Tyrone Burke, June 4, 2020
Carleton researchers exploring the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on international students
The change happened abruptly. And before it did, it was hard to grasp exactly how profound the transformation would be.
“Ontario shut down in a weekend,” says Dr. Amrita Hari, an Associate Professor at The Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies.
“We all had to make decisions quickly. There were drastic measures and very reduced timelines for decision making. it doesn’t sink in until it really happens”
As borders closed and flights were cancelled, international students had a decision to make: should I stay or should I go?
Its implications were bigger than they knew. To better understand the challenges facing international students in Canada and Carleton students who were on exchanges abroad, Hari is working with Dr. Luciara Nardon, an Associate Professor of International Business at the Sprott School of Business and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work (CRIW).
The researchers are conducting 30 one-hour interviews with students to better understand how COVID-19 has impacted them, give them an opportunity to share their experience, and work together to find ways to cope with the unprecedented and dynamic situation. Throughout the project, Hari and Nardon will be seeking to identify helpful changes that could be immediately implemented by the university.
“Many students might have felt that the implications of the decisions they were making were temporary. They felt they were making decisions for weeks, as opposed to months. Then that set in, as it did for everybody else,” says Hari.
The mental health challenges that isolation presents could be especially difficult for international students who are far from their support networks.
“Many international students do not integrate with the local community, so they may end up alone in their room, with no one they feel close to nearby. They may experience more social isolation than the rest of us, if they cannot see the people closest to them. So, there is this extra level of anxiety that is possible for them,” says Nardon.
When it comes to COVID-19, every country has a unique set of circumstances – and every student has a unique set of factors to consider when they’re making decisions.
“For Carleton exchange students abroad, for example, there was a two-day window when they could decide to stay during the lockdown.”
“Students who decided to stay abroad during this time worry about what would happen if a family member got sick, and they needed to come back? When you cannot move between the two places, what happens if you pick the wrong one.”
For both international students in Canada and Canadians studying abroad, the pandemic can create a financial challenge. Many students rely on funds from their families, and they might not be eligible to work or receive benefits in countries where they are now living indefinitely.
“Many international students do not qualify for the funding programs available through the Canadian government,” says Nardon.
“Some of them might have planned to go back home and work, but are now stuck here. They still have to pay the bills. We know that precarity of any kind exacerbates any crisis – financial, immigration status, mobility,” says Hari.
But financial concerns could run deeper still, as Hari notes. “It is a tough job market already, and this could disrupt career plans and graduations. Students don’t necessarily know how they’ll recover, or what the future holds for them.”
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