Virtual vs. in-person learning: Across the Atlantic and back

Kristin Bergmann, Staff Writer

For the Spring 2020 semester, I was an international student at CSUSM. I came here from Germany to experience the ultimate college experience: a big campus, exciting events and parties on the weekend.

Sadly, life said “no” and the experience had barely even started when it came to an abrupt stop. COVID-19 hit and in mid-March, we were all forced to take classes online. For me, however, the pandemic did not just shift my classes to virtual instruction, but it also sent me across the Atlantic all the way back to Germany.

I was faced with a double challenge: I did not only have to battle the unprecedented challenges of online learning but also the 9-hour time difference.

I can tell you one thing: it is hard to keep up when classes suddenly start at 10 p.m. and assignments were due in the middle of the night.

With over 5,000 miles between California and Germany, I felt disconnected from the life I had started here, but with being half-way through the semester, I had to push through.
I’m glad I did.

Despite it all, I slowly became accustomed to online learning and eventually found that my academic performance improved. I was more flexible, free to create my own schedule and maintained an efficient school-life balance.
However, when CSUSM announced that we would return to in-person learning this fall, I was over the moon. The comfort and convenience that virtual learning has to offer simply cannot beat that classroom feeling.

The day had finally come. On Aug. 30, for the first time in over a year, I found myself sitting in a classroom, surrounded by 30 other students. It looked almost like before the pandemic hit, except that everybody in the room was wearing a mask. Besides that, nothing has really changed.

As always, the first week was syllabus week. The professor went over course contents, assignments and deadlines; most students zoned out halfway through. The clicking of pens, the turning of pages and the occasional squeaking of chairs felt so familiar, yet so strange. Walking across campus and going to class was a normal routine. Now every day in the classroom is a wild experience I appreciate more than ever.

Being back in the classroom with my notebook and planner in front of me felt like reuniting with an old friend. The world has turned upside down, my life is entirely different now, but in that room, it feels like nothing has changed at all.

I enjoy having four classes, but only one class is still fully online – and it just can’t compare to my in-person classes. It certainly was right while the pandemic was raging without a vaccine in sight, but circumstances have changed and I have mentally and physically switched back to in-person mode. That class feels so out of place now, yet I have to log into Cougar Courses every week and work on my assignments.

It’s crazy to think that one year ago that’s what 100 percent of my classes looked like. While online learning helped me improve my time management and efficiency while being certainly convenient on days where I did not feel like getting out of bed. I would never want to go back. I am ready to be back on campus and gladly take on all the new challenges that lie ahead. I missed this campus and after a year and a half without it, I will never take it for granted again.