Welcome to Canada. We’re the friendly neighbours

Photo courtesy of Adela Zyfi

Aniruddha Bhatt remembers looking out his plane window and seeing a snowy white landscape. The view marked a key lifetime moment: the end of his 34-hour plane journey from India, and his arrival in Canada.

Bhatt hopped on that plane on Dec. 20, 2017, leaving the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. He arrived in Toronto on Dec. 22, just before Christmas. He said he wanted to experience the “hype” of a North American Christmas and he wasn’t disappointed.

“It snowed the day I landed, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in my life,” Bhatt said. “Like a wonderland.”

He left behind his family, his job and his life to study computer engineering at George Brown College.

Bhatt was lucky. He had relatives he was able to stay with in Toronto for the first few days until he found a spot in a student residence, which he located through online listings upon arrival.

The weather is what he remembers most from his first few days. For the first time, he understood what it meant to endure a Canadian winter.

“It was quite a (memory),” he said. “I visited Lake Ontario and took a walk in downtown Toronto, all packed with snow.”

Bhatt came because he thought achieving his dream career would be easier with a Canadian education. He said because of recent events – the election of President Donald Trump and Brexit – the U.S. and Britain weren’t favourable options. It appears, he’s not the only one to feel that way.

Over the past five years, international student enrolment in Ontario has grown by 70 per cent in public universities and 185 per cent in public colleges, said Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Education.

In 2017 The New York Times reported on a survey conducted by the Institute of International Education, an American nonprofit organization that conducts research on international education. The data from the survey confirmed that far fewer international students have been enrolling in American colleges since the election of Donald Trump and indicated a 45 per cent drop in the enrolment from foreign students. Similar drops have been reported in Britain as well in recent years.

In the 2017-2018 school year, 123,639 international students enrolled in a college or university in Ontario. That’s 24 per cent more than the previous academic year.

“Lots of people who would normally go to (the United States) instead look up north to the friendly neighbour,” said Jos Nolle, dean of Seneca International.

Nolle came to Toronto from Holland because he married a Canadian. He said Trump isn’t the only exterior factor increasing the flow of international students into Canada – Brexit, the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, has also become a major influence.

“The U.K. has started becoming a lot less welcoming to international students,” he said.

Ryerson alone experienced a 40 per cent increase in international student enrolment last year.  

Other Toronto schools experienced this increase as well, but on a smaller scale. The University of Toronto  – which already draws a large number of international students – saw a 22 per cent increase in applications from international students.

Nolle also said more international students, specifically those coming from India, are starting to choose Canada over the United States.

“You’re attracted to the places that give you a sense of security, a sense of belongingness and enthusiasm at the same time,” Bhatt said. “You have a lot of scope in terms of work and industry.”

He said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the help that has been provided to him throughout his adjustment. He was embraced by teachers and classrooms and quickly found a job.

Bhatt also said how refreshing it has been for him to live in a multicultural society.

When he rides the streetcar or takes the subway, he is pleased to see a people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups, including his own. He also said that he has the impression that immigrants find more success in Canada than other first-world countries.

“You hear in the media things about Trump and Brexit and how they aren’t immigration friendly and how they’re more pro towards (people in) their own country, “ Bhatt said. “It might be good for them, but looking at it from the perspective of an immigrant, it doesn’t serve our essential security,” he said.

“The only reason I didn’t go is because of racism,” said Shishir Kc on why he didn’t move to the United States to go to school.

Kc is an international student from Nepal. When he spoke to his friends living in the U.S. about potentially going to school in America, they told him, “it’s not good out there.”

He arrived in Toronto almost a year ago with plans to become a chef. Despite his bachelor’s degree and three years of work experience from back home, he thought a Canadian degree would yield better opportunities.

He’s not yet finished his two-year culinary management program at George Brown College, but he’s already working as a line chef at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

When he first came, he wasn’t planning on staying in Toronto after finishing school, but now he wants to stay for at least another year.

