Students face challenges professionally and personally due to international travel restrictions

By: Katlyn Streilein

The Paterson GlobalFoods Institute is the home of Red River College’s culinary arts program and student residence./OSCAR RODRIGUEZ

Business administration student, Isabela Bermudez, hasn’t seen her family in over a year. The 19-year-old had to cancel her flight home to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 6 due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. Bermudez is one of many international students not only struggling with remote learning but left wondering when they can return home.

“I chose to be here, so I understand that’s my choice,” said Bermudez. “All of a sudden it’s been changed. From that point on I’m basically by myself.”

She said being away from her family at this time has left her feeling powerless and worrying for her grandfather, her sister—a nurse in training volunteering to help COVID-19 patients—and for her mother, who has underlying health issues.

“If something happens, I won’t be able to go see [my mother]. I won’t be with her at any moment, because I cannot travel,” said Bermudez.

As of April 11, 2020, Brazil became the first country in the southern hemisphere to surpass 1,000 deaths related to coronavirus.

Bermudez said she’s also struggling with remote learning—especially in her statistics and accounting classes.

“I know I can ask questions to the teacher online, but it’s not the same thing,” she said. “I didn’t pay for online classes, that’s not what I wanted. But, because of the situation I completely get it.”

The Government of Canada has determined incoming international students with study permits approved before March 18, 2020, are exempt from travel restrictions. 

Outgoing restrictions have derailed 20-year-old Anna Shi’s plans to visit her home in Tianjin, China after graduation in September.

Shi’s currently completing her final semester in hotel and restaurant management at Paterson GlobalFoods Institute. Her co-op is scheduled to run from May to September, but she said job prospects are slim due to widespread layoffs in the food and hospitality industry.

RRC culinary students/Stefanie Lasuik

“It may influence my future career,” said Shi. “Lots of hotels and restaurants closed, or they don’t have enough guests to keep them open. “

Shi recently checked RRC’s job database and said she found one opening relevant to her industry.

International students struggling with income may be eligible for financial aid through the college’s COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund.

Jappanjot Brar, a first-year business student, said he’s focusing on getting through his last weeks of class while hunting for a second job.

“I thought I’d get a better summer job, but now I’m finding it hard because there are not many opportunities out there,” said the 20-year-old.  

Brar said he planned to travel home to India this summer, and it’s been almost two years since his last visit. For now, he said he will enroll in summer classes to stay busy.

International students who have approved study permits for programs beginning May or June have the option to complete 50 per cent of their program remotely if they can’t get to Canada sooner. 

During the 2018-2019 academic year, 1,890 international students studied at RRC. It remains unknown how travel restrictions will affect the number of international students at the college come fall.