Some international students feel as though Ryerson is not supporting them with their concerns during their return to in-person learning.
Ryerson has announced that faculties will have full autonomy as to how they decide to bring their staff and students back to campus between the dates of Jan. 31 and Feb. 28. Additionally, the International Student Support (ISS) office is offering assistance to students on a “case-by-case” basis, saying each situation is unique.
“Virtual advising appointments are available to all international students,” says the ISS. “Each faculty is helping international students in its own way and has different accommodations in place for students who need to make alternative arrangements.”
But some international students feel this vague criteria has left them behind. Mazz Arain, a fourth-year student from Dubai, believes international and domestic students are not being treated equitably in this transition.
“The university should do a better job supporting international students, instead of disregarding them,” he said. “I understand that domestic students should be prioritized as it’s their country and their university. However, it doesn’t mean that those coming from another country should be treated differently.”
He believes Ryerson should offer more time for students to return to campus.
“There’s so much to do before school starts, like finding a place to live or signing a lease and it seems that the university doesn’t really care,” said Arain. “We also need to apply for visas, which requires proof of enrolment from Ryerson and takes time.”
Arain says the short notice and confusion surrounding a return to in-person instruction is disheartening. From his viewpoint, the university is actually doing very little to help accommodate international students.
“The university announcements come very late and it’s unfortunate for international students because we’re always left not knowing exactly what to do,” Arain says. “When it was announced that most courses would be online, I had already moved to Toronto because this was my safest bet before the school year started.”
Arain came back to Canada before the Fall 2021 semester, expecting school to resume in-person. This was not the case and to reward his forward thinking, he’s been forced to pay Toronto rent prices for five months, while virtual learning continued. Arain says this is not something every international student can afford to do and those who can’t have been left behind by the university.
“From what I’ve seen, the university is basically saying that if you cannot come back for in-person learning, you should drop your courses and not do the semester,” says Arain. “I’ve got a friend who currently can’t leave his country and come back. So he asked the university what he could do and they straight-up told him to drop his courses.”
This is a major issue for international students, who may be forced to put their education on hold and even delay their graduations. With about 4,200 international students enrolled full time at Ryerson, Arain finds it shocking the university is not doing more to help those living abroad.
“The university needs to do one of two things for international students.” Arain said. “Either offer online classes for those who are stuck in their country or give them a month or two of notice. We need more than 10 to 15 days to get ourselves organized.”
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi echoes the same rhetoric as the ISS office. He says that helping international students return to campus is a top priority for himself, as he was an international student 35 years ago.
“I can tell you that our team is in touch with international students,” Lachemi said. “Most are actually in the country, which is good news, but we still have a limited number of students who are outside the country, some awaiting their visas.”
It’s still unclear what is specifically being done to help students in this position, since the university’s policy requires taking things on a case-by-case basis. The pandemic forced international students to make a difficult decision: either return home and jeopardize their education or continue to stay in Toronto. The latter has them paying high rent prices, while being completely isolated from those they care about, resulting in poor mental health.
Elise Wilson, a fourth-year student from Barbados, explains that being stuck in Toronto amid the pandemic, with only online school to keep her company, made her feel absolutely miserable.
“Everyone was sick and I had no family in Toronto. I found myself not talking to a person for days at a time,” Wilson said. “Returning home was a breath of fresh air as all of my family was around me and supporting me. Being with your family somewhere you feel comfortable makes a huge difference.”
But this choice carries its own risks, since she doesn’t know what Ryerson will do to help with her return. Wilson believes a longer grace period is needed and the transition to in-person learning should be gradual.
“In-person (learning) should be optional instead of mandatory and hybrid programs should be offered where possible,” she said. “This should go on for a month or so to help make the transition easier.”