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COVID-19’s Toll on International Students


Photo via KERA News

By Julia Quynh Noordin

What surrounds me is eerie silence at the Montreal-Trudeau airport, when just a few months ago, it was bustling with people of all ethnicities speaking in different languages. Instead, as I wait to fly back home to Singapore, I see masked people with wary-looking eyes who scurry to their boarding gates, while those waiting to board their flights sit seats away from each other, suspiciously eyeing anybody within two meters from them. 

While there’s no arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has great implications for everyone, international students have been especially affected. Some have been kicked out of their dormitories, faced with financial difficulties, and have concerns about leaving the country because of visa restrictions or fear of catching the virus.

Because of the crisis, various countries have imposed travel restrictions. Many international students have either been scrambling to find a ticket back to their home country or are stuck in another country. While some locations are on full lockdown, countries like Singapore and South Korea are only restricting foreigners from entering the country and requiring their returning citizens to self-isolate for two weeks.

Elena Youn, a Psychology student at the University of Ottawa, returned home to South Korea on March 22nd before South Korea imposed travel restrictions into the country to further prevent spreading the virus. She was required to self-isolate for 14 days, but she says that her experience was nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, I anticipated my mandatory quarantine in Singapore to be reminiscent of jail, seeing as my quarantine period had to be lived out in a government-run facility. Although I wasn’t allowed to step out into the hallway of my hotel room, the government ensured that I was treated well and therefore my experience with quarantine wasn’t too bad.

Returning home isn’t a devastating development for all international students. Kitty Ngo, an Economics student at Concordia University, was feeling homesick since she recently moved to Montreal. She explains, “the thought of reuniting with my family and friends back home soon was a comfort” amidst the chaos of the pandemic.

On the other hand, some students decided not to return back to their countries. Thao Uyen Pham, an international student from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is currently in San Jose. Pham booked a flight back to Ho Chi Minh City for her summer vacation and she intends to finish her spring semester online in the US instead of flying home right away. She asserts that even if she went back home, it would be harder for her to deal with online school because of the time difference, and she still wouldn’t be able to step out of the safety of her home due to COVID-19.  Her only worry is that she won’t be able to return for school in the Fall 2020 semester because of America’s strict travel restrictions. “I hope that the government can contain the situation soon, and that I won’t have any problem returning to school,” adds Pham. 

She asserts that even if she went back home, it would be harder for her to deal with online school because of the time difference, and she still wouldn’t be able to step out of the safety of her home due to COVID-19.

In times of crisis, we must be sympathetic towards international students who are either dealing with moving home and different time zones, or facing a pandemic with their family halfway across the globe. Either way, it isn’t easy, but together, we’ll get through it. 



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