Yet another COVID semester has gone by. However, this time we sat at an awkward halfway point between online and in-person courses and activities—a strange place between skepticism and hope for the end of the pandemic.
Yet another COVID semester has gone by. However, this time we sat at an awkward halfway point between online and in-person courses and activities—a strange place between skepticism and hope for the end of the pandemic. While offshore students treaded lightly with the knowledge of Melbourne’s ongoing border closures and lockdowns, we asked some of them about their atypical fresher experience.
Primary concerns of international students included the neglect and lack of reparations from the University and higher-up government institutions, considering they are the highest-paying group of students. Australia’s broader approach to international students has also been regarded as discriminatory, where citizens and resident students are allowed into the country but not international students, even if they are travelling from the same place. These points, amongst others, were raised in our discussions with students.
“I'm an offshore student who's about to start my second semester online. While students onshore are going back to their normal life, we're slowly being forgotten and there are less and less programs provided for us. I believe the Australian Government doesn't care much about international students stranded overseas given that most of them are too 'far into the degree' to transfer or withdraw. Given how the University advertised their courses, many new offshore students applied believing that they can enter Australia soon. Studying online makes me feel like I'm wasting all my time and money just to study something I won't even remember after the exams. Us international students paying full fees makes it worse. No fee reduction, no university experience, just recorded lectures and Zoom. I know friends who are taking their time off, some doing reduced study load, some just transferring out altogether. After Semester 2 if there is no sign of border opening I'll explore my options of transferring to another university.”
“I don’t feel like demeaning the University because the education and the content [it is] providing is really great but I’m sure that if the lockdown [stays] put for a few more months, most international students are just going to transfer to another university because this is just depressing. As an international student, it was hard for me to see that the local students were able to attend uni and socialise while I was still sitting on my study table paying $20,000 for watching videos which I could find on Khan academy as well. I used to attend classes at 4am ... and it was really messing up my schedule and mental health. Socially, it’s been very hard to make friends and socialise which is basically what the first year is about but sadly I’ve never found it harder to connect with people.”
“I see my peers and I grow impatient [every day] of the possibility of having to complete the entirety of our course on Zoom from our bedroom. Personally, having graduated [high school] just before the world went virtual, the whole online experience was completely new. To describe it in one word, it was bland. I have always been the student that would speak up and interact with the content being taught, and to not be able to do that made lessons automatically boring. Even though the University tried its best to create in-person-like online experiences through workshops and tutorials, it ended up lacking in more places than it was enriching. Whilst it’s felt extremely unfair to us as international students, to be shut off with no foresight of ever entering the country and being on campus, we understand that these measures are being taken only because of the unprecedented times surrounding us. However, as an international student who is paying almost 4 times that of the regular fees, I would hope that the accessibility to professors and the academics was smoother.”
Looking at these experiences shared by international students, one thing remains clear: online learning has brought significant challenges. The issues of time differences, pre-recorded lectures, coupled with an isolated university experience takes away key elements of connectivity and engagement.
To combat some of these challenges, University organisations like UMSU have sought to create a sense of community among international students through online events. Overseas students can also try to find other Unimelb students in the same country as them through social media, and arrange meetups. But even so, these efforts cannot replace that sweet in-person experience. Will Zoom university forever be the norm—and how many international students will be willing to suck it up?