Back to school anxiety high for foreign university students

By Matthew Sylvester, Special to The Record

While universities struggle to prepare for the coming fall semester, foreign students are feeling anxious that they might not get the quality of education they need. The fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic situation means students and institutions alike are having to deal with constantly evolving restrictions and regulations around travel and school.
“There’s always another layer to peel back,” said Casey Hébert when asked how she was dealing with her return to Bishop’s University from a summer in France. Hébert is a French-American international student in the university’s drama, English and business departments. She says that navigating all of the guidelines about making a safe return to Canada has been a huge source of stress over the past months.
The government of Canada’s immigration information website includes a section for international students coming to the country, but some of the information is outdated and contradictory to pandemic regulations. The website is also changing weekly as the situation develops, meaning students don’t have the ability to plan very far ahead.
Those who take out leases on apartments and book flights over have to take it on faith that the rules won’t change before September rolls around. As a precaution, Hébert is compiling a series of documents to help prove to border agents that she needs to be in-province to study.
Along with many other international students, Hébert left for France when the quarantining began back in March. From there she was able to complete her semester exclusively online. While she appreciates all of the effort put into making all courses completable online, Hébert said that she felt the quality of her education was lacking.
Being a part of the drama program, some of Hébert’s courses included in-person classes where she would make costumes with other students. These were impossible to do from over 5,000 kilometres away. “I feel like I needed to put in more work to get the same level of education others would get,” she said.
Hébert was even forced to drop a course because of technical issues. Her internet connection would often give out without warning, and she was worried that she might be disconnected during important exams that would mean the difference between passing and failing the class.
Dr Stine Linden-Anderson is the BU dean of student affairs. According to her, Bishop’s has been hard at work preparing for a safe re-entry to the new academic year since way back in March. The school is looking into options to provide in person classes wherever possible, and the residences will still be open to students.
As for the communication of information, Linden-Anderson said that multiple systems were in place, including information being given out in social media posts and rounds of emails to enrolled students about the COVID-19 situation. A therapeutic group has also been set up to help returning students cope with their stress in a safe environment.
The Covid relief fund organized by the Bishop’s Student Representative Council offers some relief to those facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic. While the first round of funding is already complete, students will have the chance to apply for the second round in the coming days.
“We’re a small university,” said Linden-Anderson, “So it isn’t too bad for us.” She imagines that larger schools like the University of Sherbrooke must be having an even harder time preparing for the inevitable influx of students.

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