December 16, 2022 | CULTURE | By Ceyna Dawson  | Illustration by Rowan Kempen

Tickets were in hand, and her apartment was ready. Everything was prepared and arranged. It felt set in stone. 

Until plans went completely awry. 

Upon finding her first-ever work visa denial, Professor Natalia Khan describes her initial reaction as “desperate disappointment and, of course, a huge surprise.” As a 10-year professor of Russian at Colorado College, she didn’t think it was possible that being on campus this year could not be a reality.

Throughout 10 years, the process of getting a work visa has been routine.

She receives an official invitation from the college. She then takes the official paperwork and documents for a visa interview to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. The interview is a formal confirmation of her business trip to America. With the denial of her work visa for the first time, this routine broke. Khan described, “the U.S. Consulate did not explain why my work visa was denied.” With the realization that the situation could not change, she would have to teach her class remotely, or there would be no class at all. 

Her feeling of disappointment is more than not physically being in the United States, but also from Khan’s sense of responsibility to her class – The Other Russia: The Indigenous Peoples of the North – which had a wait list. “I felt I was betraying CC and unable to change the situation,” she said.   

Being unable to change the situation required many adaptations to her daily schedule. Such as becoming comfortable teaching online again, altering routines, and adjusting to a completely new format.

Complexities in following the Block Plan, a work correspondence, being present for her students while over 5,000 miles away in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and 10 hours ahead requires a complete reconstruction of time. 

Khan, amidst chaotic circumstances, must alter her schedule and time management.

“No matter how simple it may sound: being aware of yourself, your time, and taking a moment to recall what you have done are so important,” Khan added. “When we do not have enough time – time becomes one snowball.” 

Here is Khan’s typical day schedule: 

7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

–   Zoom Class 

10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

–   Daily Office Hours 

11:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. (possibly 2:30 a.m.)

–   Responding to emails 

–   Off to sleep 

8:00 a.m.

–   Wake up, and do some morning stretching

–   A 15-minute walk

–   Breakfast

She spends the rest of the day preparing for class. 

Khan is generally a morning person but must stay up late teaching. A daily office hour replaces in-person communication and relationship-building with her students. These new circumstances require flexibility in deviating from her normal routines.

Her students also adapt to the out-of-the-norm schedule. Zoom classes can bring up memories of the pandemic and warp perceptions of time. Students often struggle to pay attention, structure days, or even participate in class, she says. When the camera switches off, interaction switches off as well. 

However, this does not necessarily mean that online class cannot be a conducive learning space. No matter the location or time, Khan says it is “a bigger achievement [when] rather than a student simply learning the rules, or having an assignment done, when they say after our conversations: I have never thought about this before.” 

In Russia, critical thinking beyond memorization, an oral exam, or a paper is unheard of, she said. “Here in America,” she continued, “there is a different nature of education, liberal arts colleges, which do not exist in Russia. These lightbulbs can happen here [at Colorado College] with my students.” 

Khan says she spends the whole day preparing for class. She formulates well thought-out points and material ensuring her students’ ability to ask questions and think beyond facts. 

“I take it seriously, and I put all my passion into teaching what I know,” she said.  

Despite Khan’s inability to get a work visa this year, her passion can carry a class thousands of miles away from in-person contact. Critical thinking travels and continues even when circumstances are not favorable. 

And so, when you cannot get a work visa, adaptations from the professor and student create a new-found resilience strung across borders.

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