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Up in the air: COVID-19 has left future studies on the East Coast in question for international students

Manuel Velazquez Walker, pictured with his host family in St. John's, NL, is facing a lot of unknowns about his future study in Canada. The international student from the Patagonia region of Argentina just finished Grade 11 in Newfoundland and was unable to return home for the summer as planned.
Manuel Velazquez Walker, pictured with his host family in St. John's, NL, is facing a lot of unknowns about his future study in Canada. The international student from the Patagonia region of Argentina just finished Grade 11 in Newfoundland and was unable to return home for the summer as planned. - SaltWire Network

Instead of finishing their school years in class, students across Atlantic Canada handed in their final assignments at home due to COVID-19. This fall, education plans remain up in the air, as some universities have already committed to online learning and it is unclear exactly what public schools have planned.

This may be causing students some apprehension, but what impact has COVID-19 had on the students who call Canada their second home?

Nerissa Zhang, a second-year classics student at the University of King’s College in Halifax, N.S. did not plan on staying in Canada for the summer. She was supposed to go home to the Shandong province of China, but after several cancelled flights, she decided to stay in Halifax.

“I told my dad, ‘We have to look at money-wise, which one is better, because once you go back to China you also have to pay for the quarantine hotel for two weeks’,” said Zhang. “If I just pay for my rent here it is a similar thing, plus with the flight ticket going back to China.”

Nerissa Zhang, a second-year student at the University of King's College, is spending the summer in a Halifax apartment instead of going home to the Shandong province of China as planned.  - SaltWire Network
Nerissa Zhang, a second-year student at the University of King's College, is spending the summer in a Halifax apartment instead of going home to the Shandong province of China as planned. - SaltWire Network

 

Zhang was staying in a King’s residence but left to move into an apartment in the north end. The school helped her move, and with the additional resources she has received, she says it’s disappointing that she feels more support from her school than she does from her home country.

While in Halifax for the summer, Zhang has been making the most of her time, taking an online class, reading, and volunteering.

“I volunteered at the Dalhousie [University] food bank for like a month-and-a-half now because when I saw they said we want volunteers, I said, ‘Ah I have nothing to do’. Plus, I want to go out and just do some normal socializing,” says Zhang.

As for the fall semester, Zhang is waiting to hear if she can return to residence. On the King’s website, it states the school is currently working on a plan to reopen campus, including residences. Yet due to safety concerns, they most likely will have to limit the number of residence students.

Staying in Canada

Manuel Velazquez Walker is an international student from the Patagonia region of Argentina. He just finished his second year of high school school in St. John’s, N.L. Next year, he will start Grade 11 at Holy Heart of Mary High School, but this summer, he planned on going home.

“I have my ups and downs. Sometimes, I am really happy to be here, but at the same time… I have no idea when I am going to see my family or friends again, and it's really sad,” says Walker. “Even though I am having a really good time with my host family here because they are amazing, I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, everything has changed.”

He planned on staying in St. John’s in the summer of 2021 to work and save money for post-secondary, but he’s now unsure what he will do. This summer, he is passing the time by exercising, baking, and practicing his singing. Walker is a member of his school’s chamber choir, a group that was supposed to travel to Cuba before the pandemic happened.

Things outside the classroom, like sports teams and choirs, is a large part of the international student experience. Mark Ward of the Newfoundland International Student Educational Program says if those extracurriculars can’t happen this fall, he believes many students will postpone or cancel coming to Newfoundland.

For the over 150 international students still in the province, Ward says host families really stepped up when it became clear the students would have to stay longer than planned.

“The host families really go out of their way not just to welcome the kids, but I mean there is a genuine concern and you know some of the families will say, ‘Oh my gosh, they can stay here as long as they need to.’”

Walker is hoping soon that he will be able to hang out with his friends, even if it is at a distance.

“I really like the people here everyone is really nice, like everyone is really welcoming and willing to be your friend and willing to hang out and do stuff.”

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