Act of Kindness

Midterms during lockdown, check!

These past two weeks have been incredibly stressful not only because of midterms but because on top of midterms, all of the other project teams I’m on had last-minute long meetings added into this past week.

Needless to say, I don’t have much to say today other than being grateful to have gotten to sleep in for the first time in forever and just take a breather day. I woke up late, got to watch some video clips from practice happening at the gym back home, went through old Renaissance Fesitval pictures, did a little bit of job-related work, finally went grocery shopping, and made a pretty great soup for dinner.

It was a simple day with no major accomplishment.

However, I did get some free bread today which was kind of cool. The smaller store I get my spices at hadn’t sold any bread all day so they just gave it to me because they make it fresh I guess (to be honest I hadn’t realized they sold bread before today because it’s behind the counter). I was pretty surprised honestly and got a little flustered when asked if I wanted the bread – I’m not sure the last time I got something for free that wasn’t for advertisement purposes. It was a small thing, but it felt really nice and reminded me that every now and then there are some people still willing to do random acts of kindness even when looking at the news and feeling like the world seems at it’s worse.

A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

Moving Forward

After 7.5 weeks of lockdown, in 3 hours New Zealand will officially move down to alert level 2!!! That mean restaurants, university spaces, museums, beaches, etc will all start reopening!

Classes are still online for the rest of the semester, we are still limited to not being in groups larger than 10, and we still will have requirements with tracking where we’ve been/who we’re in contact with, but this is so exciting!!!

Honestly, I’m having a hard time believing things are actually going to start returning to “normal.” It’s especially hard to imagine while I also keep hearing news about the US and the conversations around the likelihood that schools there will still remain online in the fall. Everyone I talk to keeps saying they’re so sorry for my situation and how they know this wasn’t the semester abroad I planned/hoped for, but to be honest, I’m grateful that I was abroad this semester of all semesters. I’m in one of the safest places on the planet right now and I have a chance to actually go back to school/life not online next semester. I wouldn’t trade a more “normal” semester here for being in the US right now…

The hardest part is that it’s definitely been lonely having been pretty much entirely isolated for 7.5 weeks. Technology is amazing and I can’t imagine having lived through this 10 years ago, but video chats can’t replace face-to-face interactions. And what really stinks is that even though starting tomorrow I can see people again, there really isn’t anyone for me to go celebrate with here. Most of my friends during those first few weeks were also international students, but they decided to return home. And my roommate is staying with her family rather than returning to the dorms since school is still online, so now it’s like I’m back to square one being the new kid trying to meet people but during a time where we’re still pretty restricted on actually being around people… It’ll be challenging for sure, and I’m feeling more than a bit uncomfy about the idea of readjusting yet again to a new normal (moved across the world, got switched to different housing and different roommate, had a week of site seeing, three weeks of classes, 4 weeks total lockdown, 3 weeks online classes and lockdown, now online classes with restrictions, and who knows what’s next… it’s been a year of lot’s of adjusting and I’m not exactly the best with constant change as I like patterns…) but overall I’m just feeling so grateful with the way things played out here.

It’s not over yet, but we’re moving in a good direction away from this pandemic.

The Next Moment

Today was my little brother’s 14th birthday. It’s insane to think that he starts high school next year! I’m starting to actually be able to have adult level conversations with him and that’s a very odd thing, especially since he’s the “baby” of the family. (And I mean my entire extended family as well.)

Sometimes I feel like him getting older is what makes me most realize how old I am. Being a junior in college is a crazy time because, with potentially only one year left of school, it’s when you have to start thinking about what you want to do next and where you want to go for that matter. It seems like there are a lot more options at this point in life than there really ever has been before. There are also so many questions to ponder, like whether to go to grad school or look for a job, and then, of course, there is the question of what grad school or what job, and where in the country or even world might that school or job be, and how long in advance do you need to start prepping your application.

