A recent article regarding the “985 University Students’ Study Plan” has provided insight into the difficult schedules many students hold to accomplish their goals in an organized fashion. Often comprising detailed study plans, it has continued to garner admiration from many students who have visited the resource. It is no secret that the rigor of university academics can be challenging for many. Students pursuing their education internationally are no exception as they face additional challenges that extend beyond the classroom setting. With the added difficulty of the pandemic during the past year, the social and academic adaptations that many international students have been tasked with continues to remain apparent.
Jiang, who graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in environmental engineering, recalled the challenges she felt when initially making the transition to the United States. During her interview with a Global Times reporter, she noted how excited she was when finding out that she was accepted into the master’s program. Shortly after moving to New York, Jiang was shocked by how greatly her postgraduate studies required her study habits to change. The challenges she was facing was a novel experience that she was unfamiliar with.
“When I was in college, I never made any study plan. I was forced to plan well when I was in graduate school. Not only for study, but also for life and entertainment. For example, set a day of the week to go to the movies and have a travel plan within a month.” Jiang notes that she tended to procrastinate during her prior studies, but that she became much more organized in her scheduling when starting her postgraduate studies. After developing these new habits, she found that her efficiency at work and overall quality of life improved.
Although most university students take on a similar number of credit hours, many Chinese students are required to dedicate additional hours into their studies. Aspects of study material that native speakers often find intuitive often require international students to place additional effort towards better understanding the language of the material. Jiang noted that “We need to relearn many professional terms, and the reading materials for science and engineering are also very obscure.” This is especially the case for those that are pursuing studies that utilize computer software knowledge that may be entirely unfamiliar.
One approach to managing the many challenges that international students face is through schedule organization. Scheduling effectively by using electronic resources was one method that was introduced to Wang while pursuing her master’s degree. She recalls how a classmate had created a calendar that visually distinguished her activities by category and level of urgency. Wang soon realized the great importance of time management and the electronic resources available to optimize her scheduling.
In addition to the utilization of scheduling tools, there have been other methods that have been implemented towards optimizing study schedules. One example includes the OKR (objectives and key results) working method. OKR is a set of management tools designated towards clarifying and tracking goals. First proposed by the American entrepreneur Andy Grove, this approach has become increasingly popular within Silicon Valley. The approach is started by defining several goals. The success of each goal is further defined by multiple target results and a time frame in which they must be achieved. After completing a goal, a subjective score is placed on the overall performance. One is considered a perfect score whereas zero is the lowest possible. Conducted in cycles, if time constraints become an issue, current goals can be postponed to the next cycle. This method is designed to improve intrinsic motivation while reducing the need to strive for perfection.
With the onset of the pandemic, most institutions have transitioned to online learning. This has had a great impact on students as many were forced to modify their learning methods. It has also created a fundamental shift from the daily habits that most students have become accustomed to. These factors have caused increased difficulty in maintaining a well-organized schedule for many. Additionally, the decrease in opportunities to attend extra-curricular activities has proven consequential as physical and mental health is particularly vulnerable in times of isolation.
The shift towards online education is not entirely without benefit. A student recently mentioned to the Global times that moving online has made it possible for them to attend a wider selection of lectures, attend more conferences, and even be more involved in their university’s activities. For example, Stanford University’s “International Student Center” has a “coffee social” every Friday morning. Although there is no coffee now, everyone can now sit and chat together. Moreover, the university has also launched free cooking, yoga, and meditation classes among others to reduce the pressure felt by students as much as possible. The wider availability of these resources has enabled students to live a healthier lifestyle during the pandemic. Lin, an international student from Yale university, told reporters that a safe strategy to remain socially active can still be employed during the pandemic. Three great approaches include visiting the official school website daily, following departmental social media groups, and remaining in communication with others. By focusing on how one can improve their social and academic experience in the current situation, happiness can be achieved.