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Whose experiences are ApplyBoard’s research on international study truly representing?

By Anjali Choudhary, December 30 2021—

International students have been at the forefront of irresponsible planning, detrimental tuition hikes and extraordinarily difficult situations for the past two school years. While the rest of the student body is actively trying to ensure they never hear the word “pandemic” again, international students simply do not have that luxury.

The decisions made by university administrations — for both the University of Calgary and others across the nation — are impacting international students now more than ever. Universities may be trying to return to business as usual but the priorities and desires of international students have drastically changed since 2019. 

ApplyBoard, an Ontario-based international study application service, released a unique report outlining key trends surrounding international study following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This report made claims of the heightened desire to study abroad, new tuition tolerances and the future of international study.

The highly praised nature of Canada’s international post-secondary education draws in countless international students. In fact, the University of Calgary boasts hosting students from 155 different countries globally. The general appeal of studying abroad signals new experiences and the promise of a better future. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Sebastian Vasquez, an international student from Colombia, spoke to these trends and details his  experience as an international student as well as the crucial next steps for international study in Canada. He claims that international study is all about “having different experiences [and] becoming more independent,” adding that he has learned a lot of things in meeting different people and experiencing different cultures. 

Studying in privileged countries like Canada allows students to access otherwise exclusive opportunities and knowledge. While there are undoubtedly a multitude of extra barriers for international students to access these privileges, simply leaving their country is a step in the right direction for some.

Often the promise of a better future internationally is an escape from a terribly unfortunate alternative. For Vasquez, leaving Colombia was a way for him to leave a situation that he knew was going to be bad for the future, alluding to the conflict-related violence that has been rampant in the country.

To him, many students in South America share his sentiment of hopelessness in the future of their country and said he has “decide to leave instead of dealing with it.” 

However, despite the positives on the surface, the appeal of international study does not often match the reality. Vasquez also claims that universities market programs for international students as the opportunity to gain new experiences. 

“While it is the case for some people, there are many international students that struggle with finding work opportunities, particularly if they are part of the Arts Faculty,” said Vasquez.  

The false narrative and unrealistic portrayals are especially harmful when considering the difficulty of transferring to a different university or returning to a home country. The extensive resources and mental and emotional tolls of creating a new home is not easily reversible, thus, international students may feel obliged or trapped to continue in an academic environment that neither meets their expectations nor provides them with adequate future opportunities. 

Nonetheless, ApplyBoard argues that the appeal of international study and applications have exponentially increased by 200 per cent for the fall semester. Vasquez remained skeptical about this statistic, however, stating that it’s “a really high percentage” and that he personally hadn’t seen that many international students. Although, he does claim that overall in Canada “it makes sense, since a lot of people decided not to study during the first year of the pandemic.” 

Hence, the rise in gap years may account for the rise in enrollments this semester. The large number of students who opted to take gap years immediately following the onset of the pandemic can likely be attributed to the constant uncertainty and lack of direction provided by the university.

While this was undoubtedly a tumultuous time for domestic students, international students faced a multitude of other factors which they were forced to balance in their decision-making. Unfortunately, they were often not able to make their preferred choice for the school year.

While Vasquez and many others he knew considered taking a gap year or dropping out altogether, he was ultimately unable to make a decision based on preferences due to a difficult situation with his study permit. 

“I know you can ask for an extension on your study permit — but it’s stressful and I didn’t want to deal with it, and I know a lot of other students internationally fear it too,” Vasquez said. 

Behind the surface-level facade of seeking and welcoming international students, the university has planned moves which strategically disadvantage the already disadvantaged students. Over the past three years, the University of Calgary has been consistently raising tuition at egregious rates. Vasquez expressed his dissatisfaction with the high rates of international student tuition. 

“We pay almost triple in comparison to local students — what exactly are we paying for? It’s not fair.” 

The uncontrollable factors of both the pandemic and the unreasonable tuition hikes ultimately leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration with both the system and the university. 

The implications of things such as these tuition hikes are that fewer people are interested in attending the university. Even worse are the implications for the actual students themselves. “One of my friends had to leave the university during the pandemic because he couldn’t afford it,” said Vasquez. “Most students are on scholarships and rely on those in order to stay in university, so I think the issue with tuition is just getting worse.”

The University of Calgary needs to step up and take care of its students without hiding behind a shield of pandemic uncertainty. International students are in dire need of clear and realistic direction, adequate support and decisions which genuinely consider their best interest. Otherwise, this university may become an extremely undesirable location for students globally. 

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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