If all goes well, he said he might end up staying four to five additional years before heading home.

Seneca marketing student Karthikeyan Kumaran had a similar mindset to Kc.

“Considering the things happening in the U.S. and unsafe things, Canada was more of a place where it has different cultured people and it gives you a safe environment,” Kumaran said.

It’s important to note, however, that the U.S and the U.K. are still at the top of UNESCO’s 2014 top 20 list of all countries for international students.

Diana Ning, the associate director of international student and scholar services at York, said that’s because there are more schools in the United States and the U.K. than in Canada.

Ning was an international student, who came from China 20 years ago.

“I see thousands and thousands doing the same path I did,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”

Her main reason for choosing Canada was because of how welcoming it seemed to newcomers.

“It’s not (a) surprise in (Toronto) we have a large international population,” she said. “Geographically and from a global perspective.”

She said studying internationally is the current trend in higher education.

York has also seen an increase in international students, although it hasn’t been as dramatic as other schools. She said the school’s target is to have international students account for 20 per cent of all students in the next couple of years.

Nolle said attracting international students is a “very competitive” field, but that Seneca’s mandate is to provide spots to domestic students first.

“It would be nice to get international students in, but we aren’t going to say no to the domestic,” he said.

International students pay about three times the average of domestic students, but there are specific reasons for this dramatic difference. For each domestic student who enrols, the ministry gives the school a grant. When it comes to international students, there’s no grant from the ministry. In fact, Noelle said that there are additional fees the school must pay.

He said the school also helps provide international students with services they need, which equates to extra costs. This includes services like securing visas, health insurance, work permits and alternate learning aids.

“We’re helping them holistically with every aspect of their life,” he said. “We’re talking about a youth’s life: learning to live alone, learning to live abroad, learning to succeed … it’s a real challenge.”

But these fees for higher learning are still hard for some international students to manage. 

“I had a Ryerson professor insinuate to me that (I’m) already lucky to be (at Ryerson), so what more do (I) expect? (He said,) ‘If I came to your country, you wouldn’t be expecting for me to get a scholarship, would you?’” said Adela Zyfi, a 22-year-old international student from Albania.

She said this conversation with her professor happened when she went during office hours. Zyfi said being perceived as wealthy and privileged, because she’s an international student, is common.

As an international student Zyfi pays the university nearly $25,000 per year, while domestic students in the same biomedical sciences program pay around $7,500 each year.

“I am sitting in the same classroom with my domestic (student) counterpart, we’re listening to the same professor, doing the same coursework, writing the same test with the same equipment,” said Zyfi. “I don’t understand why (my tuition) has to be double to triple.”

International students across Canada are permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours each week by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. And according to Zyfi, that doesn’t cover the basics of being a student.

“It’s just not enough,” she said. “It’s not enough when you consider tuition, rent, food, living expenses and going out like a normal human being.”

International student adviser Tharsy Selvanantham explains that the 20-hour limit has been placed, “so students can have a balance between school and work,” and added that 20 hours of work is a lot for one week.

Zyfi came to Canada for a better education than what she was offered in her home country of Albania. She said she knew the costs before coming to Toronto, but she thought she would have more financial support once she arrived.

To offset these costs, as of March 2018, Ryerson International Student Support is awarding 10 scholarships to international students, as well as an emergency bursary, which students can use one time during their studies at Ryerson.  

But 10 scholarships means only 10 students are helped. Despite the overwhelming support Bhatt received, he said he wishes international students had access to more financial aid.

“Domestic students are more favoured … but ironically international students are the ones who need it the most because they pay higher fees than domestic students,” he said.

Despite the fees, Bhatt said the work opportunities provided as a result of receiving an education in Toronto make up for his costs.

“I’m finding a new reason every other day to stay here,” he said.

 

By Julia Knope and Dana Dwaik

 

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