As pandemic hits, York University assists students abroad to return home

Working around the clock as fallout from the pandemic began closing borders, York University personnel managed to bring 202 students home safely to Canada from their academic exchange programs, co-op terms and placements abroad.

York University students returned to Toronto from: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, China, Costa Rica, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France,  Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, and USA.

York University students returned to Toronto from: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, China, Costa Rica, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France,  Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, and USA.

When the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, the York International (YI) team worked closely with program leaders and faculty members from across the University to make sure York students were able to return home safely. With the students spread out across 31 countries, the endeavour was a challenging one, but the York community rose to meet that challenge.

As COVID-19 began to spread worldwide, students and their parents reached out in unprecedented numbers to the York International team via email and Facebook. As the situation changed rapidly, the team and other York personnel were on duty 24/7 to answer questions, assist with students with flight reservations and keep them abreast of flight changes and travel restrictions.

“The University’s top priority is the health and well-being of our community,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, executive director of York International. “I am grateful for the faculty and staff who pulled together to ensure the safe return of our students.

The team used whatever means of communication and co-ordination that worked successfully for the tracking and communicating with the students daily, including Zoom, Whatsapp, email, texts, spreadsheets and Machforms.

Humaina Ashfaque, a BSc candidate in the Global Health Program, was in London doing a practicum when pandemic border closures began, and she worried about returning home.

“I remember carefully being it super stressful because I felt like I was being trapped, and the only person who was keeping me sane was my uncle and Julie [Hard, International Relations Manager at the Faculty of Health],” said Ashfaque. “She [My mom] was amazed how Julie was and York University did not abandon us, rather took care of us and made sure we reached home safely. York University helped me cover my cost for the flights back home and the constant checkup made me feel that I was not alone in this situation and that someone was looking out for me.”

York International’s support didn’t end once the students touched down on Canadian soil.

“Our support continues to be provided to those students who have returned, whether through virtual programs, global travel advisory updates, emergency travel disruption bursaries or coordination of academic considerations with Faculties and program coordinators,” noted Gengatharan. “We’re also providing ongoing virtual supports to those who still remain abroad for a variety of reasons.”

Staying connected

Now that most York University students are back home safely, York International has shifted its focus to providing a sense of community through online meetups and events.

YI has put together virtual chats for students who have returned and those remaining abroad for various reasons as a way for them to stay connected, interact with other students and university staff, and get answers to questions in real time. Topics include: Health and Wellness; Let’s Play some Games!; Immigration FAQs; and a Finance Q&A, among others.

“I’m glad that I was able to connect with YI team members and other students and didn't feel alone in the situation in terms of finances,” noted one student who attended the Finance Q&A.

York International invites everyone to join these online events. You can also volunteer to host virtual activities yourself! Visit the York International calendar for event information details https://yorkinternational.yorku.ca/calendar/.

For more York University news, photos and videos, visit the YFile homepage