FAU students across the globe talk about the hardships of virtual learning during the pandemic

International and study abroad students alike find it hard to manage their motivation as well as adjust to a learning medium that doesn’t work with their major.


Since transitioning to online learning, the experience for international students has not been pleasant. Illustration by Israel Fontura.

Regina Holloway, News Editor

While this year has brought an endless sea of adjustments and cancelations to all students, FAU international students have been at the brunt of change.


Whether they were stuck over border lines after visiting home for spring break or managing the threat of having their visas taken away, international students of every caliber have had to contort themselves to the times that are ahead of us, and they have done so with vigilance.


However, when talking with some of these students about the past months and how they have been personally coping, their concerns didn’t lie in the unknown. There wasn’t an outcry of anxiety over vacating their dorms or deciding whether to make their classes a pass or fail option. They instead, were concerned about their dedication to online classes.


The last time sophomore student Chaela Woodring recounted the whirlwind of May, her plans for returning to FAU were up in the air, due to the speculation of whether the pandemic would improve or descend over the next months. Now, Woodring explains her decision to stay in Trinidad and Tobago, and how she managed to follow FAU guidelines for closing out the semester. 


“Since I was home since spring break, I wasn’t able to pack up my belongings,” Woodring said. “So, I signed FAU’s waiver form to have them packed and stored and recently I got some family friends abroad to collect them for me.”


For Woodring, managing her college affairs while out of the U.S. was not a cause for concern. Managing her classes, however, was an harder obstacle to cross.


“It’s harder to learn online because it’s very hard for me to find the personal discipline to stick to class times and listen to lectures as they come out,” Woodring explained. “I don’t usually ask questions in classes so that didn’t affect me, but it’s easier to ask in online lectures since there’s a chatbox. But honestly, I just email my teachers which works the same in both situations.”


Woodring’s struggles with learning under lockdown were interpersonal, an understandable complication that any student can relate to. Another international student across the globe held similar reservations to the changes the pandemic brought.


Mikko Matias Valtonen was on a spring break trip to Mexico when the news broke that COVID-19 had shut down the United States. 


“I contacted my family and they told me to come back home in case the situation gets worse and travel restrictions take effect,” Valtonen said.


So to Finland Valtonen went, where internet connectivity was a nonissue, but his major was. Being a sophomore in Commercial Music at the time, Valtonen admitted that some classes were just harder to manage online than others.


“Some classes, like music theory, were easier online due to the take-home nature and being able to take your time with assignments and tests. More hands-on classes like applied lessons and ear training turned out to be difficult to organize,” Valtonen said. “Of course now that I’m better prepared for that, it will eventually become easier.”


While Woodring found some trouble in staying motivated while learning at home, Haley Rosenboom, a senior study abroad student, felt the same pressure while quarantined in Ireland. 


“The hardest thing about studying online is the constant challenge to self-motivate and remain focused,” Rosenboom said. “My professors have been great with communication, however, it is still not the same as in-person communication.”


Rosenboom also added that keeping up with professors and keeping herself motivated isn’t the only struggle when students in the same class are now spread thin. 


“Another challenge with communication for me personally was the time differences and language barriers I had to overcome while trying to complete group projects with students now dispersed all over the globe,” Rosenboom said.


Although FAU’s study abroad and international populations are more alike than different in this situation, Rosenboom in particular had more of an adjustment period to online learning than either Valtonen or Woodring.


“Conveniently, I was planning on finishing my degree online before FAU transitioned to online courses. I made this choice so that I could pursue career opportunities outside the state of Florida as a remote student,” Rosenboom said. 


Rosenboom then traveled to Ireland to study abroad for her Hospitality and Tourism Management degree, in which FAU transitioning the rest of their semester online was not as much of a hardship.


No matter what kind of international student, the past five months have held trepidation as they tried to manage staying connected to the University from across the globe. However, the common theme between Valtonen, Woodring, and Rosenboom’s situations, is that they are hopeful. 


Despite the challenges that being out of the U.S. have provided, all three agree that online learning is the biggest obstacle. These students have added that it is becoming easier to adjust to this new reality and that their situations are favorable to what others are going through. 


Haley Rosenboom concluded feeling optimistic for what lies ahead. 


“In the end, I am sure we will all look back on this year as one of the craziest in our lives. However, I have learned so much from all of 2020’s challenges,” Rosenboom said.“I am sure we will all be more appreciative after coming out of this.”


Regina Holloway is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected]