Transitioning to Online Learning during and after Study-Abroad: Positive Takeaways for Student Life during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Guest Blog by Kerry Walker (AKP 2019-2020, Smith College)

When I started AKP in the fall of 2019, I would have never believed that the spring semester would be cut short by a global pandemic. Even as masks flew off of the drugstore shelves, my host-sibling’s schools closed, and our departure grew all the more imminent, the very scope of the situation was unclear. And now, with my senior year online, the world feels like a very different place.

Major changes in life are often anxiety-inducing, as the current changes engulfing the world have shown quite spectacularly. But here, I would like to focus on the silver linings I have experienced since returning to the United States. The switch to online learning this spring was abrupt, but it was a great opportunity to maintain some sense of normalcy and reevaluate my learning habits. Although I was physically separated from my host family, fellow students, and friends, the normalization of using technology (like video-call services) to stay in contact highlighted the importance of maintaining those distant relationships. All in all, as my everyday life changed under COVID-19, so did my perspectives of my academic and social lives. 

AKP was one of the few aspects of my life that showed some consistency throughout the coronavirus crisis. After returning to the U.S., we continued our classes online to finish up the semester, with our Japanese courses being held as usual: the same time (9:00-11:00 JST) and everything! Being able to meet with my classmates and our professor gave me some stability, and having homework and projects kept me busy when I was stuck at home. I always looked forward to class and was able to stave off some of the boredom that arose from social distancing. 

The online classes also encouraged me to establish good study habits. I fell into a routine of doing my homework around the same time everyday and practicing Japanese in measured chunks throughout the week. Ever since the coronavirus crisis worsened, the days have blended together into a seemingly endless stream. But, organizing my life around my schoolwork was a big help in staying focused and working towards my academic goals.

Out of all of the things I have learned during the pandemic, the importance of cherishing long-distance relationships has been the most meaningful to me. In times of physical isolation, human contact can never truly be replaced, but contact through technology can come pretty close. I call my host family once a month over Zoom, and even though I spend a lot of my time on video calls these days, the hour I get to chat with them is truly something special. To see them all, how my host siblings have grown, and how my host parents are dealing with the pandemic, makes me almost feel like I am back in Japan with them. My occasional calls with friends I met at Doshisha are another highlight of my time on-screen, and I can’t imagine how I would be coping with the stress of this online semester during COVID-19 without these precious interactions.

Under COVID-19, there are so many things out of the control of us students: the severity of the situation at our place of residence, our college’s chosen mode of learning, and the stability of our future plans are being decided by forces out of our reach. However, we can attempt to make the most out of our academic situation and maintain (or even establish) social relationships through the opportunities offered to us through technology. Trying to do just that has helped me throughout this pandemic, and I hope it can similarly help you in navigating your life in this difficult time. 

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