International students on their first week back

Students rushed back home in mid-March, not anticipating online classes for the next year

Rafli Quawam Abdilla is looking on the bright side of having a 4 a.m. class, seeing it as a way to fix his unruly sleep schedule. Photo Rafli Quawam Abdilla

Many of Concordia’s international students rushed to return home when spring break ended and lockdowns came into effect in mid-March.

Some decided it was the best decision after they were evicted from student housing with only four days notice on March 22, when the university decided urgent steps needed to be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Accommodations were made available, but only temporarily.

At the time, students thought closures were only meant to last a few weeks.

Now they have to adapt to pursuing their education from their home countries, with many unable to return now that Canada has deemed their travel “non-essential” with courses being offered online.

Those who require in-person learning, and those unable to study due to conditions in their home countries are being considered for entry by immigration officials, who will prioritize students dealing with wide time zone differences and problems connecting to the internet. Exceptions also apply for students residing in the U.S.

Like the rest of the students at Concordia, international students returning this fall are still being charged the same price of tuition. The university decided to keep tuition at the same price after incurring “significant costs” to make online learning possible, president Graham Carr said. Universities in Quebec are free to set their own rates for international tuition, while domestic and Canadian fees are regulated by the province.

Read more: Q&A with President Graham Carr

The Link spoke with students around the globe about their first week back, and how they’re adapting to challenges posed by online learning. Here’s what they told us.

“I can’t study here back in India.” Photo Vatsa Shah

Vatsa Shah, second year student in computer science
Studying in: Ahmedabad, India (nine hours ahead of Montreal)

Vatsa Shah says he’s still struggling to adjust to the nine hour time difference from his home in Ahmedabad, India after taking the summer semester online.

“I study all night, then I go for a morning run around 5 a.m., come back at 7 a.m., sleep, then wake at 1 or 2 p.m.,” he told The Link. “I can’t study here back in India.”

He says he’s looking for the soonest opportunity to come back to Montreal, where he previously lived with a group of roommates from his home city in the downtown.

“Paying 25K to study online, back in my house, living under my dad’s roof, it’s not worth it. I pay 25K for the experience of being in Montreal.”

“It honestly feels unreal to picture this new university, but I’m not actually there, and don’t know a lot of people there.” Photo Daniella García

Daniella García, first year student in psychology
Studying in: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (same time zone as Montreal)

“I’ve never been to Montreal,” García tells The Link straight off the bat. She was originally hoping to visit the school in March, until the pandemic interrupted her plans.

“It honestly feels unreal to picture this new university, but I’m not actually there, and don’t know a lot of people there,” she said.

García says she chose Concordia because she had heard a lot about how welcoming Montreal is, and was also drawn to Loyola’s scenic campus.

She’s been keeping up with virtual orientation events to stay engaged and connect with other students. The international students office is also offering events online this semester that she plans on checking out.

“Once you go into break-out rooms you get to meet some of the people in your class. You can tell not everyone is putting themselves out there. It’s online and some people are shy, and it gets to an awkward point.”

“I don’t want to say that I’m getting robbed, because that’s how I always feel when I’m paying international tuition, but it’s just a different kind of education.” Photo Grayson Acri

Grayson Acri, second year student in journalism
Studying in: Denver, Colorado (two hours behind Montreal)

Grayson Acri didn’t expect to be reporting about Montreal from Denver, Colorado this year.

“A lot of the classes require local components, and I have to figure out how to tailor to that,” he said.

He said he still plans to focus on Montreal based stories despite being in the U.S., and got himself a local number through a burner app so he can blend in.

“They’re doing the best they can given the situation. I don’t want to say that I’m getting robbed, because that’s how I always feel when I’m paying international tuition, but it’s just a different kind of education,” he said.

Rafli Qauwam Abdilla, second year student in accountancy
Studying in: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (eight hours ahead of Montreal)

Rafli Quawam Abdilla is heading to bed early ahead of his 4 a.m. English class.

He did everything he could to find classes that would work well with his timezone — English class being the exception. He’s still trying to stay positive about the situation.

“My sleeping routine will be quite good because I’ll be sleeping early all time,” he laughed. “I always sleep like past midnight, and that’s bad.”

He’s hoping to move back for an in-person semester this winter, but even that comes with its obstacles.

“I have to renew my visa, but there’s a bit of a problem,” he explained. “The visa is going to be sent to my old address in Canada. Not directly to the UAE.”

He’s been keeping in touch with his old landlord back in Montreal until a friend of his can mail the paperwork back to him.

The winter semester at Concordia will mostly likely resemble the fall, Carr said in a statement earlier this month, with courses being offered online and only a limited number of in-person classes for those who work in labs and studios.

“I’ve been here since March. The more I’m here, the more I realize my life isn’t here anymore.” Photo Alexis Ramos

Alexis Ramos, third year student in political science and French
Studying in: Seattle, United States (three hours behind Montreal)

Ramos says she’s enjoying her lectures, and still feels connected to the other students in her classes despite being separated from each other.

“This is new for everyone, we’re all just dealing with it together,” she said.

Massive forest fires throughout California and Oregon have been impacting her ability to concentrate, she says. People have been urged to stay home due to poor air quality, which can cause stinging in the eyes.

“The smoke is bad. We were driving south towards north Oregon last Sunday on the freeway and you couldn’t see five cars ahead of you, that’s how thick the smoke is,” she said.

“Your mentality isn’t going to be that great either. I’ve been really feeling the effects of that whenever I’m doing anything.”

She says she’s been missing Montreal too.

“I’ve been here since March,” she said. “The more I’m here, the more I realize my life isn’t here anymore.”