By Naiqian Zhang
I became an exchange student at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in the fall 2020 quarter. This year, COVID-19 changed a lot, including people’s lifestyle and the forms of studying and working.
We all know it can be a meaningful and sometimes challenging experience for foreign students, who are in their homeland, going to study by Zoom meeting during COVID-19, due to different time zones. We have to get up in the early hours and make preparations for the coming class. It is a big challenge in different time zones, where you must try hard to keep a good balance between life and online study. To overcome it, I take most of the time of the day to review the lecture notes and textbook and make study plans everyday so I can understand the instructors’ thoughts. A sleeping plan is also crucial to online study, which will conserve energy and keep me healthy, especially during a new epidemic.
Sometimes we will feel so strange, because we fail to communicate with classmates and instructors directly in person, rather having to talk to each other by screen. It is impossible to have the same study and living experience than actually being there on the UCSB campus. But while online overseas study has its drawbacks, the difficulties are outweighed by the advantages. For example, we don’t need to rent a room, which helps us cut costs.
The most obvious advantage to overseas university study is the real-life experience of a different language. Meanwhile, the exchange students in UCSB can take the courses that you can’t take in your home universities. For me, I am determined to study theoretical physics in the future, but almost none of these courses are available in my home university. However, at UCSB, I can choose academic courses for physics related to my research. I have been admitted to three graduate courses this quarter. Undoubtedly, these courses and the homework are a bit tough. But with the help of my kind professors, I am able to get a great grasp on all key points.
There is a great opportunity to learn a lot about physics at UCSB, because UCSB has a top physics program and most of the professors in the department are famous and excellent in their own areas, such as quantum physics, gravity, and condensed matter theory. They are also good at teaching, and they are very kind. We can make interesting and informative discussions with them or ask any questions that confuse us in the open office time, and even we can do some research under their instructions. Studying physics at UCSB inspires me to become a great physicist.
Thanks to this opportunity, studying physics at UCSB also offers me a new and different perspective of the United States, and perhaps most important, of China. Once beyond the initial shock of being in a new culture and new education environment, I’ve slowly begun to get a meaningful understanding of the distinctions in culture between the United States and my homeland. In China, the university serves the government or to match the need of rapid economic development. So the students who accept this education fail to find the meaning of their lives, and even can lose their own thoughts. They can’t understand democracy and freedom. While in the U.S., the university will help students to realize the meaning of their life and give freedom to themselves. So American students can have creative thoughts and be more active in class. It is also easier for them to give their voice for the injustice in society and the bad behaviors of government.
At last, I want to make a suggestion: dream what you want to dream; go where you have opportunities to fulfill your dream, even if it may be far away from your hometown, like UCSB. Be what you want to be!
Naiqian Zhang from China is an exchange student studying physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.