An inside perspective into the life of an international student
I want you to use your imagination for a second. Imagine leaving your home, the country you were born and raised in, to gain a higher education and pursue a bright start to your future. Imagine saying goodbye to your family and friends and packing up two bag-loads of your life to take with you as you travel alone to an entirely new continent with which you are not entirely familiar with. Imagine arriving at your destination and failing to see anyone in the distance who remotely looks like you, and then later discovering that this will be the setting of the next four years of your life.
When I was recruited by Saint Francis Xavier University, I was quite literally sold the Canadian dream. With promises of a diverse, peaceful culture that embraces and celebrates other nationalities, of renewable bursaries and opportunities for work that would “reduce the cost of my tuition tremendously,” there were hopeful stars in my eyes as I pictured my future at this university. I was going to make tons of new friends with whom I would share my culture as I equally experienced theirs, and I would perhaps even return home with a Canadian accent after a few months.
The reality could not have been any more different. In all of the dreamy tales fed to us in the large assembly hall of our high school, it seems that the university recruitment team simply forgot to mention that the tuition at StFX was going to be hiked by 6% every year for the next three years because the university is in so much debt, and that this would actually translate to a 12% increase for international students, since they pay double the tuition fees compared to Canadian students.
The lovely recruiters also had a little ‘slip’ of memory and neglected to inform us that the total cost of residence for the year does not include or cover the two/three-week Christmas break during December, and that all students are required to evacuate their rooms and expected to independently find alternative accommodation for themselves over this period. Of course, mentioning these vital factors to potential students was not of great importance at the time. As long as they managed to successfully rope in and recruit a couple of us, the rest would figure itself out. After all, the university is kind enough to perform favors such as providing alternative campus living arrangements for those international students who are unable to go home for Christmas, all at a little charge, of course! What is an extra one or two-hundred dollars to someone who already pays $30 000 to be here?
My question is, why, oh why, then, would StFX continue to recruit a large number of international students, if they constitute most of the debt carried by the university? Is their solution to this problem, therefore, to hire a debt-collector masked as an International Student Advisor, who will deceive international students into a trap of sharing their financial struggles, only to add them to her ‘blacklist’ of individuals to monitor and watch out for? The international population is truly better off not having an Office of Internationalization, if it houses individuals who intentionally advocate against them. The very students whom she is purposed to be a support for (at least, according to her job description), are the ones whom the university has mandated her to take a strong position against and, quite frankly, get rid of.
Moreover, university administration made it very clear that 2018 would be a year of change and uncompromising rule. Whereas the university was previously quite understanding and lenient towards international students, and permitted them to construct plans for payment that would still allow them to register for courses so long as they had been making some steady payments to their accounts during the year, this policy changed overnight. With an ironclad fist, the university denied access to course registration to all international students whose student accounts were anything above the new threshold of $5 000. Lo and behold (and this should certainly not come as a surprise to any of us), this new policy was not transparently communicated to any students, nor was there sufficient notice given prior to implementation of this new practice.
So, when July came around and it was registration time, many unsuspecting international students received devastating emails from the Accounts Office that informed them that they would not, in fact, be able to register for classes, and they essentially would have about one month to miraculously decrease their balances owing to $5 000 if they wished to continue their enrolment with the university for the upcoming year.
I’ll ask you to again to imagine being an international student on the receiving end of this news; having traveled a long way from your country to this foreign land for an education, which, so abruptly, was snatched away from you. Imagine being halfway through university at this point, and being unable to join your peers as they progress into the year ahead while you remain behind, a balance of $10 000 or worse, $50 000, standing between you and your future, as you work tirelessly to reduce it just so you can catch up.
Worse off, the concept of government loans or assistance to students is virtually non-existent in many of the countries from which StFX recruits its international population, and most parents are paying 30 thousand dollars straight out of their pockets, in economies that are not half as stable as Canada’s. Yet, international students are being held to the same merciless standards as Canadian students who have these privileges.
This is the unfortunate reality of several international students who attend(ed) St Francis Xavier University. Unexpected, uncommunicable costs are constantly flung in their direction, and they are expected to just bear the increments and tough it out, with no compromise on the part of the university. Just this month (on November 8 2018), StFX residence services sent out an email regarding accommodations over the Christmas break for internationals who are unable to go home, indicating that they would be placed in FX Hall (formerly Coady MacNeil Hall) for the break at a daily rate of almost $30 for a single room, totalling a hefty $600 for a three-week stay. How it could be possible that a student who is probably unable to afford a trip to go home to begin with, be able to afford to pay $600 - for such poor living conditions - is beyond me. This also comes as a huge slap to the international community, who, just last year, fought to be placed in a more livable building because the present condition of Coady MacNeil Hall is dilapidated and unbearable, suitable only for its current use as a storage facility for janitors’ cleaning supplies. Thus, after begrudgingly moving internationals into Power Hall for the December 2017 holiday, the university administration turned around and decided to not only revert back to Coady MacNeil as the building allocation for Christmas this year, but to hike the cost of stay by over $400 without any warning or any explanation for the increased rate.
Amazingly, one of the universities strategic goals is “Increased enrolment by under-represented students, including international students,” a statement bleeding with irony, contradiction, and deception. What the university really wants is more students to manipulate and deceive as they demand double the tuition for half of the deserved services.
The message here is clear: we, the international students, are unwanted and useless, and our comfort/sanity while we are halfway across the world from home, is not a priority. While many other universities place their international population at the forefront of every decision, acknowledging the fact that they are so far from their homes and their families, StFX treats their international students as inconveniences whom they are doing a favor by inviting onto this campus. You can count on the fact that we as international students will not make any recommendations to our peers in our home countries for Saint Francis Xavier University as a choice for higher education.
I wish StFX all the best as they try to achieve their strategic goals in future years, because for as long as they continue to treat international students like the butt of the joke and some good-for-nothing cash cows, the reputation of this university and how it really treats its international students will spread and always stand to reflect the truth which their recruitment team fails to speak.