I wrote the other night about the struggle of having too many choices, and the idea of thinking about what comes next in life is definitely one of those paralyzing choices. People say to try and “live in the moment,” and not worry so much about the future, but when you think about it, nowadays if we aren’t constantly planning a year and a half ahead then it seems that it can easily become too late for some opportunities.

As early as middle school we’re taught to start thinking about the future. One of the first big choices I remember is choosing what language to study, and if you choose the “wrong” language class in middle school and want to switch your choice in high school then you have to start the new language a year behind. Middle school was also the first time we could skip a level of math, but if you weren’t selected to move ahead based on your 6th grade performance then it was significantly harder to ever reach AP Calculus BC if that was something you later were interested in doing. In high school, we start choosing some of our classes, and in 9th grade, we are told to think about our entire 4 years in order to make sure we’re able to schedule the classes we want. Then junior year is when the college process hits full swing with SATs and research so that by the summer you can start touring in order to then apply the following fall. Then in college, if you want to do an internship or study abroad, especially if you want to do more than one experience, you really have to come into school already thinking about what semester you will do these experiences otherwise you could end up in a situation where you want to study abroad but none of the classes you have left to take are offered overseas.

So you see, it’s really hard to think about “living in the moment” when the past 10 years have always been focused on thinking about the next moment. At this point, I imagine that there will always be a little voice in my head asking “what’s next?” Granted, this voice often pushes me into some truly amazing opportunities, so I’m not convinced I would actually want it to disappear, though it can also be a cause of anxiety when knowing the potential options are so vast.

Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

The Things That Never Change

I realized today I’m kind of grateful that New Zealand went into lockdown. Obviously, going into lockdown mode has had tremendous success health-wise, but also it’s made doing online learning much easier.

Sitting in front of a computer listening to pre-recorded video lectures all day would be a lot more annoying if I knew there were other things I could be doing like visiting museums, traveling to different parts of the country, even just going out to eat. But since I’m stuck inside anyway, there’s only so many options for what else to do, so I might as well be doing school work.

Today was only day 2 of online learning but it was a long day. We decide to set up individual family meetings with our team gymnast and their parents so that everyone can get a chance to ask 1:1 questions to coaches. The first round of these meetings started today, so that’s how I spent the first three hours of my day (in addition to our Zoom class). Then after lunch, I spent the next 6 hours doing school work. It’s very odd to in someways feel like it’s only the second day of school, but at the same time have the workload of actually being a month into school.

My first real assignment of the year is due tomorrow. (I say “real assignment” because I’ve submitted a few practice multiple choice test, but we get to take those as many times as we like and it’s just multiple choice so there isn’t really much thought work involved.) I’m a little stressed about this essay though. Maybe it’s because this is my first semester of traditional school since this time last year, or maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what to expect from New Zealand grading vs US, or maybe it’s just because we’ve been out of school for a month and I haven’t even had this class since being back and yet we already have an assignment due.

The topic is about how COVID-19 is affecting international business, and it feels like one of those topics that almost has too much information to discuss and the challenging part is trying to limit what you talk about. Plus we only have 1000 words to use, and I learned earlier today that our reference list is included in this word count, which I found kind of crazy because it’s the only class I’ve had where we’re being told to not use lots of citations.

After finding this out I had to do a lot of last-minute editing today, so thank goodness I have great friends who are willing to stay up past midnight to help me edit down my essay. Ever since high school, there has been a group of us – as one teacher put it, “The Brain Trust” – that has always helped out when it comes to giving feedback on each other’s work. No matter the time, topic, or apparently the state of the world, I somehow am lucky enough to still be able to count on these friends for some last-minute help.

