Tough decisions for international students during COVID-19

Campus News World

International students face unique challenges during the pandemic

File photo by Belle White

Canada is shutting down and bracing for the impact of COVID-19. Facing an ever-growing list of flight cancellations and border closures, international students studying at the University of Victoria face difficult choices amidst the uncertainty caused by the global pandemic. Do they return home and be barred from returning to Canada, or stay and face the pandemic in a foreign land? The Martlet spoke to a variety of international students and international student support groups that are facing the current crisis.

International Student: Victoria Bustamante

Victoria Bustamante is a third-year UVic political science student from Guayaquil, Ecuador. She is now stranded in Victoria until further notice: Ecuador closed its borders to travellers on March 15 after the second COVID-19 death in the country.

Bustamante had an opportunity to go back before Ecuador closed its borders, but she chose to wait for more information from school as UVic had just made the decision to transition away from face-to-face instruction

“None of my teachers [had] sent any emails yet …. everything was so uncertain and they closed the borders literally two days after [UVic’s announcement],” she said.

For Bustamante, being away from family has been affecting her the most. 

“I still Facetime my family but it’s not the same thing,” said Bustamante, who hasn’t left her house in six days. “I have no motivation to do any [of my] assignments, and I am bored of [being] bored … I’m just so anxious of everything [that’s happened], and what’s going to happen.” 

International Student: Capri Mayes 

Capri Mayes is a second-year anthropology student originally from Gig Harbor, Washington. Gig Harbor is only about 200 km away from Victoria — it takes less time to get to Whistler than it does to go to her hometown in the United States. 

 “I can go home, be able to get back relatively quickly, you know? Where a lot of other international students, they either can’t go back to their home countries … I was really lucky that I could take the [Coho] ferry and I could still have someone pick me up and I can be back home in the span of a few hours,” said Mayes.

Mayes revised her departure date six times as the situation worsened, eventually scrambling home on March 18 when the U.S.-Canada border closure was announced. 

“It didn’t seem like it was going to grow the way it did and then in the span of three days it escalated quite a bit,” said Mayes.

Exchange Student: Shirin Orozalieva

Shirin Orozalieva is an exchange student from Chinese University of Hong Kong and is originally from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Orozalieva had originally planned to travel throughout Eastern Canada after exams, but has changed her plans with the onset of COVID-19. 

 “I was hoping that everything will be fine, and that I would be able to travel across Canada and visit my friends,” said Orozalieva.

During the writing of this article, Orozalieva had her plans change drastically as circumstances spiralled out of her control — she had originally planned to stay in Canada, but eventually decided to risk the possibility of getting stranded in a foreign country to get home. 

Orozalieva had originally planned to leave in May, but ultimately left early on March 27, spending days obtaining last-minute flight tickets. Orozalieva faced multiple cancellations as air travel to the Central Asian country — sporadic even during normal times — has dried up almost completely.

Her journey back would consist of four flights, crossing three international borders before she can arrive in Bishkek, a precarious situation as borders have been closing across the world. Orozalieva had to call her embassy to obtain special permission to fly through Moscow as Russia has grounded all international flights. 

International Student Services  

International Student Services is UVic’s centralized resource for international students, from “pre-arrival to degree completion.” Although all in-person services have been suspended, Associate Director of International Student Services Tricia Best says the office has been busy fielding approximately 120 to 160 daily enquiries from concerned internationals and parents — a much higher number than usual. 

Best says that healthcare, immigration, and social isolation are the top concerns for international students right now. “[International students] are needing information fairly quickly and also having to act on information pretty quickly,” said Best. 

Best says that it is important to get good information, preferably from official sources.

UVSS International Student Relations: Efe Türker

UVSS Director of International Student Relations Efe Türker spoke frankly about the situation: “Our office is closed and [the International Student Relations Committee] budget is gone, so we’re not planning on anything other than doing more outreach.” 

Türker says that the concerns that his constituents have been bringing him are mostly finance-related. 

“At this point, I haven’t heard of how that kind of financial hardship is going to be addressed. I think that if students continue to give us that feedback we can at the very least make that known as an issue,” said Best when asked about UVic’s response to financial worries.

As for immigration and study permit worries, Türker has said that UVic President Jamie Cassels has personally assured him that they are working on the issue. UVSS Lead Directors met with UVic administration two weeks ago to discuss plans.

Türker is from Adana, Turkey and plans to stay in Canada for the foreseeable future. Personally, he’s worried about whether he will be able to get a work permit in Canada when he graduates in a month.

Türker has a message for international students who are still here in Victoria: “It’s the time for solidarity. It’s the time for standing united as one group. We, through numerous reasons cannot or will not go home … we should play our part in ensuring the safety of the society by complying with the quarantine.”

If you are an international student seeking resources, please contact International Student Services (issinfo@uvic.ca / 1 (250) 721-6361) or UVSS International Student Relations (internationalrep@uvss.ca).