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Working from home: an international student’s perspective

07 October 2020

In the first of our blogs on 'Coping with lockdown', Malaysian engineering student Hoong Hao Yap describes how he adjusted to the disruption in his studies caused by the Covid pandemic. 

Working from home: an international student’s perspective
International student Hoong Hao Yap

Every summer break, international students are often asked to choose between gaining overseas placement experience or spending time with family and friends in their home country. I was fortunate to experience the best of both worlds in the summer of 2020.

Throwing back to 6 months ago, I was enthusiastic and keen on undertaking a research placement in London to learn more about tunnel engineering – a topic not covered in undergraduate studies. After multiple meetings with my supervisor, I was thrilled that he agreed to take me on board, and he had multiple initiatives in mind to broaden my perspective of a career in research. These included field trips, laboratory testing, involvement in MSc projects and interactions with academic staffs. However, courtesy of Covid-19, all our plans had to be revised and we were asked to conduct our research remotely. As you can imagine, I was depressed by the news. For family reasons, I later returned to Malaysia to undertake the placement where things were financially easier.

Overcoming the obstacles and going home

With the obstacles presented, most of my research experience was in the form of literature reviews and online discussions. Instead of conducting the research itself, I focused on supporting future research topics that would be possible once in-person resources became available again. Therefore, a large emphasis was placed on a strong wi-fi connection and getting the time zone differences right. Working at odd hours has become a norm and I have learnt to be resourceful and independent in deriving conclusions. Of course, work will always be work but what separates my summer from the rest was the opportunity to be back home and, more importantly, in my home country.

Being in Malaysia was something I always took for granted and never truly appreciated until I started studying overseas. Therefore, I was determined to make the most out of my summer in Malaysia. Due to time zone differences, the first seven hours of my day was free, and I had the opportunity to organize meetups with friends and family during this time. Catching up on the events that happened in the last 10 months in three months was exhilarating. Apart from growing an appreciation for Malaysian food, birthdays and annual events, I have also learnt to seize the presence of family and relatives. You never truly know how much someone aged until photo and video filters are removed!

Every day may not be good… but there is something good in every day.

Alice Morse Earle

What may seem like an obstacle to a normal workplace – time zone differences and virtual meetings – has allowed me to strike a balance between social and work life. I enjoyed the experience so much that I got on board for a second remote placement in curriculum development later that month. We are now developing a new teaching module for non-engineering students to understand more about earthquake structural engineering. This module will also be taught remotely in the upcoming academic year. Understanding the core concepts of civil engineering is one thing but being able to convey it to the general public is another skill I aim to cultivate in this placement.

Returning to London and reflecting on my time away

Upon returning to London, I had the time to reflect on my summer experience. This summer may not have turned out as expected, but I would not have it happened any other way.

Here is some food for thought. From a corporate perspective, could remote work be the future of workplaces? Companies could save on energy expenditures, building rentals and taxes. Besides that, civil engineering projects always require collaboration – what if remote work could bring the brightest minds across the world to work together without sacrificing the personal time?

Moreover, throughout my placement, I felt as if there was always someone working in another part of the world.

If you're interested in submitting your experience of coping with lockdown, you can submit your blog here, or alternatively email us here. All entries published will be submitted for review with a view to winning a £20 Amazon voucher.

  • Hoong Hao Yap, is a student (MEng) at Imperial College London