This was a great reminder today, that some things never change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

 

 

(Extra tangent: I have to say our feedback process is actually very amusing. As stressful as it can be, it’s also kind of one of my favorite things to just be rapidly co-editing a document with someone in The Brain Trust. Typically we are on a Google Doc leaving feedback as comments and suggestions so the other person can see the changes we’re making before approving or not approving them. Even I, as the writer on this occasion, made my new changes first as suggestions so someone else could also see the changes I was thinking about. We also tend to not necessarily move in a logical order. We move throughout the essay repeatedly, sometimes all looking at the same section and sometimes working on multiple sections at once making notes when we see them, and also replying to each other’s comments. Often the rapid co-editing is due to needing word count help, but it isn’t always, sometimes we just want general feedback on the content and the writer is also making changes in real-time so we give continuous feedback for a given period of time until everyone thinks it looks good. My favorite part though is we don’t just make comments about things that should change; it’s more like annotating a book where sometimes we’re just commenting about the writing itself and start a whole sidebar conversation and that’s what’s so amusing to me. It’s proof that giving and receiving feedback really is a gift and it can be a fun process if everyone is open and accepting of the feedback – which doesn’t mean always implementing the feedback, it just means being willing to consider the feedback.)

The Evolution of an Idea

As a follow up to last night, where I choose to read old blog posts instead of writing a long new post, it seemed only right to reflect today on what I read.

One of the posts I revisited I call “The Gymnastics Theory.” I wrote this post back in 2014 but the concept of how the future of education could be influenced by the world of competitive gymnastics is something I frequently come back to. It was interesting to read this post that outlined some of my original thoughts on the topic, and because it’s a topic that comes up often for me I thought it would be good to reflect on what’s changed since my 2014 version of this theory.

Since 2014 I’ve definitely built on the theory quite a bit. In particular, a big difference is simply in my terminology. In this post from 2014, I talk about learning being “skill-based” and I’ve now realized this was my simplified way of saying that gymnastics is an example of an already existing, successful model of systemic competency-based learning. In fact, the main reason The Gymnastics Theory continues to come up for me is because I’ve found that it’s a helpful example when trying to explain what competency-based learning could look like. At a few conferences now, I’ve been given feedback that even for someone with practically no understanding of gymnastics, (ie. you maybe watch it in the Olympics and that’s about it) this was an easy to understand example for contextualizing competency-based learning for people just learning about this concept.

Furthermore, I’ve done a lot more thought into the division of groups in gymnastics versus traditional schools. In my old post, I simply mention how gymnastics levels are not determined by age and how practice groups may not be the same as competition groups because by practicing with levels above and below you there are more opportunities for peer-peer mentorship and leadership. All of these facts are still very true and relevant, but now I’ve taken this a bit deeper and started to imagine how the entire structure of gymnastics levels and transitioning between levels works and how it’s comparable with education.

I don’t want to go too in-depth into this right now, maybe I’ll finally get around to making a more official written update on my entire theory sometime soon… but for now, I want to focus big picture on what’s changed not all the specifics of my thinking. The summarized idea though is that gymnastics actually has two somewhat parallel tracks that gymnast can take depending on their needs/what they hope to get out of the sport, and between the two tracks there are three different types of levels designed to more efficiently test skill proficiency at different points in a gymnast career. I’ve done a lot of imagining about what it might look like if education followed a similar structure.

Finally, I think the biggest change in my thinking in my commentary on school not being a competition. Now that I’ve had 6 more years being in school and gone through the college process, I totally disagree with 2014 Anya. School is a competition. It might not be advertised that way, and we might even be explicitly told sometimes to not think of it that way, but at the end of the day, we’re always competing. This semester even, my Marketing 101 professor spent the first 10 minutes of class emphasizing how we are always competing for grades, jobs, promotions, etc so we might as well get in that mindset now and be ready to fight for the win. People are always being compared to others because everyone wants the best candidates for their team. School might not have formal competition events for assessment purposes, but it’s definitely a competitive atmosphere. I don’t think that has to be a bad thing, personally, I find competitions to sometimes be a great motivator, but it has to be healthy competition in order to be motivating and that’s something that school isn’t always great about creating the environment for. Again, I’ve done a lot more thinking in the realm of what “healthy school competition” looks like, but my thoughts are not fully formed yet so that’s as much as I’ll say for now.

