Millennials, Gen Zers struggle with academic changes amid coronavirus (audio story included)

Millennials and Gen Zers are known as the most technologically savvy generations. In fact, one nickname proposed long ago for Generation Z was the iGeneration. But three students nevertheless agree: online learning isn’t easy.

“Even my lab classes are now online,” said 25-year-old Pedro Oliveria, a junior studying biology at Florida Atlantic University. “I’m struggling with that because I have to learn to do lab reports through videos from YouTube.”

From online classes to postponed internships and high school graduations, both generations face changes to their academic and social lives. Even immigration status — and some students’ ability to be in the United States — could be in jeopardy.

Oliveria is from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where he is now. 

“I came to Brazil for spring break on March 6, and I was supposed to stay here only for a week,” he said. “But since this situation [evolved] of the coronavirus growing and my flights getting canceled, I’ve decided to stay here for the whole spring and summer as well.”

Because he’s an international student, it’s cheaper for him to stay in Brazil. He doesn’t have to pay for a dorm or worry about exchanging currency. But he has to sweat something else. 

“Because I’m an F-1 visa, it’s the student visa, I only can stay out of the U.S. for five months,” Oliveira said.

Many schools made it mandatory to leave campus, so students had to return home or find temporary housing. Oliveira said FAU has helped international students find places to live

“I talked to my advisor and she said: ‘Oh, if everything goes back to normal throughout summer, you need to go back before August.’ Because I can’t stay here,” he said. “Otherwise I would [lose] my visa.”

Oliveira is a millennial. But his generation is not the only one in college.

The Pew Research Center defines millennials and Gen Zers as the following: millennials — sometimes called Generation Y — were born between 1981 and 1996. This year, the youngest ones turn 24 while the oldest ones turn 39. Gen Zers, or Generation Z, were born between 1997 and 2012. The oldest ones turn 23 this year.

Melanie Pillaca-Gutierrez is a Gen Zer. The 20-year-old sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, who is majoring in international studies and economics, returned home to Parkland when remote learning began on March 11.

“It’s much more difficult to engage completely because you’re either on a Zoom lecture or just listening to audios,” said Pillaca-Gutierrez. “But my university passed universal pass/fail, so that has lessened the stress around keeping my grades up while also being at home.”

A pass/fail grading scale doesn’t affect students’ GPAs. This helps them worry less about their grades for the spring semester. But some of their academic plans are still affected. 

“This summer actually I planned to travel to China to study Chinese because that’s what I’m taking right now,” she said. “My program got canceled very early on.”

She looked for internships as an alternative for her summer semester but has not received a decision. She is not sure if the programs she applied to will occur or not.

Oliveira also had a spring internship that was canceled in the middle of the semester. He had planned to continue over the summer but he doesn’t know if it will be canceled or moved remotely.

Moving to a fully-online schedule has already been challenging for these students. Even more when they had to leave campus or can’t see family or friends even though they’re back in their home towns. 

Some high schoolers are facing similar challenges.

Carlos Peralta is an 18-year-old student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. “A lot of the senior activities we have were really based around just enjoying our last few moments [in] high school,” he said. “That would’ve included Grad Bash, prom and graduation.”

But those events have been canceled. Peralta said the situation has also altered students’ road to college. 

“Everybody’s applied, but getting to know the colleges we got accepted to is virtually impossible,” he said. “Because doing online orientation and the online tours is really not the same as going and visiting the school in person, or getting to talk to people from there.”

(Editor’s note: This story is part of a series describing the transformational effect of coronavirus on the young. For more stories, click here.)

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a Venezuelan journalism student minoring in political science. She is passionate about understanding policy and informing people on issues that affect them.