For Wharton first-year Inci Gurun, waking up at 4 p.m. and attending remote classes from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. is the new normal.
Gurun moved back to Istanbul after Penn asked students to leave campus last month to limit the spread of the coronavirus. She is one of the many international students whose lectures are still being held at their regular time — meaning if she wants to attend class, she has to tune in late at night. Some of these students have noted that they feel pressured to attend live lectures to sufficiently prepare for exams, and they now have less time to spend with their families at home.
Gurun said her professors have been lenient with attendance policy, since some record their lectures, but she said they have still encouraged students to attend recitations. For students who live in different time zones, Gurun said some have also offered the option of completing extra work.
“If the whole point of the recitation is the conversation, then I always try to be present,” Gurun said. “And then I also don't want to do, for example, the extra work that you have to do if you don't attend recitation.”
Beyond dealing with a difficult schedule, Gurun also said that she was concerned with uncertainty about finals. She has yet to hear from her professors about how exams will be proctored and whether exams will still be limited to their original two-hour windows.
“I don't know how much work to put in, should I be working as hard as [if] I'm gonna take a proctored and timed final exam, or is it going to be like you have 24 hours to complete this project?” Gurun said. “It just kind of keeps us on the edge about what we're supposed to be doing.”
Wharton and Engineering sophomore and New Delhi native Shivin Uppal is faced with a similar nocturnal class schedule 9 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Philadelphia time. For Uppal, attending class until 3:30 a.m. and waking up in the middle of the afternoon was the norm for a few weeks.
Two of Uppal's discussion-based classes require attendance at lectures held on the Zoom video-conferencing application. For almost two weeks he tried to attend those classes, but he found it impossible to “live a normal life” while doing so.
“I realized that I was up till 3:30 a.m. every single night, and I’d wake up at 1 p.m. and that would kill my whole life cycle because I wouldn’t actually be able to spend time with my family,” Uppal said.
He explained his situation to his professors, who were then willing to make attendance optional for him. But he still has to meet with his peers for group projects and attend office hours for help with computer and information sciences assignments at late hours of the night. He added that watching recorded lectures diminishes the learning experience of his classes.
Uppal said he wishes Penn had enforced standards mandating professors to provide alternative ways for students to attend lectures or office hours, as well as offered more channels for students to discuss challenges that they are experiencing.
Engineering junior Uri Habie was studying abroad at Queen Mary University of London when Penn announced the shift to virtual classes. Since then, he has been in his home country Guatemala under stay-at-home orders.
There, Habie still has classes at London time, which is seven hours ahead of Guatemala’s time zone. Some nights, he attends class from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Habie said his professors have changed their grading policy so that attendance is no longer required, but for some classes, Habie feels that he still has to attend the live sessions to sufficiently prepare for assignments and final exams. He added that he finds it difficult to understand some concepts without being able to engage with the professor during class.
Wharton sophomore Vanessa Lee is at home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Her only class that still requires live attendance is CHIN 012, which was originally four days a week from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m. Malaysian time.
After reaching out with concerns to her professor, she was offered the option of either switching to an earlier class session from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. Malaysian time or to attend only two of the four live sessions at the original class time. She chose the second option and said that she was satisfied with the way her professor handled the situation.
“I think it's because for me, staying up from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m. isn't too big of a deal because I probably wouldn’t sleep until 1 a.m. normally anyway,” Lee said, adding that she usually goes to sleep right after class and compensates during the day by taking naps if needed.
Despite the difficulties of her late class schedule, Lee said she appreciates how Penn students are supporting each other through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“Even though this is a really tough situation, and everyone's trying to navigate it on their own, I’ve seen a lot of camaraderie,” Lee said. “I guess that's one tiny silver lining to this entire situation, just seeing the Penn community come together and support each other.”