International students struggling to return to campus

Despite excitement to re-join their classmates in Halifax, a lack of communication from Dal has made it difficult for many international students to return

As Dalhousie University prepares to welcome students back on campus, international students struggle with unclear government policies and slow university responses. 

Returning international students have received conflicting, confusing and late information from the Dalhousie International Centre (IC.)  

Dalhousie did not respond to the Dalhousie Gazette’s requests for an interview regarding this article.   

The “Cold, mechanical voice” of the International Centre 

To return to campus, students who are required to quarantine under the federal government’s travel restrictions must submit a quarantine plan to the university and the federal government. Upon receiving the plan, Dal is supposed to book students a taxi from the airport and a hotel room in Halifax to quarantine.  

Zhuang Fu is a computer science student returning to Dalhousie from China. Fu received an email response from the IC two weeks after he sent his quarantine plan, twice. “The IC wrote in their auto-response email that they would respond within 2-4 business days,” said Fu. “But obviously they are not able to fulfill this. So why are they telling us?”  

“It’s making me panic,” said Fu before leaving China.  

Computer science student Hao Cheng found herself in the Vancouver airport with very little information from the IC. Chen emailed the IC about her quarantine plan two weeks before her departure, but they didn’t respond until she left and arrived in Vancouver for a connection to Halifax. “I can understand that they are slower than usual in responding to emails, but it shouldn’t be like this,” Hao Chen said. “Not only me, but several of my peers did not receive an email response.” 

Chen finally got confirmation from the IC when she called them at the airport in Vancouver. However, getting a confirmation doesn’t mean students can rest assured things will clear up. 

Jenny Pan, a second-year commerce student, emailed the IC five times in the two weeks before she was expected to leave China. The day before she left, they replied. The IC told her that her hotel room and airport pick-up taxi were booked. 

On July 30, when Pan and her friend arrived at the airport in Halifax, no taxi came. They called the IC to inquire about it, but they couldn’t get through. “Every time we dialled the phone, it was an automatic reply with a mechanical voice telling us to leave a message,” Pan said. 

Jianfu Lan, a master’s of journalism student at the University of King’s College, is another student who hadn’t received a response from the IC when he was about to leave China. He called the IC to no avail, so he attempted to leave a voicemail. “When I was ready to speak for the message, the cold mechanical voice told me that there was no room for recording,” said Lan. 

Vaccines and visas

Another challenge facing students coming from China is vaccine status. A Canadian government website states Canada does not recognize the Chinese vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac-CoronaVac.  

According to these rules, students who received these two Chinese vaccines are not considered fully vaccinated. However, The Nova Scotia safe check-in form recognizes these two vaccines, causing confusion for students. 

When asked why this was the case, Kristen Lipscombe, a media relations advisor for the province of Nova Scotia, said in an email to the Dalhousie Gazette, “People who are travelling to Nova Scotia from outside of Canada must follow the federal rules. You’d have to speak with the federal government for information about its requirements.”  

In addition to the fluctuating policies and delayed response speed of the IC, the slow pace of visa approval is keeping international students from stepping foot on campus this fall.  

Second-year psychology student Xiang Meng handed in her visa application at the beginning of May. A customs and immigration consultant from her home in Inner Mongolia –– an autonomous region in northern China –– told her that all visas are issued slowly now. If Meng doesn’t hear back soon, she will switch to a full online course load and stay at home. “I want to go back to school and take regular classes. I already rented an apartment,” she said. 

Second-year  computer science student Qijie Yue is one of the international students unable to return to school on time due to his visa. He handed his visa application in back in June. Due to the slow response and to avoid risks, he did not register for any classes for the 2021 fall term.  

Ex-international student steps up to help 

Linda Zhang graduated Dalhousie’s anthropology program as an international student last year. With the confusion caused by the IC, Zhang has taken it upon herself to provide helpful information for returning international students, from China specifically. 

“International students are having a hard time entering this country and quarantine is lonely… they’re facing huge pressure to meet this new semester. I’d like to provide more help for them,” Zhang said. 

Zhang has posted 15  useful guides for international students coming to Canada. The guides clear up confusion about Canadian customs and help prepare students for hotel quarantine. Zhang’s posts are particularly popular among Chinese students. She has 4600 followers on WeChat, a social media app popular in China.  

Writing these guides is not easy with constantly changing rules. There are different policies for different groups entering Canada. On the day of a new policy announcement, Zhang and other volunteers spend five to six hours updating their guide.  

According to Zhang, the announced entry and quarantine policies are usually vague. Zhang has to frequently communicate with the Nova Scotia government and the universities so she can help her readers come to Halifax.  

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