Ultra Vires


U of T Law Students Zoom in to Class from Across Time Zones

Law students at the Faculty of Law are given a choice this year: either attend classes partially in-person or fully remotely due to  COVID-19. According to a survey of the first year class, 26 students out of 212 enrolled, or 12 percent, are learning online exclusively. And it’s not just 1Ls who are attending remotely. Three students residing outside of  Ontario: Jiayi Wang (1L), Joseph Mercado (2L) and Vivian Cheng (2L), shared their perspectives on online learning with Ultra Vires

This story holds special meaning to me. I am one of the 1L students studying exclusively remotely. This was not on purpose. After studying in Vancouver, BC, for six years, I flew back to Hong Kong for Christmas and Chinese New Year last December. It was supposed to be a three-month trip until the pandemic hit and ballooned across North America. 

Later, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada imposed travel restrictions on international students, singling out those who applied for a study permit after March 18, 2020. Because I applied for my study permit in April, I am currently banned from traveling to Toronto. 

When I contacted the admissions office at the Faculty of Law, I was given two choices. Either apply for an admission deferral or attend classes remotely from Hong Kong, without lecture recordings. This was a choice between bad and worse. But, I had to make a decision, so I chose to do remote classes so I could begin law school earlier in my life. 

The 12-hour time zone difference between Toronto and Hong Kong poses a big challenge. Most of my classes end at 5 pm EDT and therefore, I stay up until 5 am HKT on most weekdays. Though it is three weeks into the school term, I am still constantly adjusting my sleep schedule. I tried different strategies to adjust my biological clock, including taking sleeping pills, doing bedtime yoga, and eating late at night. 

Although it sounds stressful to turn night into day, I am enjoying my time in Hong Kong more than I expected. I can spend some time with my family and reunite with my local friends. Also, when I study late at night, I feel a sense of calm and am less easily distracted. 

Taking classes from the hospital

Jiayi Wang (1L) is in Guangzhou, China, which is 12 hours ahead of Toronto. She found out about the travel restrictions in early July, after she quit her full-time job. Due to the   difficulty  of finding a new job during a global pandemic, she decided to study remotely instead of deferring her offer. 

She took the intensive Legal Methods course in quite an unexpected location: the hospital. A week before the first class, she sustained a serious ankle injury from skateboarding. Consequently, she received surgery and was hospitalized for the duration of the course. 

“Even though it was a tough start, Professor Yasmin Dawood was very understanding of my situation. She gave me lots of advice and assistance. For instance, I had to skip a few classes. Professor Dawood shared her slides with me and guided me through the important details. I would have collapsed without her assurance and moral support,” says Jiayi.

She was discharged from the hospital last week and is now recovering. Due to her injury, she is struggling to maintain a regular sleep schedule, which is occasionally interrupted by physiotherapy and doctor appointments. In general, she also found the inability to meet her classmates in person stressful. She is using social media and online club activities to make friends. Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold and Terry Gardiner from Student Mental Health and Wellness are invaluable resources navigating medical resources and accommodations for her injury.  

“They are all my life savers,” says Jiayi.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

While many students find remote classes challenging and prefer in-person attendance, some see remote classes as an opportunity, and deliberately choose this option. Joseph Mercado, a 2L student, is one of them. He decided to study remotely because he wanted to stay in Alberta. He is planning to practice in Calgary after law school and would like to network there in preparation for the Calgary recruit. Further, he is skeptical about the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto and is worried that classes could switch to Zoom at any time during the semester.

After experiencing remote learning last semester, he found himself adjusting well to it, even though it may be difficult to contribute ideas during class. In particular, some professors avoid making in-person interactions after classes due to health concerns. But when professors are willing to stay after Zoom classes for a Q and A session, this online learning setting allows him to listen to professors’ responses to his classmates’ questions, which is not possible in the traditional classroom setting. 

Furthermore, Joseph recognized some social and mental benefits from taking online classes. He enjoys walking his dog in between classes in the nice weather.  He cherishes the chance to hang out with his Calgary friends while maintaining social interactions with his law school friends remotely. 

Nonetheless, he does prefer in-person socialization at law school. When asked about what he would like to do when he is back on campus,  he said, “hang out with my friends at Wow Sushi.”

Creating a unique remote learning experience

Remote studying can also provide you the opportunity to live in a foreign country. Vivian Cheng (2L), one of Ultra Vires’s Co-Editors-in-Chief this year, is living in California. She deliberately decided to study remotely because she loves California. “The weather is nice and the surrounding environment is beautiful,” she says. She is currently visiting San Francisco, staying at a friend’s place.

As she is no longer bound physically by the law school, she appreciates the chance to take stretch breaks between classes and she can now exercise more frequently throughout the day. However, California is three hours behind Ontario and she has to wake up early in the morning for classes — as early as 6 am to attend Business Organizations every Wednesday.

Since she is a very social person, the biggest challenge she faces with online learning  is the loss of in-person interaction with her law school friends. As a result, she has a fear of missing out, especially the fun parts of  law school. To accommodate the mental stress, she takes proactive measures to maintain a tight connection with the law school, such as talking with professors after class, chatting with her law school friends daily, and getting involved with Ultra Vires.

Vivian says she would like to “chat with my friends in person” once she is back on campus.

Law school is different for everyone this year. The pandemic is changing everybody’s experience. But, for the students in far away cities from Calgary to San Francisco to Hong Kong, this semester looks, feels, and is indeed very different. 

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