I will shamelessly admit that I am one of those people whose camera roll and Instagram stories are filled with sunset photos. The beautiful blend of warm and cool palettes against the city landscape never fails to give me a sense of peace and a reminder of how beautiful the Earth can be, especially after being stuck inside for so long. Sunsets usually signify the end of a long, tiring day and a time for a bit of rest.
Recently for me though, sunsets merely indicate the beginning of a long and arduous night filled with watching lectures, studying and attending club meetings.
Instead of waking up to a soft ray of sunlight with birds chirping, I wake up to the harsh afternoon sun as cars noisily race through the city streets. I get up, eat a little snack and head straight to do my daily workout routine (thank God for those post-workout endorphins) before joining my family for dinner. I then spend the rest of my “day” in darkness surrounded by the silence of the city asleep while attending my classes online. Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic. I do have the lights on 24/7 since I am terribly afraid of the dark.
But why have my weeks been like this? It’s because I’m currently completing my sophomore fall a 16-hour flight away from Hopkins, at home in the Philippines.
Like many students living abroad, prior to the start of classes, I considered different scenarios for how my schedule would soon have to change. I could have attended some of my classes asynchronously and kept to my regular routine, but I thought that I would feel too disconnected when watching all my lectures online and burdensome when scheduling meetings.
I could have completely switched my schedule to adapt to U.S. time, but I also knew I wanted to spend some time with my family while I’m at home. Instead, I opted for a solution somewhat in the middle, waking up at 4 p.m. (4 a.m. EDT) and going to bed at 8-9 a.m. (8-9 p.m. EDT). My dad even bought darker curtains for my room to block out the sun’s light, allowing me to sleep peacefully throughout the day.
Whenever friends and family asked me how I have been handling the time difference for school, I would tell them that I’m practically living my life nocturnally now. They would always reply with surprise and incredulity, exclaiming, “I could never do that! That must be so exhausting.”
And to some extent, it was. But in my mind, I always reasoned, “At least, I’m still getting 7-8 hours of sleep.” And realistically, I knew that if I were back on campus this semester, that — and the sophomore slump — would tire me out physically and mentally even more. Getting enough hours of sleep seemed to be all that mattered for my new schedule, but I did not anticipate the mental toll it would take to be up literally all night.
Every day, I had to remind myself that my current schedule was the best option. I could at least still talk to my friends in the U.S., participate in the occasional AmongUs game or two, interview more people for News-Letter articles and utilize remote campus resources more easily. Even the incessant buzzing of the GroupMe messages for my various classes and labs offers a source of consolation and collaboration amid this very disconnected semester.
But as someone who, by default, is a morning person and loves the sunlight, the eventual Vitamin D deficiency made me dread the long quiet nights of studying. Every night I would unconsciously be looking forward to the 5 a.m. mark when I knew that I would turn off the lights, when the sun’s rays would begin to peek through the clouds and bring light into the world again.
Mixing in the somber mood of the darkness with the intense workload of my STEM-heavy classes, I kept wondering to myself, “Why did I schedule my life like this?” I terribly missed campus, going out and living with my friends. We are only one month into the semester, and yet a part of me is already counting down the weeks until December. Especially after recently finishing my first round of midterms, the exhaustion has begun to weigh heavily on me even more.
While a part of me still feels this exhaustion, staying up throughout the night has also given me a sense of appreciation for some of the smaller details of the world. I love walking outside and feeling the cool night wind that is practically nonexistent in the humid tropical weather except during the rainy season.
I have developed a love for the peace of Makati asleep, where the streets are empty and lamp posts are left illuminating patches of sidewalk every few steps. The stillness outside juxtaposes the never-ending list of the responsibilities in my head and the chaos of the world in the news of politics and the pandemic. I’m thankful that my family has done their best to adapt to my schedule, always keeping me full with lots of snacks and still making time to spend with me.
Most of all, I love being able to make myself a steaming cup of coffee in time for the 5 a.m. mark, when I can finally walk out to the balcony and watch the sunrise paint the city skies again, cascading from purples to pinks and reds to yellows, finally settling on the brilliant blue morning sky. Sometimes when I’m in a meeting or in the middle of studying, I will immediately take a break once I see the sky start to change colors.
While the sunrise wakes up the world, ready to start a new day, I see it as a blissful symbol of the hard work I have completed throughout the night and a time to rest soon — a sign that eventually the amount of struggles overcome and energy expended will be worth it in the end.