This COVID year has been challenging for everyone. While Concord Academy transitioned from being fully online during the fall semester to almost entirely in-person now, this school year has been unlike any other. The inclusion of online learning and safety protocols have challenged students and faculty alike to reimagine learning. For boarders, the herculean challenge of online learning has been exacerbated by one chief factor – geography.
The time difference with Concord has been a major disruption to students outside of the Eastern Standard Time zone. Students in Asia live reversed lives, sleeping during daylight hours and studying late at night. In other parts of the world, classes take up the daylight hours and go until late at night. For international students in the most extreme timezones, the comforts of being at home are often overshadowed by their inability to do anything outside of school.
Many countries have also implemented strict quarantine measures to ensure that incoming travellers aren’t carrying Covid-19. Limited flights, the safety of travelling, and guardians have also deterred students from coming back to campus, or even coming for the first time. “I feel like I haven’t experienced CA,” said Nana Jiraphanphong ’24, who lives in Bangkok, Thailand. “Sometimes I feel left out when I see my classmates getting to know each other while I’m at home staring at the computer. I feel somewhat disconnected and even overwhelmed sometimes.”
On the flip side, being away for returning students is hard because they know what they’re missing out on. Svava Valfells ’23, a boarder last year who has been studying from her home in Reykjavik, Iceland, explained:“I miss the people at CA, the sound of the bell ringing over the quad, spontaneous adventures around Concord, conversations between classes, and the bustle of everyday life.”
One of the dilemmas international families have had to deal with was finding a guardian within 24 hours of campus to pick up a potentially sick child. The policy for boarders to have a local guardian has always been in place at CA, but asking a non-parent guardian to take in a Covid-infected child is a high bar to ask of anyone.
To complicate things further, certain countries have implemented impossibly draconian rules, stating that residents, citizens and valid visa holders are barred from returning to their countries if they are abroad. This essentially means that if you leave, you are stranded until further notice. Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia for example, have been accused of deserting their own citizens rendering them COVID nomads. This means families can be separated indefinitely. It is a tough choice to make – stay home for a year or risk being alone in a foreign country through summer and winter breaks?
In the spirit of CA can-do attitude, the experience of CA “campus” abroad has yielded the unexpected gift of time with family and friends at home. We were able to buy ourselves a fresh look at what we appreciate most and not take for granted. We were able to reap benefits of CA’s awesome teachers who were super supportive, and have the simple comforts of being home. One could say, the stranded international students are home, but away from home.