By Harry Sutton ’20
40 years ago at a New England boarding school like The Gunnery, the student body would be almost entirely composed of relatively local kids from the Northeast. Between then and now, society has been exponentially globalized. Progress in transportation, technology, and more have made countries from all across the world profoundly more connected with each other.
For the school year of 2019/2020, The Gunnery was made up of 20% international students, be it Australia, Vietnam, or Cameroon, students from across the globe traveled to our rural campus in Washington, Connecticut last fall. No matter what country these students were from, none of them expected that the final third of their academic year would be spent on their computers due to one of the worst pandemics in modern history.
On Monday, March 30, 2020, The Gunnery began to move to online classes with Zoom. For day students and others who live on the East Coast, school begins each day at 8:00 AM and ends at 12:00 PM. This system is targeted to be ideal for as many of The Gunnery’s students as possible, but with so many time zones being used across the student body, the time constraints are very difficult to adapt to for some students. For example, some of the Chinese students who have returned home to Shanghai or Beijing have to start their classes at 8:00 PM and end at midnight.
We were able to get some insight from Coco Schweyer ‘21, who made it back home to Germany, Danny Wang ‘20, who is currently at home in Beijing after having to spend time in a hotel; Leah Coley ‘22, who is keeping in touch with The Gunnery from California; and Grace Robinson ‘21, who is in Brisbane, Australia where the time zone is 14 hours ahead of EST.
Coco said that she was certainly sad that her only year at The Gunnery was cut short, but that she believes “online classes are a good way to stay connected and continue with the classes.” As part of a program where German students can spend one year at The Gunnery, Coco would have loved to spend her full year in Washington, Connecticut, but was impressed as to how well the online classes actually worked. Coco is able to tune into every class because in her time they ordinarily take place from 2 PM to 6 PM, which definitely cuts into her day, but is manageable.
Senior Daniel Wang took this change with the most optimistic disposition possible, saying that it “serves as a reminder for me to continue to learn wherever I go, whether it is in Gunnery, my AirBnB, or at home.” Daniel treated the change as an opportunity to try to learn no matter what the circumstances are. He thinks the transition to Zoom classes was the best thing that The Gunnery could have done considering its options and supports the move. However, Daniel’s classes ordinarily take place from 8 PM to 12 AM, meaning he gets “sleepy at night especially [during] those classes from 11 to 12.” He has changed his daily routine to take a nap around midday in order to gain energy for nighttime classes.
Daniel maintains an optimistic outlook on Zoom classes despite having missed his French and Environmental classes a few times due to a block that China puts on the internet, which denies him access to Google, Highlander Nation, Netflix, and much more. He had to stay at a hotel for two weeks during quarantine with Wi-Fi that is “five times worse than Gunnery wifi” and had trouble tuning in to Zoom. After Daniel returned home, he was able to start attending classes to the full extent, but during his time at the hotel, his internet could not keep up with the demand that Zoom takes. Despite major struggles with the internet and online classes, Daniel has kept a very positive opinion of this transition to Zoom and recommends that The Gunnery introduces an online advisor lunch.
Similarly to Daniel, sophomore Leah Coley had an optimistic outlook on a less-than-ideal situation. Leah’s first class starts at 5:00 AM most days, so she has to “roll out of bed at 4:55” and take midday naps when her classes end at 8:00 AM. Leah has missed a few early classes but remains optimistic, happily willing to rewatch the class via recording and end her day by taking her dog on a walk in the park.
Australian student, Grace Robinson ‘21 also has a less than favorable schedule for classes, starting most days off at 10:00 or 11:00 PM and ending at 2:00 AM. With this dubious timing, The Gunnery has given her permission to leave classes and midnight and watch her late classes on recording the next day. Grace says that her teachers have “been very helpful and understanding of my time zones and have offered to help me at different hours if I need it.” Despite the unfortunate scheduling, having 300 students from all around the world having to try to participate in classes all at once, teachers and students alike have coordinated for the easiest possible accommodations. She originally thought that the scheduling would be dreadful, but her experience has been a lot better than she expected it to be.
In a globally devastating time, having to log on to classes at 5:00 AM or 8:00 PM is not the most fun experience in the world, but the true character of Gunnery students has shown through these tough times. Although not everyone was terribly excited when classes were officially transitioned to online, students from different time zones all around the world have adapted to it in the best way possible.