Editor’s note: What happens when an international student, thanks to the travel restrictions associated with Covid-19, suddenly finds themselves trapped in their host country? Here’s one student’s experience.
By Rachael Ibeh
In 2017, I migrated from Nigeria to Canada for my University education. I had just turned 17 at that time, and it forced me to become independent at a young age. Leaving all family and friends behind was one of the most tasking and life-changing things I have done in my life, but I had no regrets. Fast-forward to two years after Covid-19 hit, and the whole world was forced to come to a pause. With the numerous lockdowns, the pandemic led to a disruption in the education of students all over the world. I vividly remember the first-day lockdown was announced. I was heading to school to take my psychology mid-term exam when I got an email from my Professor canceling the exam due to orders from the government for schools to close in-person schools effective immediately and proceed with education online. That day was a shocker for everyone, but we all had to get with the program and adjust quickly to the new normal.
The most significant impact was transitioning from in-person learning to online learning. I am certain most of us can relate to that. It was challenging for me to stay motivated to do schoolwork timely and efficiently. It is challenging to create a schedule and stick to it as a student in a pandemic with so many restrictions, including not having access to the library. Before the pandemic, my routine was going to school Mondays to Fridays, social gatherings on Saturdays, and church on Sundays. My routine changed to attending classes, meetings, and social activities through my laptop screen. I am now forced to use my technological gadgets for basically everything. I dislike this because my eyes are sensitive to light caused by the harmful blue rays that emit from technological devices. As a student, this is hard to maneuver because when my eyes are tired, I have to stop any schoolwork I have to do, take some painkillers and rest my eyes. It is truly exhausting.
Being in the comfort of your home every day becomes less enjoyable over time when you barely have the option of going out to other places. The inability to change my environment and not physically see or interact with people as much as I used to before the pandemic is one of the reasons I felt very unmotivated, which led to a lack of productivity. This made me realize that doing schoolwork with my peers, learning from each other, and seeing others work hard in the school environment helped my school productivity and determination. It is the little things like asking being able to ask your professor questions after class or asking your peers if they have started an assignment that I desire. To cope with this, I ensured to take occasional walks at least twice a day to refresh my mind and create study groups via zoom for each of my classes to encourage each other and stay determined to succeed during these difficult times. I find that doing this has been extremely helpful so far.
Being in a pandemic itself is hard. People have lost their lives and loved ones, including myself. I lost my father in January 2021 to cancer. He fell sick in Nigeria during the peak of the pandemic. The healthcare system in Nigeria is horrible and outdated, so the only way was for him to travel abroad to get treated. Unfortunately, he could not fly out of the country to seek immediate medical attention because of the travel restrictions. For me, the most challenging part of this was going through grief and being a full-time student in a pandemic. As I mentioned, I was getting fed up with staying home. I would feel restless and overwhelmed with the number of things to do and unable to do them because I was unmotivated. Then adding grief to that almost defeated me. I did not want to do anything school-related, and I had no family around me to help me during that tough period. My professors did give me extensions for the upcoming assignments, which I appreciated. However, it was not enough to get back into school as I did in previous semesters. It was the hardest thing for me to go through as a student in a pandemic. I had to pull through, cope healthily, and take each day one step at a time, trying to catch up with schoolwork, taking breaks to take care of my mental health, and then proceed back to schoolwork. It helped a lot, and to my surprise, that was the semester where I got the highest grades in my four years in university. This taught me that there is so much importance in taking care of your mental health and resting; you can accomplish a lot more than you would when you are not well-rested or feeling down.
To conclude, being a student in a pandemic is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Challenges include feelings of not being motivated, trying to find a routine that works best for you and sticking to that, barely interacting with people, and balancing whatever life decides to throw at you while trying to excel at school. However, although it was difficult, I discovered that taking as many breaks as you need to take care of your mental and physical health is the most effective way to cope. I also discovered that I am stronger than I knew.
Rachael Ibeh is a fourth-year student at Carleton University studying Communication and Media Studies with a minor in Psychology. She hopes to pursue a career in Marketing Communications and expand her hair-braiding business. She managed to return home to her family last summer after two years of not seeing them. However, although her family may not be able to attend her graduation due to the travel restrictions, Rachael remains hopeful to share that special moment with them.