College life in the time of the pandemic

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Posted on Sep 08 2020
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You Sun Lee

The new school year is about to start and the new normal for students in the CNMI is “remote learning,” which basically means online classes. Besides the lack of that warm in-person exchange with one’s teachers and schoolmates, there is also the stuttering video, the lag in internet connection, that sound that keeps dropping from time to time, the unnatural sound of dogs barking in the background, and even the sight of one’s teachers in sweatpants.

It’s twice the challenge for college students who are also holding jobs like Sam Santos, Justine Nauta, Tovia To’Omata and You Sun Lee, where thy have to learn to balance the many hats they wear but not letting the pandemic get in the way of their career plans.

For Sam Santos, who is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services as a junior at the Northern Marianas College while working as a teacher aide at Marinas High School’s Special Education Department, “there’s a lot of thrill” in starting school again—thrill despite countless uncertainties.

“During the course of the islandwide lockdown, NMC was prepared to transition to virtual instruction, so this isn’t so strange to me,” he said. “However, my thoughts do go out to those who encounter the ‘technology barrier’ due to a lack of access, not to mention with public school aiming to start [this] month, we’re not exactly set in stone with regards to providing services for special education. There will be a lot of trial and errors.”

Santos learns better in a physical classroom setting but remains positive about exploring remote learning more. “I’ve been taking online classes since I was a sophomore in high school. …It’s a lot of personal discipline in order to get out of any mental rut and try to be productive. …Honestly, the anxiety is all mental. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not the only one on this boat,” he said. “I’m more amused than anxious as this is the 21st century learning at its finest. Yes, it has its setbacks, but if we really push through by riding the tide with everyone, this isn’t so bad after all. It takes a whole lot of discipline and reassurance for me.”

As a working student, Santos hopes to remain consistent. “I’m not particularly sure how I will be able to balance all my commitments but I do hope I can in time. I do try my best to maintain a sense of organization by using a planner, which allows me to schedule my day and to list down my tasks,” he said. “My goal for this semester is to find and maintain that balance in my life and in all my commitments. I am very involved in the community, especially with various ministries at Saint Jude Parish Church. I love what I do, regardless of wherever I’m at, and so trying to cater to all of that to the best of what I know I can do and what I know I can give is my main goal.”

Justine Nauta, who is pursuing double major in Liberal Arts with Emphasis on Social Work and BS in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC, also works as a reporter for Saipan Tribune. “The thought of going back to school made me a bit anxious just because the 50th and 54th COVID-19 cases were from within the community, but I got over it knowing that NMC will take all the precautionary measures to keep teachers and students safe. However, once I learned that we will go fully remote, I was content because, with my work schedule where anything can happen, doing online courses made me feel less stressed,” she said
“To be honest, although some might argue with me on this, I like the idea that we are doing remote learning. We’re still able to do classes as if we are face-to-face, but just through online. Also with my schedule, I don’t have to rush from one class to another and so that’s a big plus,” she added.

Nauta is keeping her eyes on the prize: to graduate and, at the same time, give her 100% at work. “To cope, I pray. [Thank] God for blessing me with so much strength this year or [allowing me to] vent to my boyfriend about my stress. Then I just get over it and I have friends who cheer me on,” she said. “…I’m almost graduating, and this pandemic won’t stop me. There are many things that I want to accomplish in life, but I need to get my degree(s) first in order to do that.”

Third-year student Tiava To’omata, who is taking up Bachelor’s of Science in Education: Concentration in Special Education at NMC while also working as an employment specialist at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, said she decided to continue going to school because she wants to finish her degree program with no interruptions. “As I enter my third year in college, I realize that I am almost there and would have to push through any and all barriers, including this pandemic, if I would like to accomplish my goal,” she said. “I trust the decisions that the NMC board and staff have made as I believe that they are putting into consideration the unique situations we are in right now. Everyone is affected, one way or another, so the best thing to do right now is try our best to accommodate the needs of all students.”

Justine Nauta

According to To’omata, balancing a full-time job as a full-time college student is all about time management.” I suggest investing in a planner where you can map out your day-to-day tasks and weekly goals and objectives to ensure that you are on the right track both at work and at school. Jot down all due date of all assignments and any miscellaneous projects that you are also working on.  It is also very important to take time out like a ‘breather break or ‘self-care’ day as it is important to maintain your mental health because being a full time employee and a full-time student can get overwhelming,” she said.
Her overarching goals are to pass all her classes as well as finish her degree program within the next two years. “I find myself adapting to the current situations I am in, and if that means changing my preferred learning style to an online setting, I will adapt. I grew up with family always insisting that I prioritize my education and that has stuck with me since,” she added.

You Sun Lee, who is an incoming freshman at Purdue University in Indiana with plans to take up Psychology, admits to being nervous. School started early in Purdue and Lee who is still on Saipan and works part-time at the Law Office of Joe W. McDoulett, said, “…I didn’t know what to expect as my biggest concern was keeping in contact with professors and other students in the class. I overcame those concerns by reaching out to other students who are also taking full online classes,” she said. “Helping each other and figuring out how to work the Purdue dashboard really help ease my concerns. …The biggest difference with regard to schooling between pre-COVID-19 and during the pandemic is the learning environment. Learning at home can be challenging, having to manage time, but it also offers flexibility being able to change my schedule to my comfort.”

Sam Santos

Lee said that working with many websites and navigating them is quite challenging. “…Also the time difference poses a big challenge as I have some meetings late at night. Other than that, my professors have been great in communicating with students and giving clear instructions with what to do in class.”
She recently took a break from work to figure out her classes and create an organized time schedule to fit college life into her daily life. “My goal is to expand my knowledge on unfamiliar classes as well as managing my course load and making the most of my online classes,” she added.

MD: Amid the pandemic, the new school year is about to start and its is not an ordinary one as remote learning will be the new normal for students in the CNMI. For college students who also hold jobs like Sam Santos, Justine Nauta, Tovia To’Omata and You Sun Lee, they face a lot of challenges balancing the many hats they wear but they are not letting the pandemic get in the way of their plans.

Tavia To’omata

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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