By Luka Tskhadaia
COVID-19 shook the entire world and led to quarantine measures. Canada announced the shutdown of schools, universities and colleges across provinces, and Humber College is no exception.
After switching to online studying, the educational institution also decided to empty its Lakeshore Campus completely by forcing the students to leave earlier than they were expecting.
Dariia Prudnikova, one of many international students at Humber College, found this news particularly stressful, as she doesn’t have a home here in Toronto. Finding a place to rent also wasn’t on the table because, during these times, it’s extremely difficult to find anything. She shared her experience with Skedline.
Skedline (SL): When did you find out you were supposed to leave the residence?
Dariia Prudnikova (DP): It was March 19, five day before the required move-out date.
SL: How did you get notified?
DP: I received an email from Humber Residence.
SL: What were your first thoughts and feelings, when you finished reading the email from the residence’s administration?
DP: I was literally shaking with shock. I quickly started to realize I had no place to live, no tickets back home to Russia, and no clue how the COVID-19 situation would affect my nearest future.
Also, I was mad at Humber and its negligent attitude to international students. I felt it was unfair to tell the students they could stay in the residence until the end of the semester, and a couple of of days later, announce that they had to leave in five days.
SL: What was the reaction of other people living on campus?
DP: I was out when I found out I had to pack my stuff and leave so soon, without any idea what I would do with my life next. When I got back to the residence, the situation got even worse on the emotional level, since all my Russian and Ukrainian friends were panicking.
Girls were crying and eating a lot of ice cream, myself included. We all were calling our parents and trying to think rationally, which was impossible in those conditions.
SL: Once everybody processed the news, how did your friends in the residence decide to handle this situation? Did they start looking for Airbnb apartments or tickets home?
DP: When our emotional reaction changed into a logical approach, we considered all the pros and cons of staying in Canada in this unstable [due to the pandemic] situation. As long as most of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] borders were still open, many of us decided to go home. Others, who for some reason could not go home, are still in Canada. They’re either renting an Airbnb or staying at friends’.
SL: How did you make your decision?
DP: My parents suggested that I should go home. According to them, it’s always better to be together as a family, when the world is going through a severe crisis.
I was trying to search for available tickets to fly back home. It was hard because some airlines were no longer working and operating properly. However, with a lot of effort and significant nervous tension, I managed to fine a one-way ticket as quickly as I could. I left the residence on the fourth day.
SL: How did your parents back home react to the news?
DP: My mom was concerned about me being stressed and alone to handle all that mess. She was furious with Humber because she was concerned about the money issue as well. She said we didn’t pay for me to move out a month earlier than it should’ve been.
However, later I explained to her that Humber administration will give us $1,000 back in eight months. My dad didn’t show that he was worried, to keep us calm, but deep inside I know he was.
SL: What were you feeling when you started packing your bags and preparing to go home?
DP: I didn’t plan to leave Toronto that early, so I was upset. I just made a few friends in the residence and other colleges, for the first time in my life. I felt kind of incomplete and empty. I missed my family, parents and my doggy, but I didn’t want to go back at all.
While packing, I was followed by a feeling that I would be a misfit at home. The decision of studying abroad was life-changing, you know. It’s never going to be the same as it was at home.
SL: Could you tell us more about your travel experience on your way back home in this unstable travel time?
DP: While preparing to go to the airport, I bought a face mask and a bottle of sanitizer. I was a bit paranoid about the risk of getting coronavirus. However, I convinced myself that if it was a foregone conclusion, I would get it anyway, so I decided not to distract myself with the paranoia.
I went through four airports to get home. Surprisingly enough, people there were not panicking. Everyone was taking the necessary measures to stay safe, such as washing or sanitizing their hands, social distancing themselves. The big advantage of traveling in the condition of the pandemic was that most of the planes were half-empty. I got the chance to sleep during my longest seven-hour flight, since I had two available seats next to me.
SL: What kind of precautions did you take while travelling?
DP: Some time ago, I read that only infectious people should wear face masks; for others they’re not helpful at all. Therefore, I didn’t wear one. I washed and/or sanitized my hands every half-hour and was trying not to touch my face.
SL: Were there any COVID-19-related safety instructions provided on-board?
DP: My first two flights were operated by Air Canada and the other two by Aeroflot. Both airlines were providing travellers with the COVID-19-related instructions, asking everybody to wash their hands and keep distance while stepping off the aircraft. All flight assistants were wearing face masks and gloves.
SL: How did this period of life affect your academic process? Are you struggling to study online in a different time-zone now?
DP: This question throws salt in the wound, really. I wouldn’t say this situation affected my academic progress in a bad way, since I’m a pretty focused and responsible student. I can study under almost any circumstances. However, an 11-hour time difference is an unpleasant obstacle.
For example, yesterday I had an online class with required attendance from 1:25 a.m. to 3:10 a.m. [Prudnikova’s time]. That was brutal, but I made it. There are only a couple of weeks left.
SL: Do you feel better and safer now that you’re with your family?
DP: I think I do feel this way. I absolutely agree with my parents that when the global economical and social situations are not safe and stable, it’s better to stick together. Even though I didn’t want to go home, I believe it was the right decision, since the Russian borders are closed for an indefinite period for everyone, including citizens now. I would be stuck in Canada with no work and wasting my parents’ money on rent and food.
SL: All in all, how did this whole period of life affect you and your mental health?
DP: I consider this life period the most stressful in my life, without any exaggerations. I fully realized what the adult life is like, with all of its ups and downs. It was interesting to watch people’s patterns of behaviour in stressful times. What was also notable about this whole thing is that there was a sense of community among students; we all were trying to stick together to cope with the brutal circumstances. For now, I definitely need some rest and peace to restore the balance of my mind.
Humber College remains closed since the official Twitter statement on March 13.