “Being remote was pretty stressful because I couldn’t focus in my room. It was too hard to reach out for help because I didn’t feel like staying on my screen for an extra hour seeking it out. My lack of energy caused my grades to start slipping, and I started losing motivation. I felt like I was just doing work, work, work and not really learning anything.”
Ia-Sofia Cabré-Jockovich ’22, a local boarder from Somerville, echoed that thought when asked about her current experience saying, “I couldn’t tell you what’s happening in my physics class right now.”
One of the biggest challenges the students I interviewed and I faced was the STAC schedule. When asked about how the schedule specifically impacted her, Cabré-Jockovich said, “I think the biggest thing about the STAC schedule is that it forces teachers to cram their materials into two or three months instead of just cutting out some material. In some classes I already struggled in, I was having multiple tests a week, which was stressful.” It’s heartbreaking to see CA, where a love of learning is emphasized, shift to a school where students are just trying to pass a class rather than absorbing the material.
When I first started remote learning in the fall, I enjoyed the prospect of starting classes at 1:30 pm SAST. I would be able to sleep in and seemingly had more time to get my work done. But as the school year progressed, my expectation slowly turned into a nightmare. I was one of the lucky students who have both an A and E block class meaning my day ended at 9:45 pm SAST. At the beginning of STAC 1, it was bearable. However, Zoom became more and more tiring, which impacted my ability to focus and participate in class. After class, I would have meeting after meeting because it was still early on the East Coast. My teachers and classmates were very accommodating with meeting times, but there was only so much they could do, meaning my day was actually ending around 1 am. Afterward, I would find myself doing homework or group projects. Like others mentioned previously, the STAC schedule didn’t allow me to absorb the material I was learning, and it got to the point where I was just memorizing enough material to pass the quiz or just memorizing.
The fall semester was also the first time where I felt as though extensions were useless. Usually, when you are granted an extension, you do not have to worry about more work piling up because you only have that one assignment. However, with the STAC schedule, I would have to work on that assignment while juggling all other incoming work. Unlike most other boarders, I was even more isolated from the boarding community because all of the boarding activities were held between 3 and 5 am SAST. Furthermore, all of my friends were in a different timezone, making it difficult to find times to talk or stay in touch. It got to the point where I found myself staying up until 6 am on the weekends and waking up at 9 am to balance life in South Africa while maintaining my relationship with friends on the East Coast.
When my mum and I first got the email saying that borders would be allowed back on campus, I was ecstatic. I would finally get to go back to a semi-normal schedule surrounded by familiar faces. Unfortunately, I would soon realize that my chances of going back were slim to none. All students who were to come back to campus needed a domestic guardian within eight hours who could take you in if you got sick or if CA had to close for a period of time. Like most international students, I didn’t have that luxury, which meant I would be staying home for a little while longer. Flash forward to the beginning of the spring semester, and I am still sitting in my bedroom halfway across the world, and not much has changed. But rather than dwell on everything that is going wrong, I am trying to focus on whatever good I can find, and that hopefully, sometime soon, things will start to look up.