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Students in different time zones are feeling unsupported and unaccommodated by the university

By: Aislyn Sax, Contributor and Elisa Do, News Reporter

In the Fall semester of 2020, McMaster University has become a ghost town with many students enrolled in exclusively online classes or with occasional in-person labs. 

This transition has allowed many students to live away from campus throughout the school year and significantly impacted the lives of international students. With different time zones, international students now often face the challenge of writing exams at inconvenient times during the day. 

Annie Deng is a math and stats student in her third year. She decided to stay in her home country of China for the fall semester. 

“The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said.

“The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said. 

However, as soon as the semester started, Deng found that staying in China brought other challenges. Deng now has classes at 2 a.m. and realized that the Registrar scheduled her final exams at 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. in her time zone. 

To resolve the time zone issues, Deng considered completely changing her sleep schedule, but family duties have made this option unrealistic. Instead, she decided to change her sleep schedule just for the days of exams and tests. 

“It’s simply exhausting. Even if I try to sleep four more hours during the day, I still can’t function normally at those hours,” Deng added.  

Deng had contacted her professors to ask if she could write the midterm tests at a different time but was met with an unsatisfying answer.

“It seemed like my professors don’t know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

“It seemed like my professors don’t know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

When she tried to reschedule, Deng was faced with more problems. After being referred to several different places and attempting to contact people, Deng was yet again unable to seek a fulfilling answer. She heard no reply from the Registrar and the Ombuds office. She learned that the University Secretariat has an appeal form where students may submit a formal inquiry on policies. When she inquired about it, Deng was met with a reply that the appeal form only dealt with faculty-level policies, whereas time zone differences were a university-level policy. 

While each of her professors eventually accommodated her, Deng said that she would like to see clear information on who to contact to resolve time zone issues.  

According to Deng, many international students she knows are considering returning to their home countries. 

“After all, it’s too hard staying in a foreign country alone during a pandemic without family around. Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can’t hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn’t help,” she added. 

“Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can’t hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn’t help,” Deng added. 

Another international student, Yifang Wang, also expressed her concerns for this school year. 

As Wang is currently residing in China, she does not have access to various websites required for their academics, such as Gmail and Avenue to Learn. Although the university offers Virtual Private Networking software for students and a network accelerator for those in China, Wang expressed that she could not get the software to work for her. Hence, Wang had to purchase a VPN in order to access the necessary tools for her studies.

Wang is currently taking a linguistics course that includes weekly quizzes and said that using a VPN has made it more challenging for them to access the quizzes right away. 

“[The professor] will give us like 10 minutes or 15 minutes, but it will take me four minutes, sometimes three minutes to load the page and he didn’t care about that,” Wang said. 

Wang added that the professor would not provide her more time. The professor said there are always students who complain about the time limit. Wang believed that the professor did not consider the number of international students in the course, many of whom likely struggle with the same problem.

The university had also maintained tuition fees at the same amount as they would have had the 2020-2021 school year been in-person. This includes international tuition fees, which are extensively greater than those with Canadian citizenship.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year. Despite the fact that Wang is now attending lectures that are pre-recorded rather than in-person, tuition has only increased since last year. Although recordings may be necessary due to the pandemic, Wang expressed that recorded lectures are much less captivating and motivating for her to attend. 

If international students wish to return to Canada, it is also challenging for them to do so during this time. According to the current travel restrictions, students who applied for their study permit to Canada after March 18 are not allowed to return at all, and those who applied before have no guarantee that the border will allow them entrance and can still be refused entry on a case-by-case basis.

The university is rapidly transitioning its services to a near exclusively digital world for the first time. They have recently created the “Where in the world are you?” survey on Mosaic, which they say will be used to determine where students are located for the fall term. 

The survey comes eight months after the initial school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. It was also initiated four months after the university had made the decision for all classes to be held online during the fall term. 

“I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said. 

With months in advance to plan and navigate the digital world, international students are still not receiving adequate support for their academics.

“I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said.

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