Overall, I’m very amused by how much has grown and changed with my thinking since this original idea came about in 2014. These two worlds of gymnastics and education are both very close to me and it’s always fun to make connections between the two. Maybe re-reading this old post is the prompt I’ve been waiting for to finally attempt writing out all of my thoughts on the topic – and figure out a more articulate way to write them, because I’m sure this post is kind of funky just due to the fact that I’ve been thinking about this concept for so long that it’s getting all jumbled trying to come out of my head now.

(I drafted about three more paragraphs on my “summarized” version of the levels structure description alone before realizing that was way too much for this post… so trust me when I say there is lot’s more. I mean I didn’t even mention the scoring system.)

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

Now Is The Time

Today I got to partake in a video meeting with some educators from across the US and it was really great just to hear everyone’s stories about how their schools are dealing with the current changes.

One of the most inspiring parts about the conversation was how optimistic people were in light of everything happening.

This is the greatest disruption to our education system since the great depression. Disruption means there will be long term changes to life as we know it.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like? 

Is this pandemic going to scare us backwards in an effort to make things “easier” or are we going to be inspired to charge forwards into opportunity-filled new beginnings?

Moving to distance learning has lots of challenges. To face these challenges it’s a lot easier for teachers and students both to simply watch some pre-recorded lectures and then take some online multiple-choice tests or write a 5 paragraph essay than it is to try and create opportunities for group discussions and collaborative projects compatible to a virtual environment. And honestly, with all the other stressors in life right now, making one part of life “easy” is really tempting.

But when students are sitting at home on their couch, why are they going to choose to watch a 2-hour lecture on the Pythagorean theorem as opposed to watching Mean Girls on Netflix? What’s going to motivate learners to take multiple-choice quizzes about the French Revolution instead of BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you which Disney character you are? How are we going to convince learners to write essays on Hamlet instead of Instagram posts about missing their friends?

If school isn’t engaging than learners will find something else to do that is.

Traditional schooling is not engaging.

It’s never fun to be “talked at” for hours on end, but it’s especially not fun when you’re sitting at your desk at home all alone in your room and staring at a computer screen. It’s mentally exhausting. And we already know multiple-choices tests are not indicative of actual learning.

Now more than ever, it is essential for education to be learner-centered.

We should teach lessons that are competency-based because while we can’t proctor tests as effectively online we can have virtual presentations that assess actual understanding and mastery of knowledge.

We have to find ways to engage young learners through personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons or they just won’t log in to class.

We must encourage learner agency as a tool for staying mentally healthy and motivated to learn, explore, and create even while stuck inside.

We have to understand that learning is open-walled because we don’t know how long we will be out of our traditional classroom so we need to convince entire families that the absence of a room doesn’t mean the absence of learning.

And most importantly, while physically we might be social distancing, we need to ensure that mentally we are remaining socially embedded because a learner without a community is lost and we have enough loss in the world right now.

 

The world is changing. Education has to change too. While it might be “easier”, in the sense of having less thought work to do, we can’t rely on traditional methods to teach learners while they are at home with myriad other factors vying for their attention. Kids have to want to “go” to school because, in a way like never before, it’s really easy for them to choose not to. There aren’t many consequences to convince them otherwise so we have to use other methods to keep kids learning.

So how might we convince learners to want to “go” to school?

I propose that one answer is that schools need to be learner-centered. And maybe, just maybe, the greater impacts of learner-centered education will be so evident that we’ll be encouraged to continue teaching in a learner-centered paradigm even when we get to go back to our school buildings. So if you’re not already doing it, now is the time for learner-centered education. Now is the time to make sure we are being competency-based, teaching personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons, encouraging learner agency, embracing open-walled learning environments, and remaining socially embedded even while distant.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like? 

School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.