Being a student is one of the most intense and exciting adventures of our lives. In this academic journey, we focus all our energy and keep organized, but sometimes the unexpected happens. After all, we are human; situations occur that are beyond our control, and this is where we must be creative to cope.
Living in the Caribbean, as I do, can have its advantages: a quiet life, a warm climate, and a happy culture. However, there is no absolute paradise: On September 20, 2017, I went through the traumatic experience of surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. One year later, I can sit down to reflect and share with you the four most important lessons I learned on how to handle crisis situations as a student at an online university.
1. Communication is essential!
As students, we want to learn as much as possible and earn excellent grades. However, how can we expect a good grade if our instructors suddenly stop receiving many of our assignments without notification? We can’t—and that is why anytime I know there is a possibility of bad weather in my region, I set aside five minutes to email my instructors or committee members to inform them of my extenuating circumstances. This line of communication is essential: It ensures that my instructor is informed and can assist me with next steps, including whom else to contact (for example, my student success advisor).
2. You are not alone!
Online learning sometimes makes us feel a bit isolated. Since I notified my instructors there was a hurricane warning in my area and the university was aware of the situation in my region, many Walden faculty and staff members tried to contact me and offer their help. I shed tears of gratitude when almost two weeks after the hurricane when I was reconnected, I saw the many emails and voicemails they left me to check in on me.
The support of the Walden University family was amazing! There were people who offered to send me food, provided words of support, and even offered temporary housing in the United States. During my fourth residency in 2018, which coincidentally was in Puerto Rico, a classmate told me in an emotional voice, how a member of the student success advising team sent her batteries and food. She said thanks to that, she was able to feed her family during several of those difficult days. This thoughtful outreach reminded me that in our Walden community, we as students are not alone. We will be supported and can encourage one another, too.
3. You must have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Z, if necessary.
We students all want to achieve the goal of earning our degree. Crisis situations or everyday challenges are tests that help us value that degree even more. To achieve our goals, we must be creative and plan ahead.
My most basic technique was the most useful: Carry a notebook and a pencil. With these two tools, I could write my drafts and record ideas that arose in the moment that I could not note on my computer or send via email due to the lack of internet connection. Another plan can be to consider taking a leave of absence. Depending on how severe the circumstances, we must be realistic and make the best decision for our situation. You can contact the Student Success Advising at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a leave of absence. We must remember that we are making a great economic investment in our education, and an academic term without internet or electricity can be a term monetarily wasteful and academically unproductive.
So, if it is necessary, do not worry, take a quarter or semester to rest, solve your difficulty, and come back full of energy. Remember, getting a degree is not a matter of speed; it is a matter of persistence. We are human, and the pressures can overwhelm us. If you feel overwhelmed, seek help through the Student Assistance Program. They can help you manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
4. Stay Safe and Make Social Change!
Finally, if we want to achieve our goals, we must prioritize our well-being and that of our loved ones. Putting yourself as a priority will help you be in your best condition when helping others. When the natural disaster ends, take time to recover. If the opportunity arises, apply your scholar-practitioner skills to impact social change through recovery efforts. You will be a Walden social change agent and model for your community. Responding with community support after times of crisis is one way we can apply the skills we learn at Walden, contributing our talents and skills to achieve the social change that we all aspire to in our society.
Michael Gomez-Melendez, MD is a Peer Tutor in SPSS and Statistics, and Math. Michael is pursuing his PhD in Health Services, lives in Puerto Rico, and works in a hospital in Puerto Rico.