Letter: UBC needs better support for international students during the COVID-19 pandemic

International students make a fundamental contribution to the maintenance of the university in its material and ideal forms.

Our tuition money goes in all sorts of directions and broadly contributes to UBC’s aim to be a leading public research institution, from which a variety of people, not only students, benefit greatly. International students also provide many diverse perspectives and opportunities for intellectual and cultural exchange, ones that benefit the whole UBC community.

I ask that you not leave us behind during this crisis.

I want to highlight UBC’s international students’ diversity in a different light: the ways in which a global pandemic can affect the livelihoods of each of the 17,225 international students on both campuses. Whereas some students can travel home with few repercussions, this is not the safest option for many others. Having our Canadian Student Visas can make the biggest difference on how hard we’re hit by the consequences of COVID-19. Therefore, I argue that under these circumstances, staying in our place of study is often the best, and sometimes the only option that can assure our safety and wellbeing.

However, with this in mind, other factors such as financial security must be recognized. Such is the case both for students who stay in Vancouver and those who have gone home. One of the most poignant anxieties that international students share under this pandemic is the fluctuation — and often devaluation, as in my case — of our home currencies. These fluctuations are, of course, a big worry for us and our families.

Regarding these financial matters, I must be clear. Paying international tuition at UBC is no small investment. Students from all over the world come to UBC, eager to learn and grow personally and professionally. They place deep trust in this institution so as to pay up to seven times the amount a domestic student does. This trust includes our own and/or our parents’ savings and our dreams of graduating as first-rank professionals in our fields.

Like many other students, I embarked on the mission of learning outside my hometown to broaden my scope about the world and learn about myself. But fulfilling this aspiration is costly.

Most of us are probably aware of Vancouver’s real estate problem and the difficulties of finding yearly affordable housing. Students are especially vulnerable when facing Vancouver’s rent, and as an international student, the situation is often more precarious when contracts vary and we have no relatives to go to. On this topic, I’d say that anything that can help ease this monthly pressure will be greatly appreciated, both for students that stayed and those that would love to come back for in-person classes once this is allowed.

Furthermore, given the sudden and necessary shift to online classes for these upcoming academic terms, I find it unfair that both Canadian and international students are not charged the same amount for the same kind of experience in education.

Not being on campus, a huge amount of our education is taken away from us as international students. We have invested in the immersion of a different cultural landscape and the in-person spontaneity of meeting unique individuals: our fellow students, professors and any other person who we can interact with far away from home. Unfortunately, online classes provide much less than the top-tier global education we typically pay for, and this is not the price we should be paying for the product we would be getting in return.

Finally, I would like to point out the fact that merely for being international students, we do not deserve to be ostracized from programs that benefit Canadians.

As international students, most of us don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, given that many don’t work during the school year (many can only work full-time in the summer). Many don’t qualify for the provincial BC Temporary Rental Supplement either, such as those living in UBC housing, which does not fall under the Residential Tenancy Act. Moreover, international students don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. The only listed benefit for international students is allowing those who work on essential services to extend their hours beyond the previous limit of 20 per week during an academic session.

There is little we can do when we lack a permanent residence or Canadian passport, but this does not mean we should be left behind to deal with our — especially economic — hardships alone. I understand that we may not be the economic priority in the plans of the federal government, but this is why, as an institution, we need our university to step up and support us.

Santa Ono’s April 3 statement on COVID-19 announced the Student Emergency appeal, but this resource was not mentioned in the international students FAQ on COVID-19. I believe many students are not familiar with this option, for there was no explicit reaching out to international students about this possibility. Whereas we know we can always contact our enrolment services advisors in case of a financial emergency, hardships may not always manifest themselves immediately under these circumstances, and reaching out for help is not the same as receiving some compensation.

We chose UBC because it was a place to make our own. Now we need our university to show that they support and value us in this community.

Silvana Martinez is a third-year human geography major.