Zooming through university life

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 27 Apr 2021

Under the "new normal," Cornell student Alice Sze's freshman year has been different, to say the least.

She had to quarantine for a total of 56 days in 2020, and even in 2021, she had to take Covid tests twice a week, mandatory for all students and staff in Cornell. Spring break has been chopped up into smaller two-day breaks, and students are not allowed to travel outside Ithaca, New York. And that is just the nonacademic-related effects of the pandemic.

"The most obvious consequence is that a lot of my lessons are online," said Sze. "I counted that three out of 14 of my lessons are in person."

Some of her classes went completely or partially virtual on Zoom. "To be honest, I don't really mind it because I still get to interact with people, but I do notice that I get distracted more easily," she said.

"Otherwise, I feel like I'm learning pretty much as I did before the pandemic came along."

She also finds the recorded lectures helpful, as she can rewatch classes to revise and study. Online classes also mean that she can save time spent commuting for an extra hour of sleep.

For group projects, while she has not been able to meet any of her groupmates in person, she found that it is more convenient for her, as it is much easier to make plans with a group of people virtually.

"I've coded on Zoom with my friend before, and it's fine. It's not as bad as you might think."

While some may think that an online education means there is no supervision in tests and exams and therefore room for cheating, professors and lecturers seem to have found a way around it.

Most of Sze's examinations are online.

"A lot of them are open notes, because sometimes, the professors think that if you can't stop the students from cheating, the fairest way to do this is to let everyone have their notes and they just make the questions harder. So even if you have the notes, you can't really cheat - you just have to do it, and that's pretty clever."

Another option is a Zoom-proctored examination, which means that teachers can monitor the students through the web camera to see if anyone is cheating. Some examinations even employ a hybrid mode, whereby some students do their examination online and others do it in class.

Even though Sze makes the most of her situation and can still hang out with close friends, she misses the ability to make friends and talk to other schoolmates in general.

But a new normal comes with new adaptations, even for the lonely.

"It's definitely harder to make friends now, but the opportunities are still everywhere if you want them," said Sze. "I've been on quite a few speed friending sessions on Zoom where you get five minutes with each person, and then after the five minutes, you rotate and you see another person."

Luckily, with more and more people in America getting vaccinated, things are starting to look better, even though there are still sororities and fraternities hosting parties during the pandemic.

"Generally, Americans are a little bit more reckless as well, compared to Asians," said Sze.

Even though her short university life has been unusual and sometimes even annoying with all the restrictions in place, Sze understands that it is for the students' safety and believes the school should do more in implementing the rules and penalties.

Coinciding with her venture into a new stage of life during this unfamiliar time, Sze's advice to students is: "You just have to be prepared and be okay with failing or having obstacles in your way. But it doesn't matter, because if you've given something a go, that's all that matters, so I think my word is confidence. Just be confident, do what you want, do what you think is best for you - then you'll be fine."


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