From fighting financial stress, loneliness, homesickness and academic pressures to handling racial abuses to adjusting to life in a different culture, each day is a new battle for international students
Seema Sachdeva (The Tribune)
The small city of North Bay in northeastern Ontario was in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Nearly 300 international students, who had taken admission in various courses in the September/fall intake at Canadore College and Nipissing University, which share the same campus, were left homeless after the educational institutions expressed their inability to provide accommodation. All the excitement of studying in Canada turned into a shock as the students, mostly from Punjab, came face to face with the housing crisis. The limited accommodation in the area saw rentals shooting off the roof. While some students managed to find rental spaces at sky-high prices, many resorted to sleeping in the open, in tents, at bus terminals, or in cars. Some travelled from Toronto, 300 km from the city, leaving a big hole in their pockets.
Pleadings, requests and finally protests by the students, in which they were supported by the Montreal Youth Student Organization (MYSO), helped as the authorities gave in to their demands like full fee refund and arranging for affordable accommodation. Meanwhile, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has extended the transition period for distance learning.
In a statement, it said: “Until December 31, 2023, the time you spend studying online from within Canada still counts toward the length of your PGWP (post-graduate work permit). Starting January 1, 2024, you must complete 50 per cent of your programme in-class in Canada.”
With this flicker of hope, international students have got a breather for the time being. They, however, do realise that all is not well in this wonderland, which most of them want to make their home.
A few months back, a TikTok video went viral in which an Indian student of Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, was found sleeping under a bridge. He had a small bag of belongings, including a blanket, and some food. Another trending video on YouTube showed hundreds of students queueing up to apply for five vacancies at a job fair at a supermarket in Brampton.
From fighting financial stress, loneliness, homesickness and academic pressures to handling racial abuses to adjusting to life in a different culture, each day is a new battle for international students, who pay up to five times the cost of domestic students.
Says youth activist Mandeep, convener of MYSO, “The problem is that the education consultants in India are only concerned about the commissions the colleges offer them per student. A recent data of a local college revealed that from $561 in 2016-17, the agent partner’s commission per student had increased to $3,399 in 2020-21. Often, the agents don’t show the true picture to parents and their families and they are clueless about the life that lies ahead for them.”
Says Rishi Nagar, former senator, University of Calgary, “Often, parents rely blindly on an agent when sending their children without checking how their child will manage. For instance, a lot of students take admission in Olds College, which offers agriculture-related courses. The agents tell them it is very close to Calgary but parents need to be aware that it is a very small village and there is limited rental accommodation available there. There is no direct bus service and children will have to rely on taxi service if they don’t get local accommodation.”
While reality hits these students hard once they reach Canada, often the parents remain clueless about even the courses that their children have taken admission in. Harjit Singh (53) of Fatehpur village near Chamkaur Sahib is one such harried parent. His daughter Arshdeep Kaur had got admission at Nipissing University in a two-year post-baccalaureate certificate in general management. But when Arshdeep reached Canada in August-end, she found out that there was no rental accommodation available near her college. “We can only trust the agent when he assures us that the university has proper accommodation facility. At that time, they say, ‘Tussi fikar na karo… Uthhe badian maujan ne. Te assin baithe aa je koi problem aandi hai’ (Don’t worry, it’s all good there. And we are here to take care if any problem arises).” But when my daughter was unable to find accommodation, he expressed helplessness,” says Harjit, who then took to social media to raise the issue. Worried about his daughter’s safety, he remained in depression for many days, and even had to be hospitalised. He was finally able to shift his daughter’s college to one in Toronto, where there are better housing facilities and job opportunities. “We took a huge loan to send our daughter. We have spent more than Rs 8-9 lakh, besides other expenses. I do not know how long will it take for the refund to come,” says Harjit, who works in the electricity department.