Staff reporter / Jason Soul
It was around the middle of March when I first heard the news that schools could start shutting down because of COVID-19. Although the rumours were around the social media platforms that it would happen soon, I did not take it seriously until it happened.
When the announcement by the B.C government confirmed that all schools in B.C would shut down for a while, I was insensible about the current news of pandemic and took it lightly, and thoughtlessly considered it as a stretch of a spring break. However, as time passed and the cases of COVID-19 started to skyrocket all around the world, I realized that I should start worrying about my future.
When the government finally announced that the remaining school year is going to be taught online entirely, my parents suggested me to come back to my home country so that I could feel safe surrounded by my family. Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy to decide, because there were many other things that I had to worry about.
Many of the countries in the world were beginning to lock their borders to prevent their country from virus brought by outsiders, which meant that when the school year ended and the next school year began, I could not be able to come back to Canada for education. I would have to get a study permit at the right time, which was uncertain.
Even if I could come back with a study permit, I would need a place to quarantine for two weeks and a homestay to live, which would be extremely difficult to find in times like this. With so many worries and uneasiness in my mind, I realized that Covid-19 is especially harder on international students.
As an international student studying apart from parents and a home country, several other subjects must be taken care of, aside from the rules and the restrictions in communities to prevent the virus from spreading such as social distancing, gathering limitations, and wearing a mask. With many steps and ways to study safely during the pandemic, the fear of uncertainty kicks into international students whether they have made the right choice for their future.
Because COVID-19 is a serious disease and can cause death, people take different approaches to what they think is safe for them. For instance, I went back to South Korea, which is my home country and where my parents are at, as soon as the virus has emerged. My family thought that it would be the safest solution to gather as a family and live together until the next school year. I hesitated on deciding when I first encountered the news that my parents wanted me back because it was such an unordinary situation that has never happened in my life. I was in Canada without my parents for about 6 years and it was extremely difficult for me to decide on a subject that I have never thought about.
After deciding to leave Canada, I thought that all the worries would disappear when I got to South Korea. However, I immediately knew that I was wrong when I entered my house and had to quarantine myself. Two weeks of isolating and getting COVID-19 tested got me very nervous and afraid. I didn’t want my family to catch the virus if I caught any from the plane. Fear was overwhelming that it made me struggle mentally.
Also, the difference in time zone between Canada and South Korea was another major problem. I had to stay awake late at night to participate in lectures and do my studies. I was always behind than my classmates who were in Canada because it was challenging for me to have good communication with the teachers and my peer students. My schedule was flipped, and it was hard for me to live a productive life.
Even when the summer break started and was near the beginning of the next school year, it was hard to decide on going back to Canada because according to the Canadian border services agency, foreign students were only allowed into the country if they proved they have no other choice but to be in Canada.
Furthermore, a place to quarantine for 2 weeks and a homestay to stay after the quarantine needed to be found, and it was students’ responsibility to find their accommodation. It was extremely tough to find one because not a lot of people wanted to accept international students when students could bring the virus with them.
“I was so worried that we won’t be able to study in Canada anymore because there were no homestays that would accept us,” said Shaun Yang, grade 11 international student who also went back to his home country and came back the next school year. “The uncertainty of my future gave me anxieties. I think many international students can relate to how I felt.”
It also has been particularly difficult for international students who have decided to stay in Canada instead. The reason why they decided to stay varies, one of my friends wanted to stay because he thought going on a plane was more dangerous and riskier. Some students stayed because their visa didn’t allow them to visit their home country. For them, living far from loved ones and not having a strong support network was harsh. Not knowing when the next time they will see their parents made them worry. They had to be at home alone, which made them feel lonely.
“It was the worse summer break ever,” said Brian Kim, an international student who stayed in Canada the whole summer. “All I did at home was lie down on my bed and go on my phone. I couldn’t see any of my friends and have interactions with other people like I would normally do at summer breaks. If I was a Canadian citizen and had my family here in Canada, I wouldn’t have to deal with the struggles like I do now. I think international students who are in foreign countries on their own are facing much more difficulties.”
Besides the mental struggles that international students face, they also experience financial challenges. When the cases of COVID-19 were rising, the Canadian government provided emergency social and financial relief to most Canadians to alleviate the social and economic costs of the pandemic. However, these financial aids that provided most Canadians with economic security were not given to international students because they were considered as non-permanent residents.
Also, in the fallout of the pandemic, those who had jobs while attending school may have lost jobs. Additionally, in some countries, banking services cannot be accessed due to shutdowns, so families may not be able to send money.
“As students, we work jobs to be able to support ourselves, but most of us have been laid off and have lost that source of income,” said Kevin Choi, an international college student. “And due to COVID-19, many international students’ parents have lost their jobs and are on their own at finding ways to survive back home.”
The only solution to put it to an end to the struggles of international students is to wait for the virus to decease or for the vaccination to be successful. For the virus to die out, people should carefully follow protocols to stay safe from the virus. Until then, international students must make sure they stay mentally healthy and physically safe.