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. 

Expat Musings, Opinion

Tokyo 2020 Employees: Where Do We Go Now?

There is little reprieve for the many contract workers, freelancers, and interns of Tokyo 2020.

One of the reasons why I chose to study in Japan was to be able to live in the same city as the Olympics; to feel the vigor and unity as hundreds of thousands of people join underneath the five interlaced rings. I, along with thousands of others, joined the volunteer program. I, along with thousands of other college students, raced to apply to the olympic broadcasting program, which would consequently make us employees of the olympics broadcasting systems. And I, along with thousands of others, were let go last week, when the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced that the Olympics would be postponed. 

I knew that the Olympics would have to be postponed. Months leading up to the announcement, I had doubts about Japan’s capacity in holding the Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic. While Western media praised Japan for its efforts and often alluded to the mystery why Japan had avoided the fate of many of its neighbors inundated by the novel coronavirus– Japan had deliberately avoided widespread testing and relied on contact tracing in order to keep the cases at a minimum. For months, discontent over the current incumbent government has been stirring over a multitude of problems: tax policies, corruption scandals, inability to enact social change, and the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The mismanagement of the Princess Diamond, resulting in 712 infections and 10 deaths was just the brim of what to come. 

I briefly wondered whether I should rescind my position. The virus had no sign of stopping as it ravaged through Europe and America. If the Olympics were to be held in the summer, what sort of precautions should I take? Would I be endangering myself, exposing myself to thousands of people everyday in enclosed spaces like stadiums, broadcasting trailers, or commentary rooms? Would I be endangering others, interacting with my teammates, my colleagues, and thousands of other Olympic employees? 

I expected that the announcement would come soon, as countries were quickly dismantling in the midst of the pandemic. Health care workers in America were pleading for people to stay home; city upon city were issuing quarantine orders. Borders were closing down as thousands of people rushed against the virus to return home. I watched as headlines blared new jumps in cases and new jumps in death tolls. A week prior to the announcement, the government continued to press on, refusing to consider any derailment to their dreams of Olympic grandeur. And yet the world screeched to an abrupt halt as everything shuttered down around us.

The announcement was brief: the Olympics was to be postponed to 2021. I felt relief for a moment before the sinking emptiness and realization hit me. Yes, I would be safe this summer. Yes, I would not be exposing myself to others. And with a brief statement that was released the next day by the broadcasting systems, me, along with thousands of students, and thousands of freelancers, contractors, and volunteers at the Olympics, were let go. 

I realized that I would have to do over the series of tests, applications, training sessions, group discussions next year. My place would not be guaranteed. Hundreds of other students around me gave up coveted positions at other firms for a chance at the Olympics. Many of us are scrambling to apply to other positions, only to find out that many firms, facing an economic crisis, have shuttered their internship programs and turned back new recruits. Our plight cannot compare to the thousands of contract workers and freelancers who work during the Olympics, serving as ticketing organizers, broadcasting professionals, and transportation service providers. With rescinded contracts, many may be without work for several months. Most Olympic employees are on a contract basis without the safety net that other full-time employees have. There is no unemployment insurance to collect; there is no compensation for lost time.  At the end, all of us are faced with the same question: where do we go now? 

With the world in disarray, there is little hope for the many who have become unemployed. There is little solace in the misfortune of many who have the same plight. However, we will continue on, as we always have.