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Almost a Dream: Going to College from Home


Elizabeth Marner-Brooks, Gloria Chen, Aretha Wang and Nicole Becerra
Almost a Dream: Going to College from Home
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International students accepted to the Parsons School of Design in New York City usually move to the city and learn about American culture outside of the classroom. They experience the sights, sounds and eateries of New York, and have a chance to meet other people who live and work there.

Now, these international students are back at home with their families. Their classes are offered online and sometimes taught in the middle of the night while everyone around them is sleeping.

Nicole Becerra is a 17-year-old from Peru. She moved to New York to study English a year ago so that she could attend the Parsons School of Design. Parsons is one of the five colleges at The New School.

Nicole Becerra
Nicole Becerra

Becerra says that like many first-year students, she gained weight during her first few months in New York. One reason may be that she was eating the wonderful mix of foods that the city offers. She returned home at the end of 2019 and was there when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Since then, she has only taken online classes.

I spoke recently with Nicole Becerra.

“Actually it's a dream for me to be in my country and study in New York because when I had to go the first time to New York … at the airport, it was like, ‘No, I don't want to go to New York -- I want to be with my family. But now that I have the opportunity to be in a virtual way in New York but in my country … for me, it's perfect, but I know I have to return to the face to face classes. I’m enjoying nowadays.”

Becerra added that she feels like she is in high school again: living at home and sleeping in her own room. She is not only studying English, but has time to study subjects she simply has an interest in, like French.

She adds that her family is thankful she is with them during the pandemic.

“They're really happy because … they didn't see me for more than three months and … it's crazy that she's here and studying.”

Speaking up and being understood

Gloria Chen is another Parsons student who is now in Taiwan. She was forced to change her sleep cycle. So, she is now awake all night, taking classes at 2 in the morning on some days.

Gloria Chen
Gloria Chen

Chen told VOA her family asks her to keep her voice low in the middle of the night, but she wants to speak louder.

“It does bother them… They will say, “Can you keep your volume a little bit lower?” And I will say, ‘Yeah. I’ll try it’ but in the online classes, you're not sure if people can hear you exactly. So, I just want to keep that my volume up and people don't think that Asian people are all shy.”

Aretha Wang is a mathematics major at Ohio State University. She was living in Ohio when the school closed in March. Now she is back home in China and taking online classes. She feels that it is harder to do the group work on the internet. Wang says students find it difficult to carry on a discussion in online breakout rooms.

Aretha Wang
Aretha Wang

“They can’t understand me as [they do] in person that much .. and I cannot understand them that much. It feels like it makes us hard to understand each other and it also makes us hard to cooperate with each other.”

Good things about online classes

Gloria Chen says one good thing about online education is that all the classes are recorded. She says this helps her when she is studying for an exam.

“In fact, I think the best thing about online classes is that the whole class will be recorded, and which gives me a lot of time to review and understand some points I don't understand at the time.”

Several of the students I spoke with said they do not miss New York City’s traffic. Becerra says she enjoys not spending time on getting to and from school.

“I don't waste time in public transportation. I don't have to be in the snow waiting for my train...”

And special clothing for the changing seasons is no longer a concern, said Chen.

“The one thing that I really enjoy about online classes is that I don't have to tolerate the traffic anymore in New York because the morning schedule in New York is really crazy. And I don't have to think, ‘What clothes should I wear for school?’ which is a really comfortable situation for me.”

Danger of sitting for too long

For many teachers, the long hours spent at a computer are more tiring than in-person classes. Elizabeth Marner-Brooks teaches English to Parsons’ international students. She told VOA she had several health problems that were caused by sitting for most of the day. “I caution people now. I'm sitting and I don't even realize that they have a break. So, I make sure I do that. I had 20 hours on the computer for Zoom in two days. So, I'm careful, you know -- they go on a break -- I stand up, I walk, I move. There are dangers.”

Elizabeth Marner-Brooks
Elizabeth Marner-Brooks

Shorter classes

Marner-Brooks says the length of her classes has gone down with the move to teaching online. Students have asked for her help in forming discussion groups so they can get more experience speaking English. One student formed a WhatsApp group and noted every member of the group is in a different country.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pandemic – n. a disease that spreads across countries and usually affects large numbers of people

opportunity – n. a chance; a series of events that makes it possible to do something

virtualadj. existing or done on computers or on the Internet

crazyadj. wild and uncontrolled

cycle – n. a series of events that are repeated in the same order

volume – n. a level or power of sound

review – v. to study or examine

toleratev. to let or permit something to exist, happen, or be done

Have you been studying at home? How has it been for you? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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