The coronavirus has made travel challenging for people worldwide and international students heading to York University this fall are no exception. Fortunately, international students, new faculty members from abroad and other community members will be able to rely on the University’s caring support.
York University is covering the cost for quarantine housing and meals for its incoming international students through a new initiative designed to ease their transition to Canada during COVID-19.
Canada’s current travel guidelines require all international travellers to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival in the country. Under York’s new program, students arriving in Canada will be transported to one of two airport hotels where they will observe quarantine in their rooms for two weeks, receiving three meals daily. They will also be provided with daily check-ins by members of the University community, as well as access to virtual programming to support their health and wellness, academic success and find community.
“York University has become a leader in welcoming international students to campus during the pandemic. We want them to have as smooth and comfortable a transition to life in Canada as possible, and we are working hard to make that happen,” said Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York University. “Adapting to a new country and different education system can be difficult under normal circumstances, and the pandemic has made it even more challenging. Removing some of the current hurdles – physical, social and financial – is an important component of the enhanced services and supports we have put in place to support their success. ”
Students are screened for COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive and York staff checks in with them regularly to ensure they are healthy and comfortable. Counselling staff are available by phone and online, and students also have access to all services and a range of activities online including academic advising, residence life, recreational opportunities via Zoom and online coffee breaks.
York’s quarantine plan is a pan-university effort that draws on staff support from York International, Housing & Conference Services, the Faculties, the Office of Student and Community Relations and the Division of Students. The University worked with Toronto Public Health to put the plan in place.
“We expect to have about 350 international students moving into York residences this semester and we care about their well-being,” said Amal Awini, director of Housing and Conference Services at York. “We want their York University experience to be as conducive and positive as possible from start to finish, since they are in a completely new environment and are away from their families, and this is a key piece of that puzzle.”
Vinay Kurien, a master’s degree student at the Schulich School of Business, was one of the first to take advantage of York’s quarantine program. Kurien, his wife and young daughter had been granted permanent residency status in Canada and were preparing to immigrate in time for the start of the fall semester. They had an airbnb lined up as a quarantine residence, but when York announced its quarantine program, they quickly changed plans.
“The policy came into place just before we left for Canada,” said Kurien. “It felt very good.”
The University gave Kurien and his family the name of a York contact and they called her when they arrived to find out where to meet the shuttle and whether it could carry all of their luggage. (Yes, it could).
“Two weeks of quarantine is tough, but since I had a family, we were given a suite at the hotel, so the little one had space to run around,” Kurien said.
Each morning before 10 a.m., the family was required to do temperature checks and record them on a form, along with any symptoms. Each evening, their York liaison would check in by phone to see if there were any issues they had and to ensure they were healthy.
“Everything seemed to be planned out well,” said Kurien, who is now settled into apartments at the Keele Campus with his family. “It was a very big thing to know that York was supporting us. It reinforced the fact that immigrating here was the right decision to make. The University showed us how welcoming Canada is.”
For Vadim Tyuryaev, an incoming doctoral student in mathematics from Russia, the quarantine experience was seamless.
“I filled out a quarantine form that took five minutes, the University sent me instructions to follow when I arrived and there was no hassle,” Tyuryaev said. “A big thank you to York for doing this.”
Tyuryaev, too, filled out the daily quarantine form and touched base regularly with his York contact. “I finished three books, watched a lot of Netflix and did a lot of push-ups during quarantine,” said Tyuryaev, who has now moved to York Apartments. “Overall, it was a nice experience, but two weeks is enough.
“Quarantine could be depressing if you were leaving home for a new country for the first time, but I’ve been around.”
Ethan Tan, a second-year kinesiology student returning to campus from Malaysia, had planned to quarantine at an airbnb when he received notification of York’s sponsored quarantine program.
“It saved me hundreds of dollars, so I was down for that,” Tan said. “I cancelled my Airbnb reservation and went to the hotel instead. It was clean and tidy, and the accountability process was very effective, but I’ve never watched so much Netflix in my life.”
Tan is happy to be out of quarantine now, but said, “It was pretty commendable of York to do this for us. They didn’t have to and I really appreciate it.”
The quarantine transition program began in August and will continue through February, because international student arrivals will vary based on travel restrictions in their home countries. International students living in residence can book their quarantine accommodations online.
“We want students to know that the University cares about them, that they are each an important part of this community and that we will do our best to support them during COVID,” said Woo Kim, associate director, International Student and Scholar Services at York International. “This is another way of building a strong York community, something we all take pride in here at York.”
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus