Long Blog 3-Difficulties of Online Learning for Oversea Chinese Students

In February 8, Kaijie Zhang, a first-year Chinese student who enrolled in Rensselaer Rolytechnic Institute (a university located in New York), passed away when he was studying remotely from his home which is located in Wuxi city, China (Global Times, 2021).

His death is highly likely due to the irregular routine caused by online learning from a different time zone, according to ASUC (the initial press release by UC Berkeley Associated Students of the University of California), Kaijie “ passed away after having periods of irregular sleep schedules, reportedly due to attending classes at unreasonable times.”

Many students mourned and blamed for the University as it has strict rules for attendance regardless for students who live in different time zones (Creaders News, 2021).

As a student who originally come from China, I know in order to study abroad we have to follow tons of procedures (and normally it takes years, such as prepare for IELTS Test, IB or ACT Test and Visa), but we still go through it with the hope of getting better education. And Kaijie, he just started his first year journey of learning abroad, but it ended in such a way and this result could be avoidable if the University take action in the first place.

I try to find more information about Kaijie to get to know him more, but there’s not much, I only know he was major in an engineer program.

Then I did some research on the symptoms caused by irregular routine. The formal name for it is “jet lag disorder”, also known as “desynchronizes”, “jet syndrome” and “circulation dysrhythmia”, which is the state when our biological clock is disrupted (Savvy Sleeper, 2020).

And the short-term physiological effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration

I have been not sleep good for two days and I can already feel the dizziness. I can’t imagine the damages of jet lag already creates both physically and mentally for those students that have to stay awake during midnight for the whole school year.

The tragic happened to Kaijie rises an alarm as it could happen again.

According to Global Times, the pandemic caused “millions of Chinese students in overseas universities to stay in their home countries and attend classes online”. Most of universities they attend are in four countries, which are USA, UK, Australia and Canada. China belongs to the UTC+8 time zone, so those students have to experience at least 4 hours (if they attend universities in Australia, for UK is 7 hours) time difference in order to attend lectures. For example, if the class is at 9 am in Australia, Chinese students have to join the class at 5 am. Toronto belongs to eastern time zone (UTC –5), so it makes 12 hours difference (as if it is daylight-saving time) which is even harder for students to attend synchronous lectures (Kaijie’s university is in New York, so it is in the eastern time zone too).

Two of my classmates (they are all international students) from my high school in Toronto, are right now learning online from China. After they went back to China to visit their family in 2020’s summer vacation, they can not fly back to Canada. I often saw their posts on Wechat (Chinese SNS) as they are having very hard time of learning during midnight (3, 4 am), and they have to use VPN (Chinese network blocks many foreign websites) to connect with their universities’ websites or do their researches, so they always face troubles like slow networking and disconnection.

In Douban (a major Chinese SNS website), more than 23,000 students who register under the universities that are not located in China, gather together to create a group called “2020s Strenuous Study Abroad Students”, in which they share all the difficulties they met during this hard time.

Douban Group “2020s Strenuous Study Abroad Students”

There are new responses almost every three minutes. I looked closely into the posts and found out a lot of students are having troubles include understanding course contents, managing time and dealing with isolation, make them experience depression and anxiety. When dealing with difficulties, a lot of students are afraid of seeking help directly from professors or the faculty, in which I believe is caused by the differences in teaching styles of Chinese education systems, as Chinese teachers are very strict and they don’t like discussion. So normally Chinese students need some transitional time to get to communicate better with professors and schools. But the problem is the transitional period is not happening because online learning largely reduces the interactions between students with other peers and professors.






U of T First year