It was in my freshman year when the outbreak of COVID-19 started, and I had never imagined starting my life as a university student so differently. There was no choice but to find new ways to get used to the new norm, and Tokyo Tech decided to start using Zoom as the platform for our online classes.

Lonely battle

For the first few months of online classes, I did not like it at all. Everything was new, insecure, and lonely, not to mention that first-year students like me needed to learn about our new academic environment in a way that people had rarely experienced before COVID-19. The most difficult part was communication. Unlike in-person classes, we were all alone during lectures, assignments, presentations, and examinations. Staring at electronic devices for the whole day without being able to physically connect with lecturers, tutors, and friends became a very stressful part of my first year. During my high school days, I enjoyed discussing with friends about homework, lecture contents, group work, or even just chatting. However, without physical contact during my first year, it was difficult to keep myself motivated and it was mentally exhausting.

A new style of lectures

Since everything was online, there was no such thing as moving to the next lecture room after each class. It was just us sitting in front of our devices, clicking on the next link. It was convenient in some ways, but it felt unreal as it was like attending a virtual university, not knowing where each lecture room is. After being able to go on campus, I enjoyed the need to rush from one place to another after lectures. I guess this is what the pandemic has taught us: to cherish the small things in life. Comparing the ambiance of lectures, online and in person, I noticed that back-and-forth discussions online were significantly lacking compared to in-person lectures. Due to internet connection reasons, we did not turn on our cameras, and maybe that was why we felt reluctant to keep having discussions, as talking to the screen without seeing faces felt awkward.

During my sophomore and junior year, when the pandemic eased, we were allowed to have face-to-face classes, gatherings, and also lunch meetings. After having online lessons for such a long time, it took time for me to get used to face-to-face sessions again. However, this time, the process was rather enjoyable. Seeing people’s faces and their expressions helped me better connect with others, so I was grateful to have more meaningful conversations with lecturers and friends.

Connection with friends

When we first started online lessons, it was difficult for everyone to get to know each other and make friends. Looking back now, I think that it is amazing how naturally we made friends before the pandemic and how it became such a difficult problem online. There was barely any chance to talk to each other privately during online classes, so it was rather difficult to exchange contact details. Even when we did, I would still hesitate to contact my friends because of the time difference. Also, we barely knew each other from online classes so it was quite difficult for me to take the first step. Fortunately, I met many kind and helpful people who were very friendly whenever I approached them with questions about assignments and lecture contents.

I can still vividly remember when my friends and I first met after knowing each other online for such a long time. It was interesting and fun to see how our images of everyone differed from reality, and we were shocked to find out that some of our friends were much taller than we had imagined. Making friends in person is totally different from doing so online as we can see people’s facial expressions directly and clearly. Without internet connection problems, conversations were smoother, and miscommunications could be avoided as well.

A fruitful face-to-face discussion session

Taking advantage of both styles

Now that I am used to both online lessons and in-person lectures, I feel that each has its own benefits. The biggest advantage of online lessons is reducing traveling time to campus, which means that we can sleep for longer. The dorm I used to live in is around a one-hour train ride from campus, so it was very tiring traveling back and forth for classes. Moreover, I noticed that I had more flexibility and time to arrange my schedule when taking classes online. This is probably because I can manage my time more efficiently without having to factor in preparation and traveling time.

On the other hand, in-person lectures provide me with more opportunities to discuss and talk with my classmates and lecturers. I find it very helpful in understanding lecture contents or having discussions during face-to-face lectures as facial expressions and body language are important aspects of communication. Other than that, I think that going to campus for lectures increases my productivity. I would allow myself to lie on my bed for a long time if I only had online classes that day since I would be just in my room. However, if I know that I need to go to campus, I can force myself to wake up in time to prepare, and I will find myself starting my day earlier and feeling more productive and energetic.

Personal thoughts

Now that we are shifting back to on-campus lectures, I think that some of us might miss the feeling of online classes. There is no doubt that both lecture styles have their own conveniences and benefits, so it is up to us to find the way that best suits us, or learn to be more flexible so as to deal with unexpected situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.