International Student Faces Barriers to Remote Class Participation

wtbu · International Student Faces Barriers to Remote Class Participation

By Varsha Subramanian


On September 23, Hyerim Sao, a junior in the College of Communication, took to the Official Boston University International Students Group on Facebook and posted about the unfair treatment she was receiving from a COM professor, who’s name she did not reveal. 

Sao chose to stay back home in Korea for the fall semester, attending classes remotely in accordance with the University’s Learn from Anywhere model. This means that Sao has to stay up late into the night to attend her classes, as she is 13 hours ahead of Boston. 

After facing difficulties with this particular class, Sao decided to attend the professor’s office hours to express her concerns. The professor was two hours late, but Sao stayed up nevertheless, even though it was 2am where she lived. After the professor came onto the call and Sao explained her situation, the professor asked her if it was worth everyone’s time for her to continue on in the class, since, from the professor’s perspective, she would not be gaining much by learning from afar.


So, there was this one class that I was taking this semester [in which] I wasn’t able to access, like, any class materials, any of the links to the class recordings. I wasn’t able to access any of that because we were having some difficulties with Blackboard, and my professor didn’t want to just send me those links—send me those materials—for privacy reasons, like security purposes, I guess.

And then, when—I thought it was like super late, like it was like two weeks into the semester—and I [addressed] the problem to her one more time, and she was finally able to fix our Blackboard site, and uploaded those video recordings. And I was able to watch them, but I had to watch them in one day.

After I watched those, you know, six hours of class in one day, I found out that everyone else was paired with a partner in the class. And there was an assignment that would be due, like, the next day after I watched the recordings.

So, I was super confused about it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a partner or anything—I didn’t have that information before I watched the classes. So, I decided I wanted to go into my professor’s office hours, so I did. It started at around midnight my time. I’m actually in Korea right now, doing all my classes remotely.

I got to her office hours on Zoom. And she wasn’t starting the meeting for some reason, so I emailed her at at midnight, my time. And she was telling me how an emergency came up, so she couldn’t come to the meeting for, like, the next 30 minutes or so. So I just kept on waiting.

And then she just never came onto the meeting, and I emailed her teaching assistant, asking him where the professor was and what to do, because I really had to talk to her.

And then she came on at, like, 2 A.M. my time. I was still waiting without sleeping, so I was super anxious, and just not knowing what to do. But then she finally came in. And I was able to talk to her about like everything that I missed.

But one of the first things that she said to me in the office hours was to not make excuses when it comes to time difference. And I thought that was just such an inconsiderate thing of her to say, because obviously it’s an issue for me to talk to her at 2 A.M., my time, when everyone else in my family was sleeping.

And she just sounded so rude to me. I guess she might have not meant it that way, but I kind of got the impression that she was just, you know, telling me to just not talk about my issues and difficulties. And I kind of felt like I didn’t belong in that class.

And at the end, she asked me if it would be worth it for everyone in the class for me to take the class. Like she was asking me—like, seriously asking me—’Do you think it’s gonna be worth it for you to take this class? Do you think you’re gonna learn anything from taking this class from afar?’

Following the meeting with the professor, Sao wrote an email to The Dean of the college, Mariette DiChristina, who responded almost immediately asking Sao what action she would like for them to take.


My main point of contact was Dean DiChristina. And she emailed me saying, ‘I’m really sorry that happened to you.’

I really didn’t want to reveal the professor’s name when I first communicated with them, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue taking that class or just [drop] out of it. But, at the time, I really didn’t want to drop out just because because of the way that the professor was talking to me. It almost sounded as if I was taking a challenge that she gave me. And I kind of had to go through this to pass her test, or whatever. That was my kind of mindset.

So I didn’t want her to take whatever I said to the College—[for it to] be taken as something offensive towards her. And I didn’t want her to take that against me. That’s why I wasn’t telling [the College] about the professor’s information.

Dean DiChristina asked me if I was comfortable sharing the professor’s name, so that she can address the whole faculty about the issue, and just to, I guess, educate them on like the new online learning that be who’s supposed to do, and to accommodate everyone from everywhere at this difficult time.

So she said all that stuff, and then she wanted to talk to me over Zoom the next day. So I did that.

And then I actually, finally, at the end—I was able to switch my class with another class that COM was offering even though it was past the drop deadline. So, I guess I’m happy that they were able to help me change my class, even though it was past the deadline.

But when they asked me, ‘What would you want us to do with the professor?’ Like, ‘What would you want us to discuss with the faculty? What do you want to happen to the professor?’ I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t want her to get fired just because of the things that I said, or just because of that one mistake that she had.

I don’t know, I was just telling them to be more aware of people that they aren’t able to see when they’re communicating with students on Zoom, because we’re just simply watching the recordings. And I also told them that, because I am participating from like, so far away. I’m not able to join the class discussions or, you know, rent out the equipment that I need from COM. So I told them to be more understanding about that.

Sao said that the time difference and this incident has made her regret her decision to stay home. However, coming back to the US was not an option. 


I hope people do notice the problems that us asynchronous students face. I’m talking about both the professors and the students who are currently doing classes in person, or just doing synchronous classes in the US.

Because I’m trying my best to be a good partner when it comes to team projects. But it feels like I’m not able to do so much, and I’m not trying my hardest, but I actually am trying my hardest.

It’s it’s still a new time for us. Professors didn’t have to do this whole online lecture thing before coronavirus, so we’re all learning in this new time. But I hope everyone is aware of other people, and people stay considerate towards the others, and just to be nice when it comes to communicating online. 

I hope everyone [stays] safe and gets what they need from this semester this year.