For international students, the virus means choosing between continuing their education or returning home to their families
Bridget Stringer-Holden // Contributor
Cynthia Tran Vo // Illustrator
Over the last few months, concern over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has quickly snowballed from precautionary warnings to the World Health Organization characterizing the virulence of the virus as a pandemic on Mar. 11. To limit the spread, various measures have been enforced globally and officials have called for social distancing in an effort to “flatten the curve” by reducing the number of people coming in contact with the virus. This has resulted in the closure of almost all non-essential services. In BC, a ban was placed on public gatherings of over 250 people on Mar. 12 and decreased to 50 people or more on Mar. 16. The City of Vancouver ordered that bars and restaurants be closed on St. Patrick’s Day, but the police found that many ignored the warning and remained open.
Several institutions have responded to the rising pandemic by gradually phasing out unnecessary services on campus and moving toward online courses for the safety of students and staff. On Mar. 13, the University of British Columbia advised students that they would be moving online, actions that were closely followed by Simon Fraser University. It wasn’t until Sunday, Mar. 15 that Capilano University (CapU) informed students via their student email that classes would be paused until Mar. 18, at which time they would officially transition to an online format for the remainder of the semester. That same day, the BC government declared a state of emergency province-wide with the Vancouver City Council declaring the same in Vancouver the following day.
The public reactions to the virus have varied from remaining calm and following directives to others disregarding the recommended precautions. Some became alarmed and began to panic; stores saw their stocks of toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes quickly depleted before the items could be restocked. “The number is increasing every day. It’s not going down anytime soon,” said Vy Nguyễn, a CapU international student from Vietnam who is concerned by the behaviour she is seeing. “We can’t find anything at supermarkets, the shelves are empty. We also have to face racism because not everyone is okay with us wearing masks.”
In line with the ban of public gatherings, many events on campus have been cancelled, including the World of Colour celebration and the joint International Business Association (IBA) and Capilano Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) Connect Us networking event. “Although it’s sad, we know it was a necessity,” said Nick Tarasoff, the President of the IBA. “There was a lot of uncertainty in the days leading up to school closures, but it all came so fast. When the decision had to be made to cancel Connect Us we were just devastated, having dedicated several months of effort into making the event a success.”
“[COVID-19] taught me that life can just throw curveballs at you and that you really can’t plan for the future because you’ll never know what will happen,” added HRMA President Susanna Ngyuen. “We weren’t the only ones affected by it.”
Canada has slowly restricted its borders with a decrease in international flights and on Mar. 20, the Canada-US land border was closed to all non-essential travel. International students and those currently studying abroad have been caught in the middle of these restrictions and had to make the tough decision whether to return home or not. There are still many questions left unanswered and students are unsure what support they will receive. “The International Centre has been helpful but right now all my international friends are very worried. The parents want them to go home and be with them in case something happens but [they] cannot because [their] study permit might be revoked” said Dhari Patel, international student and peer helper.
“This is putting our education at risk if we go back,” said Nguyễn, who, with no final exams, worked out a plan with her teachers so that she could arrange to head home to Vietnam. “But then I realized as a full-time international student, I can’t leave Canada without ‘an authorized leave’.”
Students who are studying abroad, such as Vanessa Parrotta in Vienna, are also affected. The time difference makes it challenging for Parrotta to stay in contact with her friends and family back home, but she decided to stay in Vienna. “I feel absolutely safe here, the school here as well as the housing office and embassy have been helpful and are always willing to help or give advice,” said Parrotta who attempted to get three different flights home before settling in.
Amidst a rapidly evolving situation, uncertainty remains. Officials can’t confirm when the need for social distancing will end and it is undetermined whether convocation and other events will be able to go forward as planned. However, on Mar. 10 The Guardian reported that Wuhan, China has closed their last makeshift coronavirus hospitals as new cases of infection are increasingly dropping in number each day. So, perhaps the rigorous measures put in place will allow for the same outcome here in BC.