After a Semester of Online School, I Don’t Know How to Go Back

As universities open this month in Taiwan, I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy. With school online this fall semester at Waseda, I’m struggling to decide whether or not to take the leap: a gap semester, and thus delaying my graduation. But without a concrete plan in mind, I’ve just been aimlessly trying to keep myself productive in order to combat the guilt of cancelled internships and derailed plans. With just a little under a month before the fall semester starts of my last year at Waseda, I’ve realized many changes after I’ve started online school.

My normal college routine before Covid-19 was typical. I woke up at 8, made breakfast and coffee, packed lunch, and got dressed while listening to the New York Times The Daily podcast. I would buy groceries on the day I didn’t have work or late classes, before the mom-and-pop grocer closes at 6. I juggled school, my part time work, volunteering, and club activities. And when I went back to Taiwan for break, I packed lightly, since I figured I would be back in Japan after a couple weeks. 

A couple weeks in, outbreaks were growing in Korea, US, and Europe. A month in, I bought Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Two months in, I bought new sets of clothes for summer. I wasn’t going back anytime soon. Waseda had announced that school was online, and I was locked out of Japan.

My internet was spotty, one week into online school. I couldn’t access the school’s Collaborate Blackboard function, and I couldn’t drop the class either, since registration had already ended for that department. After tattling to another professor in my own department, Waseda informed me that they had dropped the class for me. I guess it’s good to study politics; I get to apply it to my academic life as well.

I noticed something, one month into online school. Tens of The Daily episodes were left unheard. I suddenly couldn’t keep track of assignments. I couldn’t recount what I had learned in the previous week. I constantly checked if quizzes and online assignments had time restrictions: I couldn’t complete them without checking back at lecture notes. It was difficult for me to post on online forums, even though I had always participated in live discussions. 

While my Animal Crossing island was becoming more developed, my academic career wasn’t developing at all.

Classes were held live through Zoom, or on-demand, with recorded videos. Some classes, normally 90 minutes in duration, were shortened, while some others had videos that were nearly two hours. In the beginning, I would take notes on the slides while listening to the videos. Midway through, I simply listened. Towards the end, I treated the lectures like The Daily: listening while doing something completely different.

There were consequences: I had a terrible writer’s block when writing my final reports. It seemed like I hadn’t learned anything at all. When I had to give presentations, I felt waves of anxiety and nervousness that I had never felt before. It seemed that the lack of public speaking throughout the entire semester had caused me to suddenly fear any sort of public speaking at all. As I scrambled to finish my assignments before the deadline, I wondered if I could ever go back to pre-Covid college education. I had become so used to just spending hours on my laptop, socially distant and academically distant. 

It is imperative for universities to continue online education: protecting students should be their number one priority. Unfortunately, students will have to continue to suffer in places where the pandemic is not under control. Another semester of online school will be difficult, but necessary in order to prevent the further spread of the virus.