Last month, Lakehead University student Wrushali Kubde was studying for final exams a world away in India while attending to her mother who was admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
During the day, the 19-year-old, who lives in Maharashtra, the worst-affected state in India, took care of her sick mother and stayed home alone. Her father, who has diabetes, and her nine-year-old brother moved in with her uncle to quarantine.
During the night, she had to attend classes at her Thunder Bay school online – she took one final exam at 2:30 a.m. and a business course at 4:30 a.m.
“It was really difficult for me to manage everything,” she said.
Ms. Kubde is among the thousands of international students studying in Canadian colleges and universities from India, struggling with remote learning as their terms come to an end while coping with the crisis in their home country. India’s Health Ministry reported 386,452 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than 18 million. The official death toll has passed 20,800, a figure that experts say is a vast undercount.
Last week, Canada suspended direct passenger flights from India and Pakistan, adding to the challenges for some international students from those countries.
Many students enrolled in Canadian postsecondary institutions with the hope of studying in Canada and then working here, aspirations that have been upended by the pandemic. International students typically pay tuition two to six times higher than domestic students. More than half of Canada’s international students come from two countries: India and China.
Dhruv Joshi, a student of web and mobile application design and development at Langara College in Vancouver, said he’s been struggling with balancing caring for a family member with COVID and his studies. He said he’s routinely up until 3 a.m. to attend classes.
“It’s not that easy to cope,” he said.
He said Langara has been supportive, but his finances have been stretched by medical expenses to care for the sick relative. When he asked for an extension to pay his school fees, he said he was rejected.
“If I need an extension, I’ll have to pay an interest on the amount,” he said.
Many postsecondary institutions across the country said they’re aware and concerned about the growing crisis in India, and that accommodations such as financial, academic and emotional support are provided to students both in Canada and overseas.
Langara College, which admitted more than 3,000 international students from India as of January, 2020, has a quarantine support team that’s assisting all students with travel. The college’s emergency fund is available for students to apply to in certain situations.
As of Nov. 1, 2020, University of British Columbia had 2,457 Indian students, and 160 Pakistani students enrolled in courses at its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC, said the school has reached out to all students in these two countries.
“We’ve made sure that our advising community, the folks who work with international students every day, are aware of heightened need for practical and emotional support at this time. And of course, one key concern for any population, including young people who are far from home, is their mental health and well being at such a stressful time,” she said, noting counselling services are available 24/7 and in multiple languages including Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.
Libanshu Malhotra arrived in Ontario days before Canada imposed the ban on passenger flights from India. The Lakehead student now calls his family in Haryana state twice a day to check their safety and well-being.
“I ask them to play games, like board games, because you have to be mentally fit, right?”
As the president of the Indian Students Association at Lakehead University, Mr. Malhotra said he hopes that students could be assisted with their studies in such a hectic time.
Lakehead currently has 514 students enrolled from India this semester at both Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses, and less than a third of them are currently doing their studies from India, said Brandon Walker, spokesperson for the university. He said the school has implemented a temporary change to the numeric grading scheme, which allows students to keep their numeric grade or convert their grade to a pass or fail.
All these schools said they work individually with students to accommodate their unique circumstances.
Yash Bhatt lives in Ahmedabad, a city in western India, and is studying at St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology in Windsor, Ont.
The 21-year-old is the only one in his family of nine who has not been diagnosed with COVID so far. Now, his grandmother, aunt and uncle are in hospital after contracting the virus. The hospitalization of the three family members corresponds to a daily expense of approximately $900. His family is going to require another week in hospital.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “My plan was if I get enrolled in a college, I will work hard, so I’m able to pay fees for the second year but that might not happen at all.”
Mr. Bhatt had booked his flight to Ontario for April 25 but three days before his departure, Canada announced a travel ban for direct passenger flights from India. The remote learning, added stress of the pandemic and looming financial uncertainty have taken a toll on his studies.
“I’m experiencing too many difficulties because I’m enrolled in a civil engineering subject and cannot manage it over online study because it’s a totally offline subject,” he said, adding he is now considering taking a break from his studies.
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