Online learning in isolation

Bachelor of International Relations student Belinda Kamarga. Image: supplied.
Tuesday 28 April 2020

This year on Good Friday, Belinda Kamarga was a week and a half into self-isolation. As it was for many around the world, Easter just wasn’t the same for her.

“It's not the same because of Coronavirus. It's a bit of a bummer I can’t go to church to celebrate,” Belinda says.

The Bachelor of International Relations student had returned home to Indonesia at the end of March. Belinda’s family live in Bandung, the capital of West Java. It’s a three hour drive from Jakarta, a commute that’s made longer on the weekends when Jakartans flock to her city. 

“It's a great city, really pretty,” she says. “People say it's like the Melbourne of Indonesia. A lot of cuisine, art, and heritage.” 

Jakartans, she explains, travel to her city on the weekend for the food, which is cheaper than in the country’s capital, as well as to be in nature. 

“That's why people from Bandung never really go anywhere on the weekend – because of traffic jams from people from Jakarta!”

Being home this time around has felt weird to Belinda. She was last in Bandung a year and a half ago, and home life under coronavirus has been very different. Her older sister, who is studying in Malaysia, has returned home too. Her parents, who are normally out of the house for work, aren’t anymore. Now, everyone is under the one roof 24/7.

“I was talking to my friend the other day, we were saying, there should be a word for – you know like how you have a cultural shock when you go to someplace new?” she asks.

“We agreed there should be a word for like a family shock,” she says.

Belinda is also not used to going about her studies when she’s back in Indonesia. Coming home has previously meant relaxing and seeing friends. This time, it’s like her Canberra life has been imported to Bandung. Only everything begins three hours earlier because of the time difference.

“If I have class, I probably will wake up at 6, because my German class is at 12 in Canberra time, which means it's 9 o'clock here,” Belinda says. 

On her first week back, the time difference – with daylight savings to boot – meant that Belinda had to wake up at 4:30AM for her 9AM Political Belief and Deceit tutorial. 

“It's on Zoom,” she says, “but the lecturer Dr Kim Huynh was very nice: you don't have to turn on your video if you don't want to. So I didn't because, obviously I just woke up and I don't want to tell that to the world!”

The class is philosophy heavy. According to Belinda, they’ve been discussing the truth about different things such as reality and liberal democracy. 

“Even though it's philosophy, it's very versatile that you can apply it to a lot of things you wouldn't even think of correlating philosophy with,” she says. 

She didn’t think she would like the class, because she’s not a fan of theory-based classes. Dr Huynh’s class, though, she enjoys a lot. So much so, she concedes that it’s worth waking up at 4:30am for. 

“I would say so,” she laughs. “Surprisingly, yes.”

A large factor is Dr Huynh’s teaching, and the way he makes philosophy interesting and accessible. But also, Belinda says, Dr Huynh cares a lot about his students. Such as in the way that he makes students feel comfortable about speaking up.

Belinda explained how in that class’ online tutorials, Dr Huynh makes sure everyone has a chance to talk, by calling on people who are being quiet. 

“Sometimes, I've not been comfortable being called out,” Belinda says. But I think what's different in Kim's lecture or the tutorials he leads with James Frost, is that you feel safe to say if you don’t understand something. And I don’t feel that in some of my other courses. They create that kind of environment.”

So far, Belinda has found the transition to online learning a challenge. Lecturers and students alike are adjusting to the new technology. Engaging in discussions online, meditated by web cameras, has been a bit awkward, and sometimes Belinda’s internet connection causes the video to freeze for minutes at a time. There have been some positives, however: under this new regime, Belinda’s gotten to know more of the people in her tutorial than she had before. 

“In a tutorial, people sit in the same places, chat to similar people. So in the breakout room you get to interact with people you don't normally.”

She adds: “In terms of moving online, I feel like it has been a bumpy road for everyone. It's certainly something no one expected and it's not something you can do within a short period of time. But considering that, all the lecturers have done pretty well.”

As someone who would fare poorly being confined to one room, Belinda has also been coping surprisingly well and making the most of her circumstances. She’s found it difficult to concentrate at home, having previously gone to the library or the new student space Marie Reay to study before retiring to her residence to relax. But she’s made it work.

“With here, you're in the same room all the time; I feel like your mind doesn't have the benefit of the spatial separation,” she says. “And sometimes, because you're stuck here anyway, sometimes I think, I have time. When actually you don't.”

When she’s struggling to concentrate, Belinda switches rooms. Sometimes she’ll work at the dining table, in the kitchen, or the living room. Her family will be milling around, but she’s used to that. 

“Sometimes my sisters aren't that loud,” she says. “Since I grow up here, so I'm kind of used to the noise anyway.

She hasn’t left her house in a week and a half, but has taken solace in playing with her sister’s dogs Arthur and Spencer in the backyard, learning brush calligraphy, and watching Young Sheldon. 

“If I'm a bit stressed, I'll do that,” she says. “Or it's just like, talking with my mum.” She laughs. “That's fun.”

Belinda misses Canberra – the cool, dry weather most of all. She hopes that in two months’ time, things will be better and she’ll be able to leave the house once in a while. But despite everything, she’s grateful to have a home to go to, and that she was able to go home. Some of her friends in Canberra haven’t been able to. 

“I'm grateful that I get to spend a bit more time with my family,” she says. “Usually, when I'm in Canberra, because of the time difference, and having to study and my parents having to work and everything, it's kind of hard to find time to talk for a long period of time.”

Having experienced what she has and reflected on her situation, Belinda wants to offer encouragement to other students. 

“Staying at home and moving to online learning is a journey we walk together. It’s something that we do for the earth and the greater community,” she says.

“Sometimes I’ve gotten into a thinking pattern of questioning all this, ‘Why am I doing this? It seems meaningless’. But when you look at the greater picture, I would say, you're actually contributing to other people out there.” 

“I feel like it's important to remember that. It’s what I tell myself when I'm losing motivation.”

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Updated:  28 April 2020/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications