Tropical Leaves

Reflections on Being New at AES: Two Students’ Experiences

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By Sanna Patel

Introduction


As we approach the end of the year, we begin to reflect on what a rollercoaster the 2020/21 school year was. While many students had a support system through their friends when we went into quarantine, new students were in a brand new country and school without the usual means of making connections. I interviewed two students completing their first year at AES to gain a better understanding of the struggles new students face in online schooling, and surprisingly, some of the benefits as well.


What was the hardest part of transitioning to AES during the pandemic?


Yeeun is in 9th grade and came from Korea this September. When asked the question, she replied, “It was my first time moving schools. I just stayed in one school in Korea, so it was hard to adapt at first because I was used to my family and friends and the school community. It was my first big change and transition, so it was a little hard at first, but I think now, it’s okay.” She added, “It was very, very hard because I didn’t even know what the school looked like, or what my friends or teachers looked like. When I went to (on-campus) school, there were more interactions between the students and teachers, and those things were not available through Zoom. I also didn’t know the basic school curriculum very much, so it was hard for me to adapt to school at first.” Later, she also elaborated, “I also had some language difficulties because I'm not a native English speaker. So I think going to AES was a huge challenge to me at first.”

Yuval, also in 9th grade, came from Argentina after doing a month of asynchronous classes. She said, “I think the hardest part was definitely packing the house because we were trying to pack in the safest way possible, which was really hard because we had to stay in our rooms for almost the entire day, so that was definitely really hard.” She also added, “The negatives were I couldn’t really socialize with any of the people here. Like I knew kind of who they were because I saw them on Zoom calls, but I couldn’t really get to know them.”


Were there any positives? What were they?


By now, I think we have all found something we like about online school, and the same goes for starting a new year online. While it may sound isolating, there were some positives to the experience as well.

When I asked Yeeun about these pluses, she said “Yeah, I think there are also some positives. (...) It was easier for me to adapt to the new school online because if I go to school on campus, it might be hard finding the classrooms or something like that, but since it was online, I could take the class more easily because I can just click the calendar and go to the classroom.” She mentioned that this took away from some of the stress of the new school, as it seemed like a hard adjustment to make.

Yuval, having taken asynchronous classes at the beginning of the school year, replied, “When I was in Argentina, I watched the recordings because all my classes were from midnight to 5 am, so I had a lot more freedom and I could watch which recording I felt at that time. So, for example, if I felt like starting my day with biology, I could, but now I can’t because it’s my second period of the day. Also, I had a lot more freedom not only with choosing what class to do, but also when to do it. So I could wake up at like 10 or 12 in the afternoon, which is a lot later than I would here, and then I could meet up with some friends and after a few hours and then go back and do my work in the evening or afternoon. So yeah, I just had a lot more freedom.”


What were your first impressions of AES? Have they changed after on-campus school?


Unlike the rest of us, the first impressions of the school were not based on the campus or teachers as much as it was based on structure and community. This is unusual because it can make you feel disconnected from the school and community as you are not fully immersed.
For Yeeun, her impressions were based more on the AES community. She said, “My first impression of AES was it was very free. I thought it was a very diverse community. Since it is an international school, I can see many of my friends are from other countries (...) It was very amazing to see them all together.” After beginning regular classes, she added, “Going to campus was much better than I thought. It was new to me to go around the classrooms, like from the math classroom to the biology classroom, because in Korean schools, students stay in classrooms and teachers are going in and out, so it was new for me, but I think it’s a good idea.”

Yuval replied, “I don’t know what my first impressions were of AES, I thought they were handling this whole pandemic and online learning thing really well, especially when, at the very beginning, when we had time zone teams. I thought that was a really great idea just to have the people outside of the Indian timezone meet and socialize just a little bit with their classmates. I don’t think my impression really changed [since on-campus learning].”


How did you connect with students when you first arrived? How did it compare to your experiences in other schools?


Making new friends at a new school always seems like a daunting task, and without the forced interaction during breaks and lunches, the process was slowed for most. This is quite the change, even for students who have changed schools before, as it is harder to connect with people you would usually be meeting in person.

This was the case for Yeeun as well. She said, “At first, I was very lonely because I didn’t know many of my friends and students. But after many classes and taking classes or clubs together, I got naturally close to them, even though we haven’t had many chances to meet in person. But, even through online or text, I can make some friends.”

Yuval had a different experience than expected. She explained, “Surprisingly, here it was actually easier for me to make friends, a lot easier; in Argentina, it took me forever. Even before we started synchronous classes, I had a few friends because my mom, when we were still in Argentina, connected me with a friend here. Through her, I met all my other friends I have today. Obviously, I made connections with them on my own and got closer (...) so I’m really thankful for that. But yeah, that was a very surprising thing, and for my parents too, because three years ago, when we moved to Argentina, it took me a really long time to make friends, and the world was normal, so it was a happy surprise.”


What are your favorite parts of online and on-campus learning?


As I said before, online learning isn’t all bad, so I thought it would be interesting to see if newer students found the same silver lining as I did, despite their varying experiences at the beginning of the year. While it may also have been an exciting prospect to return on-campus, it was another set of challenges for new students. Despite that, these are a couple of their positive takeaways about our campus.

Yeeun, similar to me, said, “My favorite part of online learning might be that I can wake up late in the morning. If the class starts at 9 am, I just wake up at 8:50 and eat a short breakfast and go to class.” This is something most students have in common, and I wouldn’t entirely believe you if you said otherwise. When asked about on-campus learning, Yeeun replied, “I like that the high school building is a square. I think it’s a good idea because I can see my friend from wherever, or say hello to my teachers or friends even though I’m on the 3rd floor and they are on the first. Eating lunch at AES is a very good part because I can not only eat in the classroom, but I can also go out. I think it is because of COVID-19, but it was great to eat lunch on the Tiger Turf or some garden. I also think I can focus better in class because there is a teacher and whiteboard, and that lets me focus better than at home when I am just wearing my pajamas.” She added, “I also want to go to Tiger’s Den, but it’s sad because we can’t go there.”

I think we all agree with her on that point.

Like Yeeun, Yuval said, “It actually didn’t really surprise me, but what I noticed when I was on campus, I would talk a lot more in classes because I would feel a lot more comfortable, with the teachers especially. With online school, I don’t like to talk in class, only when I have to. It just doesn't feel natural.”


Conclusion


Despite a year full of twists and turns, these students have made it through a tough transition, and we couldn’t be happier that they joined our community! I hope that after this long year, our new students feel at home at AES and are looking forward to experiencing all our usual events– mostly the International Food Fair– next year. Hopefully next year, we can welcome new students to a much more normal program, but for now, stay safe and enjoy your summer!