“The most challenging part was the lack of human connection.”

Brendan Hamel-Smith is in his first year of Humber College’s Bachelor of Digital Communications program. Kelsey Wharton is in his third year of Humber’s Bachelor of Creative Advertising program. Like most students at Humber and UofGH, they’ve been studying remotely this semester.

Unlike most students at Humber and UofGH, they’re studying from outside Canada. Hamel-Smith takes his classes from Trinidad and Tobago and Wharton learns from Georgetown, Guyana.

Kelsey Wharton wears a mask in a car.
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Wharton (@whar_zone).

Wharton seized the opportunity to fly to Guyana in March 2020, shortly after Humber announced campus closures but before widespread travel restrictions were enacted. Hamel-Smith, who began his program in September, has not yet had the chance to study on-campus.

Largely, their experiences learning remotely from outside Canada have been similar to their peers studying domestically – online classes have been a major adjustment for everyone. Yet, for both students, studying and living in two different time zones presents unique circumstances.

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A post shared by Brendan Hamel-Smith (@brendan1856)

Stopping the spread

For one, COVID-19 safety measures differ between Toronto, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

“The most we’ve done are curfews,” says Wharton of Georgetown, Guyana. “It would be impossible to lock down the country as the government can’t properly send money to people.”

Kelsey Wharton looks up.
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Wharton (@whar_zone).

Hamel-Smith states Trinidad and Tobago’s protocols are similar to Toronto’s, though lockdown orders are beginning to loosen up: “…we have a few places closed as well – like the water parks and theme parks – but we recently had restaurants reopen for in-house dining.”

However, despite the variance in their countries’ pandemic responses, both Wharton and Hamel-Smith uphold their region of residence has had little bearing on their daily schedule.

Taking it one day at a time

On a typical school day in Trinidad and Tobago, Hamel-Smith hits the snooze button.

“[I] wake up at 9:30 a.m., turn off my alarm and then [am] awakened by my second alarm. [I] have a cup of coffee and then just go into class – that’s how my days go every day.”

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A post shared by Brendan Hamel-Smith (@brendan1856)

Hamel-Smith maintains a major challenge he faces in his daily schedule is the time difference – he continually has to remind himself to convert class times and deadlines.

“…it gets hard to remember that I have to convert the times [when] my assignments are due,” says Hamel-Smith, “but it’s nice that I get to sleep in.” Learning from Trinidad and Tobago, Hamel-Smith’s classes take place one hour later in his time zone than they do for his peers in Toronto.

Wharton, who operates around the same time difference in Georgetown, agrees: “One hour extra of sleep never hurt anybody. ‘Cept if you have a job, I guess.”

Yet, for Wharton, the lack of inspiration stemming from remote learning presents a bigger hurdle than adjusting the clock.

“Me and most of my colleagues put way less effort into work as the lack of physical interaction feels uninspiring.”

Kelsey Wharton takes a selfie.
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Wharton (@whar_zone).

Finding silver linings

In spite of the obstacles, studying remotely from outside Canada has had its perks for Hamel-Smith and Wharton.

Hamel-Smith says he’s enjoyed the freedom online classes have provided him. He’s been able to take exams on his own time and, since many of his lectures are pre-recorded, he can go back and watch them when it’s most convenient for him.

Wharton, a freelance graphic designer and videographer, has also appreciated the flexibility. Asynchronous classwork has made it easy to manage his work and class schedules.

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A post shared by Kelsey Wharton (@whar_zone)

Both Wharton and Hamel-Smith say learning remotely has helped them refine hireable skills.

“I think it helps to view activities within a timespan – lunch for the next hour, gaming for two, etcetera,” says Wharton. “Check your to-do lists within those gaps.”

Hamel-Smith also emphasizes how studying from home has improved his time management abilities: “…my most helpful thing during remote learning was always writing down when I had assignments due. I also used a whiteboard, which was extremely helpful.”

The insights Wharton and Hamel-Smith have gained throughout the last few months will undoubtedly be of use in Winter 2021 semester, too.

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A post shared by Brendan Hamel-Smith (@brendan1856)

Plugging along

“I don’t have access to all of the resources that people in Canada would have,” says Hamel-Smith of his concerns regarding the upcoming semester. He cites renting camera equipment, accessing online textbooks and hefty shipping costs for physical textbooks as the biggest burdens he faces learning from Trinidad and Tobago. Wharton names, “trippy Wi-Fi and constant power outages,” as his primary worries.

Looking forward, though, both students express a neutral to optimistic attitude toward remote learning. Hamel-Smith says he’ll try to focus on the things he can control, like managing his workload with his new-found favourite app, Focus Keeper.

“I promise this isn’t an ad,” he says, “but it genuinely helped me stay focus[ed] while studying.”

Wharton says he’ll try to emphasize the positive aspects of learning remotely in the new year: “In some cases, online has made it better as some profs have made their exams open book.”

With one semester of fully remote learning under their belts, Wharton and Hamel-Smith have found their grooves. Like true members of the Humber and Guelph-Humber community, they’ve resiliently adapted to the challenges 2020 threw their way and continued to strive for success. All that’s left is to carry that energy into 2021.

IGNITE is sure they – and all of us – will.

Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Star high-five.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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