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Alumni Spotlight: Ben Li

“A University Freshman in the Time of Covid”

Ben Li was tired, very tired. It was the fall of 2020 in the time of Covid, and Ben was taking classes in the morning at National Taiwan University (NTU) and classes at night via zoom from the University of Washington (UW). Obviously, this is not what he had envisioned. This was the not the college experience he had anticipated; but, this was the reality during a world-wide pandemic. Ben graduated in June, 2020 from Hsinchu American School (HAS) not realizing what the next year would bring.

Ben worked extremely hard during his high school years at HAS to prepare himself for university. He took numerous Advanced Placement courses. He got involved in a variety of extra-curricular activities, including student council president. And he studied for and scored well on his college entrance exams. As a result, Ben gained acceptance to many prestigious universities including NYU, the University of Toronto, Perdue, UC Santa Barbara, Northeastern and the University of Washington. He chose Washington due to its acclaimed engineering program, as well as its well-known excellent lifestyle in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

Unfortunately, Ben hasn’t been able to enjoy that great lifestyle. Covid has kept him in Taiwan. He hasn’t been able to make friends at the dorms and attend mixers. It was difficult to create and maintain study groups to help excel in classes, even though they were encouraged to create digital study groups. There have been no fun weekend trips to the San Juan Islands or skiing in the Cascades, or even a short jaunt down to Pike Street Market to shop and dine. And there have been no one-on-one discussions with professors, the truly amazing part of attending a university.

Yet, despite the negatives of starting college during a pandemic, Ben has recognized some positive aspects. Due to the online nature of the educational experience, professors have been uploading and posting numerous resources for students. The university provided opportunities to meet with professors one-on-one during office hours. Also, the university has shared its digital library. Class exams have been by necessity open-book, a great advantage for securing a good grade. Additionally, if a student is self-motivated and dedicated, a virtual education can be ideal. There are no outside disturbances, such as a noisy dorm environment, and a student can work at his own pace.

Yes, Ben Li is tired. He is entering his third quarter of middle-of-the-night education from the University of Washington; but, he is also excited about the future. If the vaccine rollout in the United States continues at its current pace, there’s an excellent chance that Ben with get his on-campus college experience next fall. Ben knows that this is just the beginning of a long journey; and although the first leg was unexpected, and unparalleled, his future is certainly bright.


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