By Lucy Đỗ
As COVID-19 cases have soared since last year, many Vietnamese students who were studying in the US decided to return home where they felt safe and protected. But in their homeland, they have been presented with new challenges regarding distance learning: time zone differences, disruption to their pursuit of a degree, and the absence of the studying abroad experience they had desired.
For international students, studying abroad is not just about education but also the time spent in the US learning about American culture, cuisine and the people.
Now all of that is gone because of the pandemic that led to a swift change in the education industry.
Studying online limits students' exposure to the foreign lifestyle and to various opportunities to grow, professionally and personally. It can also affect students' mental and physical health.
Due to the time zone difference of 12 hours between the US and Việt Nam, it is normal for students to stay up all night to attend classes online. Doing so can unbalance one's biological clock, resulting in great damage to their health and their ability to learn.
Several students came to the conclusion that distance learning did not benefit them. Among those, many opted for a gap year instead of keeping on studying. The benefit of doing so is that they now have more time for themselves and their families.
After being away from home for a long period, anyone would appreciate moments to be with their loved ones. Some students have also taken advantage of this time to gain new skills by taking free courses on well-known platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and others. Alternatively, students can choose to give back to the Vietnamese community by volunteering.
Huỳnh Phạm Khánh Nguyên, a third-year student at the University of Cincinnati, shared that she was actively looking to volunteer for local and national nonprofits.
"I was welcomed home with open arms, so I figured that I should do something in return for our country," she said. "A friend introduced me to this amazing organisation that offers free coding classes for Vietnamese children. I applied immediately and have been volunteering there ever since."
Other students decided to apply for an internship and only study part-time, which means taking fewer classes. A small number even transferred to RMIT University in Viêt Nam.
Nguyễn Chánh Tuệ, a former student in the US and now an RMIT student, said: "The decision to transfer during the pandemic was not easy to make. But I am glad I made it. My new learning environment is incredibly welcoming and affirming."
Although there seem to be quite a few students who oppose the shift to distance learning, the majority are still following their university's policy.
"Universities around the world are trying to present their students with the optimal online studying experience. As a student, I value their effort to do so," said Bùi Lê Nhật Nghi, a fourth-year student at UCLA.
Nghi has been taking classes online for a whole school year now.
"Yes, I do have to stay up until 2am but during the day I do physical exercise to not feel tired. Fortunately, my professors have been very thoughtful. They provide as much help as they can. They make online learning much more enjoyable."
Trần Bảo Nhi, another fourth-year full-time student in the US, reflected on how taking classes online helped her.
"I think the most important skill that I have learned while studying online is time management. At the start of the first online semester, I created a daily schedule and have been strictly following it. You would not want to miss a class, or a deadline for an assignment, would you?" Nhi said.
"I feel empowered to be in charge of my own study and my own time. My interpersonal skills have also improved significantly since I have to communicate with my professors and classmates frequently."
However, though the switch to online education was controversial, it is coming to an end. During the past few weeks, vaccines from different companies have been authorized and distributed in many countries, including the US, Canada and others.
According to the US Center for Disease Control, about half of its population has been fully vaccinated. This data suggests that it might now be safer for international students to return to the US. Nearly all universities have moved classes offline for the upcoming fall semester.
Their students are required to be on campus and are offered free vaccination. Numerous Vietnamese students have already confirmed their return to campuses this fall. Many shared that they were looking forward to being fully vaccinated and finally able to have a superb college experience. VNS