Every year I lose perhaps one hundred hours of high-functioning time due to a certain mental phenomenon. For most it is a rare quirk of travel. But international students and frequent fliers know the feeling of jet lag all too well. It is the inexplicable sensation of being drowsy when you should be alert and animated when you should be sleepy. Though it is rarely talked about at Concord Academy, its effect on some members of the community is substantial.
For those unfamiliar, jet lag occurs when our circadian rhythms, the internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle, are disrupted by traveling across time zones. This can lead to a host of symptoms including fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Every time I take the 14-hour direct flight to Seoul, South Korea, I prepare to lose at least three days of quality sleep. In the plane, I try to sleep at a time that overlaps with nighttime in Korea to get a head start on acclimating. Yet, although I have made the journey dozens of times, I have never gotten used to it. The thing about jet lag is just that: getting used to it is the problem.
The experience is considerably worse returning to CA. On the day before school, I go to bed at around 7 p.m., waking multiple times throughout the night. In total, I get almost 12 hours of sleep before starting my Monday. This sounds good, but the next day I function as if I had pulled an all-nighter. With my days and nights inverted, I am essentially going to classes from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. Then, after hastily finishing homework from four classes due the very next day, I collapse at 8:30 p.m. just to do it all over again.
Compared to other international students, however, my situation is favorable. A direct flight is a convenient luxury that most countries do not offer. It allows me to fly in at around or before noon, while other students arrive in the evening with less time to adjust.
In my experience, CA is neutral when it comes to jet lag. Students are neither discouraged nor encouraged to request extensions or go to the health center. Though teachers are aware that jet lag exists and is a challenge, they will not slow down unless you speak up. Even then, if you exempt yourself from a class, expect to face the setbacks you normally would. I suppose when international students compose just minority percent of the community, changing for the minority is not efficient, especially since they tend to let their difficulties go unspoken. This culture of stoicism, in which almost no one asks for help, makes it feel like you are the only one experiencing jet lag.
Personally, I have often felt worried that teachers will judge me if I am the only student in their class that asks for an extension or extra support. It is difficult to understand how jet lag feels if you have not experienced it in a while, but at CA, where high levels of functioning is required to survive, its effects are magnified. Without a school-provided grace period or support, international students will continue to suffer every time there is a break. If you have ever struggled with jet lag, just know that you are not alone.