‘Ungodly hours’: International students grapple with new sleep schedules

A drawing of international students taking zoom classes and altering their schedules to fit international time zones.
(Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

Andy Xu PO ’24 has class from 11 to 6:45 — 11 p.m. to 6:45 a.m., that is. Living in Taipei, Taiwan, which is 15 hours ahead of Claremont, Xu found his day and night schedules turned on their heads by his synchronous classes. 

“I have Classical Political Theory from 2 to 3:10 a.m., my ID1 [Pomona College Critical Inquiry Seminar] from 2 to 3:15 a.m., Philosophy of Gender from 5:30 to 6:45 a.m.,” Xu said. “When it’s sunny out here, it’s dark there, and when it’s dark here, it’s sunny there.” 

The decisions to hold the fall semester online affected each and every 7C student. However, for international students, the inability to come to Claremont has demanded complete reconstructions of their daily lives in order to attend synchronous classes, leaving profound impacts on students’ abilities to learn and participate in communities outside of school. 

“I normally sleep from 3 to 11 p.m. … I’ve sort of learned to switch my entire life cycle to just be nocturnal,” Jonathon Lo HM 23 said. He is taking eight classes that generally span the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Hong Kong Standard Time.

“As an international student, I think that you have to make a decision [on what] you want to sacrifice … I don’t think you can get the same experience from a class by not going, especially discussion-based classes.” -Diya Mehta PO ’24

Respective 7C administrations have worked to minimize the inconveniences faced by international students during the fall semester. 

We recognize that regardless of where students are in the world, they are all making changes in order to prioritize their academics,” said Tracy Arwari, Pomona College senior associate dean of academic and personal success, via email. “Faculty were encouraged by the office of the Dean of the College to consider time zones in re-scheduling their courses this summer.”  

As a result, most international students have found their professors to be flexible and understanding of their difficult and draining schedules. But barring a completely inaccessible time, many international students have found that attending classes asynchronously exacerbates already prevalent feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

“As an international student, I think that you have to make a decision [on what] you want to sacrifice … I don’t think you can get the same experience from a class by not going, especially discussion-based classes,” Diya Mehta PO 24 said. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia. 

“I’ve personally chosen to sacrifice sleep, or normal sleeping hours, in order to be more immersed in my classes,” she said.

While the prospect of the immense time change may have prompted many international students to consider a gap year, the pandemic created limited opportunities. 

“In the end, there is nothing much better to do here, so I might as well take classes,” Lo said.

But the impacts of the time change affect students beyond just attending synchronous classes in the middle of the night. 

“The homework deadlines are kind of awkward for us,” Lo said. “If, for example, the assignment is due at midnight PST, it would be due actually at 3 p.m. for us. I know we technically have the same amount of hours after class to do it as them, but it also is 3 p.m. for us, so do we sleep and then do the homework, or do we do the homework while being very sleepy and then go to sleep? It gets very frustrating in trying to meet the homework deadlines, and then you basically need to revolve your entire life around schoolwork.” 

In addition to homework woes, students studying across the world are also trying to balance their responsibilities to their families, friends and extracurriculars.

“The majority of my day is packed into these weird ungodly hours, like 3 a.m. to 10 a.m., which would actually in theory be fine if I could just sleep for the rest of the day. But I have stuff to do during the day here, so I can’t just sleep,” Mehta said. 

In the face of all of the challenges that accompany trying to learn synchronously across the world at the 5Cs, international students have adjusted to make do. But the sustainability of these modified schedules remains in question. 

“I knew what I was getting into, and I still chose to do it,” Xu said. “Because this semester is a little shorter and it only goes until Thanksgiving, I felt like it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If spring is online, however, I’m going to have to reevaluate. While someone may be able to physically do it, I think that their resolve, and certainly mine, would diminish.” 

In the midst of uncertainty about next semester, international students are doing the best that they can this online semester, one nocturnal day after another. As each manages a different set of expectations, classes and responsibilities, it can feel almost surreal at times to be awake and attending class throughout the early hours of the morning. 

“Here’s a good sensation of how it feels,” Xu said. “Have you ever watched a movie and it was really long, so you were in the dark for an hour or two hours? … Maybe you watched the movie in the afternoon, so you get out and you expect it to be dark, because you were in a dark place for so long. But you get out and it’s so sunny and you feel sort of like you are in a cloud … and you’re like, is this real?”

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