From attending classes in different time zones to struggling to make new friends from another country.
For the thousands of Singaporean students enrolled in overseas universities, the COVID-19 situation has proven to be a challenging time.
Back in March, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Singaporean students studying overseas to return home amid the pandemic.
As some of these overseas students begin the new semester away from their universities, how have they managed online lessons in different timezones, and being away from their overseas coursemates?
Youth.SG spoke to three overseas university students to learn more about what it is like continuing their overseas education in Singapore.
Megan Goh, 20, a final year student at the University of Melbourne in Australia, decided to return home in April after only arriving for the new semester a month before.
The psychology student said: “It was quite scary contemplating whether to return to Singapore. We were all afraid that we wouldn’t be able to return to Melbourne when we needed to, especially if the borders would not be open but we would be required for in-person lessons.
“I also felt very disappointed that I had to come back to Singapore. Melbourne is a very nice city that I enjoy studying in – I have to be a lot more independent when I’m there and it’s an experience that I’m sad to have lost by returning home.”
Despite her initial reservations, Megan is relieved to be back in Singapore, especially since Melbourne is currently observing a strict lockdown, after experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases that saw over 700 people infected in a day.
For University of Melbourne freshman Manfred Ong, 23, he was presented with the option of deferring his studies or to continue remote learning in Singapore.
“I wanted to finish my degree as fast as possible. I figured that since everyone was doing it remotely as well, and since there is a lockdown in Melbourne, I thought that I won’t be disadvantaged by continuing my studies remotely,” said the landscape architecture student.
Time differences a hassle for overseas students
Both Megan and Manfred started their new semester at the University of Melbourne in Australia while based in Singapore this July, with all their classes being held online.
However, attending classes in a different time zone has proven to be a bit of a headache.
Megan shared how confused she got over class timings, especially during the start of the semester. Coordinating group meetings with classmates from all over the world is an even bigger challenge.
“One of my classes has more international students, which means that there are more time differences between us. It takes a lot longer to do something, which would otherwise be a simple thing if we were all in Melbourne,” said Megan.
First-year student at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, Luther Chuah, 24, also found it difficult to adjust back and forth between different time zones.
“There’s a two hour time difference between Brisbane and Singapore, so I have to try to arrange things such that it’s favourable to Singapore time,” said the media and communications student.
But as much as he tries, not all of his classes are well-suited to his preferred timing.
“I do have a lecture that requires me to be up at 6.30am, but there’s no way I’m waking up for that so I watch the lecture recording instead,” admitted Luther, who prefers to sleep in.
Although Manfred’s advance placement at his university meant that he could skip the first year, he found that this also meant that he had no new friends to rely on in university when he joined this semester.
“Interactions [with other classmates] have been 100 per cent transactional so far – the only reason we talk is because of group projects. I wouldn’t say that I have made friends, just acquaintances,” Manfred said.
Manfred also described the online learning experience as “painful”.
He said: “By staying here I can’t make friends with my classmates, so the implications of that is that when I’m in doubt or when I need to discuss something with my friends, I can’t do that.
“I feel like I am missing out on the overall overseas university experience. The reason I chose to go overseas in the first place was to get that overseas experience, to experience a different culture and to study in a totally different environment.”
As a freshman, Luther also shared that he feels like he is missing out on making a new group of friends at university.
“The friend-making process is a bit like stalking now. When uni first started, I was looking out for people with Asian surnames to see if they were from Singapore as well. So I would reach out to them by sending them a private message on Zoom, and some actually do respond. Now we’ve formed a small little group in one of the classes I take.”
Despite missing the freedom and fun of studying overseas, Megan is thankful that she is in Singapore during the pandemic.
“I feel a lot safer here in Singapore and I’m happy that I’m with my family during this COVID-19 period. Because Melbourne is so big, it’s hard for the government to enforce the lockdown rules.
“Whereas in Singapore I feel more secure as the crisis has been handled more securely, with all the SafeEntry check-ins and distribution of masks,” said Megan.
Megan is looking to return to Melbourne next semester, and is hoping that the COVID-19 situation there will improve.
Manfred also hopes to be in Melbourne by next semester, but for now, he is glad to be home.
“Honestly, with the current Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, I can’t imagine myself being in that situation. We can only go out to buy food, which means we have to cook food, which I am generally not prepared for at this point in time,” he joked.
Luther is not as optimistic about returning to Queensland next semester, although the COVID-19 situation there is more contained than it is in Melbourne.
He said: “I’m mentally preparing myself that I may only go back a year from now. I wouldn’t want to arrive in the middle of the semester, having to undergo quarantine and adapt to the new environment. I would much rather move in the breaks between semesters.”
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