Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Embracing the new normal from 6,000 miles away

Time zone differences, lesser remote resources and even travel restrictions—a few of the many challenges Umme Habeeba had to encounter this fall.

In April 2021, Chancellor Subbaswamy announced that students at the University of Massachusetts could expect campus to return to normal in the fall, indicating that there would be more in-person interactions and a larger percent of the student body on campus. While most students could easily make their way back, not everyone was as fortunate.

Enter Umme Habeeba, a sophomore chemical engineering major who, unlike most students, was unable to make it to campus this semester. One of many students in similar situations, Habeeba still must attend all of her classes remotely, even though everything else is in-person. Between a decrease in remote resources and challenging time zones, Habeeba describes what her experience is like, especially in this “new normal.”

Habeeba is currently in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where she spent her entire freshman year online as well. From this location, she faces a seven-hour time difference that is ahead of Eastern Standard Time. “It’s been tough just to concentrate now,” she said.

Habeeba originally did have plans to come to campus this semester after the announcement was made, but due to the changing COVID-19 situation, there has been numerous travel restrictions between Saudi Arabia and the US, resulting in her having to cancel her trip, despite being fully vaccinated.

Due to these unforeseen circumstances, Habeeba had to restructure her entire class schedule, which included taking classes at another community college instead as it was more feasible. This would also ensure that she wasn’t behind on her degree, especially as some of these classes were not being offered remotely at UMass.

She did note, however, that her advisors were quite helpful and encouraging during the process:

“Since I couldn’t get some classes online at UMass, they [the advisors] helped make sure that the other classes I found other at a community college would be transferable.”

In addition, her professors as well have also begun recording classes for her and allowing her to join through Zoom if it’s possible with the time zone differences.

Given her situation, Habeeba also had to enroll with the University Without Walls program, as they already have structured remote classes. This meant that she had to go through numerous processes to be able to take these classes alongside her University-eligible ones.

She also had to push back classes for the next semester or even to next year to stay on track and so she could really engage with the class in its true in-person manner, like with group projects and live discussions, instead of a “weird in-between” where she doesn’t get to experience the actual class.

Since most of campus is in-person now, there’s a decrease in readily available remote resources for students. In such situations, students like Habeeba must constantly request for accommodations, unlike last year where it was a given.

“It’s made things harder in terms of office hours and other things like that. I reach out to people and they’re obviously super helpful [and] get those arranged, but it’s not the norm anymore [like how it was last year],” Habeeba said.

Although she did have to cancel her original plans, Habeeba was about to come to campus in the middle of the semester as the restrictions were lifted later on. However, with her classes at the community college still going on and clashing with her prospective in-person classes, she had to postpone her journey to the spring instead.

Aside from an academic standpoint, Habeeba also has numerous fears in terms of student life and general immersion into campus once she arrives as well.

“Even though it’s worked out that I’m not behind [with my classes], it [still] does feel like I am behind,” she said. “I feel like everyone is going to be settled in by [the time I arrive] and that’s when I will be getting settled in—I’m just worried about catching up.”

Regardless, she remains hopeful for her arrival on campus in Spring 2022. “I just want to get back to campus,” she says.

“I’m excited about in-person classes [and] about joining clubs. I haven’t looked into a lot of them yet, but they’re there in person, so I’m excited to join those [as well],” Habeeba said. “I’ve [also] been in touch with people there [at UMass] so I’m excited to meet them in person.”

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.

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