COVID-19 Features Features

A Year as a Fully Remote Student

Cooper with her dog Copper in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Sarah Cooper.

As I sit in the Memphis airport, 11 days from graduation, it feels like just another day as a fully remote student. My plane will take off right as my poetry class begins. I’ve made special arrangements to take my final psychology exam later this week instead of today. Granted, these are not side effects of being fully remote for everyone. Certainly, some of the blame can be cast on my own poor planning skills. (Why did I book a flight on a day when I had class and a test? I don’t know.)

Being fully remote for more than a year made it possible for me to go camping in the middle of the week, work more shifts in my job as a barista and fly to Tennessee to watch my sister graduate. 

It also made my senior year hard in ways I could never have imagined. 

In August, my housing plans in San Diego fell through and I decided to stay where I’d spent the summer — in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. This choice was motivated by exhaustion. I was tired of moving around. Tired of not knowing if I could stay in a place or if I would have to move. Tired of changing plans last minute. So, I chose stability. It’s 3,525 miles away, but it’s stable.

There is only a one hour difference between Alaska and California’s time zone (I feel for anyone who has more) but I felt that one hour. My meetings started at 8:30 a.m. instead of 9:30 a.m. and one hour in the morning makes all the difference. I frequently calculated time differences wrong, which meant emailing professors last minute to ask if I can make up for a missed class, turn in a paper late or just apologizing for not having it figured out. 

I have to make a confession: I have not been to a single chapel this semester. I’m going to feel every dollar leaving my bank account to pay that fine, but I just couldn’t do it. Not because it wasn’t easy — I’m told it’s very easy, just answer the quiz after watching a short video. I did it once in the fall. Once. Not only does it feel impossible to find more time to sit in front of my laptop, but seeing the chapel made me sad. Chapel was a time when I could connect with friends in between classes. This semester, it was a reminder I would never do that again.

I grew accustomed to answering that no, I’m not sad about not being on campus my final year. Truly, I do well remote. I’m less stressed, my work is higher quality and I haven’t been as worried about the coronavirus. The thing is, I don’t feel like a part of PLNU. I feel as though I graduated a year ago and this is a remote job. I catch myself saying “When I was in college…” in reference to when I lived in San Diego. That is how it is for me and dozens of others. However, a global pandemic is not the time to examine your first world problems. 

I got to go to school. I got to have (semi)reliable internet to tune into classes. I get to graduate on time. 

It is not the sunny beachfront property year I imagined, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. When you live thousands of miles away from campus, a professor saying “I see your struggle” means more than ever. It wasn’t just being empathetic, it was extending a hand and saying, “You are still a part of the school, you are still my student.” And this is perhaps why I’m graduating at all.

By: Sarah Cooper