“To others, Kirkland Hall might be really huge, but if you ask me, it’s just 13 inches tall.” (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long) (Hunter Long)
“To others, Kirkland Hall might be really huge, but if you ask me, it’s just 13 inches tall.” (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Hunter Long

Through the Laptop Screen: Starting the 2-Dimensional college experience

Being an international, remote and first-year student is a different experience. But different doesn't mean worse.

October 1, 2020

(Photo courtesy Riddhi Singhania)

To others, Kirkland Hall might be really huge, but if you ask me, it’s just 13 inches tall. 

My name is Riddhi Singhania. The three most important facts to know about me are: first-year, international and remote. The combination of these three words is crazier than a concoction of Cola, coconut milk and melon. During our current COVID-19 situation, I realized that being at home doesn’t mean missing out on the college experience, but is actually a time to learn and share with others how to live a different college experience.

On Aug. 23, 10:59 p.m. IST, I was sitting in my room in Indore, India, unable to believe that I was going to start college a minute later— through my laptop screen. Since I was in kindergarten, I’ve been looking forward to starting the journey called college, but little had I known, even three months ago, that it might just become a two-dimensional, virtual experience.

Deciding to study remotely was a tough decision (though I don’t think tougher than actually choosing to be on campus), but for me it was more of an adventure. I would be on campus one day, so why not add a new experience of being virtual to these four golden years? So here I am, trying to construct my own stratagem to be able to immerse myself in the Vanderbilt I see through my 13-inch screen.

Experiencing hybrid classes remotely has been strange, and it feels like watching a film of the classroom. Sometimes, I bubble up with questions and responses and find the little chat box incapable of human exchange of ideas. The frustration does build up, especially when the concept taught is difficult. But at the same time, I’ve found office hours and tutoring to be more engaging than even physically being in a classroom could be. I write down my questions and discuss them in lengths during those sessions.

Yet, college is a sensory experience, and it involves not only academics but also an overall awareness of what is happening around me and seeing myself being able to contribute. Developing a sense of becoming a college student is difficult while remote, especially when you have no idea of how exactly a U.S. education should look like. There have been instances when I do not know how to address my professors, get confused with slang (that sometimes I have to Google) and even miss a part of some conversation because of the accent difference.

Nevertheless, for me, being in my comfort zone at home makes it easier for me to take risks and try new things. In fact, if I open my mind, there is no day when I cannot get involved. Even during the summers I could participate in the Day of Wond’ry and DIVE boot camps, and now, with a schedule tight with workload, I can relax learning online Tango.

Of course, I cannot have everything adjusted to my time-zone, but a day anywhere has 24 hours, and I would have gotten 24 hours on campus. So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference in limiting the amount I can experience as a remote college student. I feel special to have this unique experience of flipped day and night. Moreover, isn’t getting involved outside textbooks my responsibility being a Vanderbilt student? Vanderbilt is surely not just about classes.

It’s easy to go to Anchor Link, and find a plethora of events online (as well as in-person), including my House events. And it’s not just about engaging myself but also the satisfaction of the surprise people have when they find me Zooming in from another corner of the world! Still, I do not exert myself more than my body allows, and I have had times when I simply replied with a polite “not today” for something that made my schedule too hectic.  

It has become easier than before to reach out to multiple student organizations and join clubs virtually. I could virtually audition for Vanderbilt Lakshya even before the semester began and connect with Best Buddies via Zoom. Sitting in India, I also take part in Design for America. I can meet fellow students from all over the world through iLead reunions. In fact, I do not have to walk to get to places on the other side of the world. 

So, though I’ve never visited Vanderbilt, I feel like a Vandy student. Through the Laptop Screen will discuss different aspects of being a remote, international and first-year student, and I will not be cherry-picking the positives of it. I will try to collect my unique experiences that many other students might also relate with, tackle seemingly unsolvable problems of being a remote, international or first-year student and just bring up any opinions that Vanderbilt should know about the remote experience.

Till then, we all can work on one thing: think about the problems and peculiarities of this new study environment, maybe complain a little, but also devise solutions that can help us all out. Perhaps Vandy is just waiting for the solutions. A positive outlook might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy and indeed make our new experience the best one!

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