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Photo of International Student Services on the main campus. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

Around the World: International students struggling with their first semester of online learning

By Nandini Agarwal, November 16 2020—

The transition from in-person classes to a primarily online-based system has been an ongoing challenge for everyone, both students and professors. However, one group that is facing a high amount of stress and discomfort are international students, especially those living outside Canada. 

International students come to the University of Calgary with the hope of getting a post-secondary education that is worth their money. However, the spike in tuition fees, and the shift towards online classes due to the pandemic has been a struggle for this group of overlooked students. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Sriharshini Gadapa, a first-year student currently living in India, voiced her struggles with maintaining online classes.

“It’s honestly really difficult because I have classes from 11:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.”

Due to the major time difference between Calgary and India, she is struggling because when she is more active, everyone else is asleep.

“It gets difficult mentally,” she said.

Pragya Chopra, one of the Student Union Faculty of Science Representatives, and an international student from Dubai, talked about the struggle that international students are facing.

“As an international student, the biggest struggle I have faced recently is to choose between my home and my studies,” said Chopra.

This is a decision many students have had to face, and the constant fear of balancing personal life and education has taken a toll on students’ mental health.

“International students are a huge part of the University of Calgary community,” said Chopra. “Each of us probably made the most important decision of our lives when we chose [it]. We trusted the university with our education and our future. So please keep our trust and be considerate of our situations while making decisions that directly impact the students.” 

Photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn/Unsplash

For the students who are currently in other countries, their status for returning to Calgary depends on the delivery of classes in Winter 2021. This is both a major concern financially and medically, due to the possible chances of being exposed to COVID-19, alongside the costs of flights and quarantining upon arrival.

Fayez Khan, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, said that his plans to return to Calgary depend on whether or not he has any in-person classes in the winter semester.

“If I do not, then I will come back in May, or else I will have to come back for the winter to attend whatever class I have in-person,” said Khan.

Overall, international students have concerns regarding the rise in tuition fees.

Inara Nanji, an Indian resident who is currently in Calgary, is upset about the higher tuition fees that international students are being charged and said that “since most of our parents reside in developing countries, and we are reliant on them for our expenses, they have faced a drastic change in financial status.

“It is unfair for international students to be paying more money when most of these students are in another country sitting on a chair, with their laptop on a desk in front of them, and not getting the same learning experience in a classroom.” 

Douglas Li, a Hong Kong resident who is currently in Calgary, also said that he hopes that the “university can re-evaluate current tuition fees for international students since many international students are facing financial difficulties, especially due to the pandemic.”

The most important advice for international students right now, according to the people we spoke to, it to know that, no matter where you’re living, you’re not alone. International students are all in this together. Have a scheduled routine in order to avoid procrastination, and if faced with any difficulty, don’t feel afraid to reach out to your professors, or peers who may be able to support you. A suggestion from Youssef Makhlouf, currently in Egypt, is to “stay connected with your friends and try studying together even over Zoom sessions” because it helps with staying on track in classes. 

Many international students are unable to meet their family and friends who are living thousands of miles away. During these tough times, let’s come together as a community and make the dark times a little brighter for those who may be struggling. 

Around the World is a column about the international student experience and a platform for the voices of those students to be heard. It aims to raise topics often avoided and issues often unspoken about as they pertain to international students at the University of Calgary. This column is a part of our Voices section.

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