The Bartlett


Studying with a +7 hour time difference

by Suthida Chang

Logging off a Zoom enrichment lecture, it’s almost midnight as I’m typing this. Studying in a time zone that’s currently seven hours ahead of the UK was definitely not what I had imagined my British postgraduate experience to be. Although I’ve gotten better at online classes over the year, night school certainly hasn’t been the best virtual experience. But looking back, there were also times that this worked in my favour. Step into my shoes and explore what it’s like to study in Bangkok, 9,536.13 kilometres away from London! 

Training to be a Night Owl 

Compared to my elective modules from the Political Science department that provided pre-recorded video lectures, I was very fortunate that my programme at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) decided to carry on with live lectures during the lockdown. Better yet, my lecturers were masters at Mentimeter and Zoom breakout rooms — wonderful tools that made my classes more interactive! There were great conversations around public policies in various contexts with case studies supplied by different students. And I enjoyed discussions about how ‘dark matter’ like culture and political ethos can influence policy analyses. 

The only inconvenience was that because of the seven-hour time difference, these lectures and discussions were during the evening or at night. Plenty of enrichment lectures, Student Union club activities and Bartlett webinars were also scheduled near midnight Bangkok-time. After a full day of activities, my brain didn’t always cooperate for those nighttime discussions, even after an evening coffee. Yet, it was equally difficult to shut off my brain after hours of lectures so sometimes I’ll end up browsing my notes into the wee hours. Also, whenever it’s time to leave a Zoom meeting, wishing my classmates a good day ahead while I headed to bed was always bittersweet.

View of Bangkok at night

Silver linings are brighter in the dark

Nonetheless, the time difference wasn't always a bad thing. Apart from later deadlines (that’s definitely a perk!), a positive takeaway that I got out of this experience is that some conversations are more impactful at night. With the world around you sound asleep, having your mind spinning at full speed to participate in conversations that are halfway around the globe is a truly amazing feeling!

My programme invited amazing guest speakers who brought their practitioners' perspectives into our virtual classrooms. From non-Western public administration systems to the transformative capacity of technologies, it’d be a pity if I had literally slept through all of them. 

I vividly remember a recent enrichment lecture that we had on power and privilege in design. Gender equality and diversity are still areas that need improvement, but how can we be part of the change? And how can technologically-enabled systems be dynamic so that when what’s right today becomes a problem of tomorrow, the system adapts? These questions kept me awake and as I stared into the darkness from my 14th floor apartment, I realised how small and yet how powerful I am as an individual in the micro, meso and macro systems of life. 

Desk space

Free Course on Self-discipline

Studying virtually at UCL has also been a crash course on time management and maintaining commitment. It is easy to get distracted, especially when you’re thousands of kilometres away from UCL to experience campus life, and motivation levels will drop. But whenever that happens, I ask myself why I enrolled in this MPA programme and how my actions now will influence my future. Re-evaluating my purpose and expectations and proper goal-setting always helps me to get back on track. 

Plus, a dose of self-care never fails to work wonders! I’m a huge fan of breathing exercises, especially using yaa dom — a Thai menthol nasal inhaler. The essential oils are a great way for me to calm down and destress at the end of a busy day. I also set up an incentive system using chocolates and sour gummies to reward myself for finishing each assigned reading. 

Will I want to study remotely via Zoom again? Probably not; I’d much rather be there in person to experience UCL’s vibrant campus life and London. But was this inter-time zone study experience worth it? I’d happily and confidently say ‘Yes’. How many people have had the experience of studying in night school? On top of that, these academic and personal takeaways have reframed how I understand myself and how I interact with the world around me. Best of all, I think I’ve befriended that faraway neighbour’s dog who always barks at two in the morning. 

About the author

With a background in intercultural studies, philosophy and politics, Suthida is an MPA Innovation, Public Policy and Public Value student at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Growing up across Bangkok, Beijing and Singapore, her passions encompass volunteerism, traveling and Global Citizenship advocacy.

Suthida Chang = student blogger