Loyola first-year Afia Mehjabin has a tough schedule of online classes — not because of her course load but because of her class times. Every Friday, Mehjabin, an 18-year-old international student, has Sociology 101 at 9 p.m., UNIV 101 at 11:30 p.m. and Biology 101 at 5 a.m.
Mehjabin is a biochemistry major who’s taking online classes from her home in Bangladesh after Loyola moved classes online and canceled student housing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she lives in a timezone 11 hours ahead of Chicago’s central time, meaning she has to complete her schoolwork in the middle of the night.
When it comes to going to lectures and taking classes at night, Mehjabin said, “I’m really tired and not in the mood for it.”
International students, like Mehjabin, have F-1 visas — meaning they are “non-immigrant” visitors who come to the United States temporarily to take classes but don’t have United States citizenship or legal permanent resident status, according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Loyola has more than 620 international students — both graduate and undergraduate — from over 51 countries, according to Anna Shymanski, a Loyola spokesperson. The majority are from China, India and Saudi Arabia.
Since Mehjabin’s Zoom classes take place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. she said she has to be awake the whole night so she doesn’t miss any of her classes. She said since school started, she’s essentially become nocturnal, going to sleep at 6 a.m. and waking up in the late afternoon. She said if she tried to nap in between classes she would most likely sleep through them, so she stays up all night instead.
Mehjabin said she constantly feels fatigued throughout the night while taking her classes and hasn’t been able to keep up with her family as much as she’s used to.
“I don’t think I’ve talked to my grandma or my aunts in the past few weeks, since we usually call in the morning when I’m sleeping,” Mehjabin said.
Another first-year international student, Aleksey Pisarenko, said he’s handling online school quite well while living in Moscow, Russia, because he changed his schedule to fit his timezone better.
The forensics major said he isn’t staying up through the night, but his last class of the day ends at 1 a.m. He said he has studied abroad in the United States in the past, so he said he already has friends in the country and isn’t worried about socializing or joining clubs.
Mehjabin said she isn’t aware of anything released by the school to help international students in her position, but so far her professors have been helpful with easing the burden of nighttime classes. Some of her professors have given her the option to watch pre-recorded lectures, but she still prefers to participate in the live classes because she fears she may be disciplined for missing too many Zoom classes.
The Rev. Scott Hendrickson, S.J. associate provost for global and community engagement, said the office of International Student and Scholar Service (ISSS) holds meetings across several time zones where international students can talk with their peers or get assistance with school work.
Mehjabin said she hasn’t joined any clubs this semester and doesn’t plan to because club meetings happen at inconvenient times for her. She said she wouldn’t have the energy for them in the middle of the night.
“I have time next semester, I’ll join them later,” Mehjabin said.
Mehjabin said she’s trying to make friends in her classes since she doesn’t know anyone in the United States, but it’s been difficult to get people to talk over Zoom.
“In my chemistry class, we were put into groups and no one talked for the entire class, I don’t think that would happen if classes were in-person,” Mehjabin said.
Mehjabin said she would have preferred if Loyola allowed all international students to live on campus so they wouldn’t have to deal with taking classes from drastically different time zones. She said she wants to be on campus to have a sense of normalcy.
“It would be like a daily routine, instead of spending my night on work, I could wake up and go to school,” Mehjabin said.
There are currently only nine international students on campus this semester, according to Loyola Spokesperson Anna Shymanski.