McMaster students looking for housing in Hamilton deal with rent increases, lack of availability and lack of information

As the in-person fall term arrives, some McMaster students are struggling to find available and fairly priced student housing that is also of sound quality.  

Lack of Availability and Increases in Rent 

Bronwyn Mowat, a McMaster student, found the process of house hunting to be extremely challenging. 

“It's absolutely insane trying to get an off-campus house right now. I've had lots of experiences of people telling me they're no longer accepting applicants because of the sheer volume of people responding to ads. A lot of people straight up ghosted me too,” said Mowat. 

The increase in demand, according to Robert Braun, president of Wolverine Property Management, gives landlords the upper edge when selecting tenants, which leads to a sense of frustration when searching for housing. 

“A landlord wouldn't let us on their property to tour the house because one of our members was in class and they would only give tours to full groups, even though when we messaged them that morning, they said it was fine if one person was missing,” said Mowat. 

Ali Rehmaji, an Honours Biology fourth year student, described the difficulty of interacting with landlords. Rehmaji resorted to messaging several Facebook listings after having no responses through the Mac Off-Campus Housing program.  

“Around fourth year, out of 52 different landlords I messaged, only 15 came back to me and I only was able to set up two actual visits before I found a place. It can be a nuisance that I could feel like could be changed,” said Rehmaji. 

"Around fourth year, out of 52 different landlords I messaged, only 15 came back to me and I only was able to set up two actual visits before I found a place. It can be a nuisance that I could feel like could be changed."

Ali Rehmaji, Honours Biology fourth year student

Rehmaji also described the lower quality houses currently for pre-pandemic prices.  

“My rent is the same. But the difference is, in second year, I had a whole house a full kitchen, two bathrooms, five bedrooms and two floors, whereas this time, it's a small basement apartment, which is, if you look at size, I'd say at least four to five times smaller for the same price,” said Rehmaji. 

Information Barriers for International Students 

Chinmay Ravindran, an international student going into his final year of the MBA program, described the added difficulty international students face when searching for student houses. Ravindran, who moved to Hamilton in 2021, initially found it hard to access resources about tenant’s rights.  

“Before we flew in, we didn’t know the rules. We didn't know that that the rules were mostly in the favor of the tenant,” said Ravindran. 

"“Before we flew in, we didn’t know the rules. We didn't know that that the rules were mostly in the favor of the tenant."

Chinmay Ravindran, an international student into his final year of McMaster's MBA program

Ravindran explained this lack of information about tenant’s rights can lead to some landlords taking advantage of international students.  

“There needs to be a playbook or guide that really shares what an international student needs to know before that first conversation with a potential landlord. Before they take their first step, they need to know it all,” said Ravindran. 

Ravindran also echoed the struggles of dealing with a rent increase.  

“The extra $250 that we pay each month, it adds up. We would have wanted to use that $250 to buy a little more groceries or to go out more,” said Ravindran. 

The Housing Crisis: A Property Manager’s Perspective 

Braun attributes the lack of available houses to owners selling properties during the pandemic.  

“Since the pandemic, a lot of the owners we work with sold off their properties because they couldn't rent them. And a lot of them converted back to residential use because that was still a viable option through the pandemic,” said Braun. 

As in-person classes were reintroduced, students faced a market with a lower availability of student houses, which resulted in large volumes of applicants for landlords.  

“Well, it's been crazy. Really. The demand so outstrips the supply and a lot of our available rooms were gone in May and June,” said Braun. 

"Well, it's been crazy. Really. The demand so outstrips the supply and a lot of our available rooms were gone in May and June."

Robert Braun, president of Wolverine Property Management

Braun remarked rent increases are a a result of various increases in insurance, hydro costs, taxes and the inflation and supply-chain issues of property maintenance. 

Moving Forward 

As the class of 2026 progresses through their first year, issues with finding off-campus housing loom over them. With a highly competitive housing market that favours the landlords, students are left to deal with rent increases, a lack of availability and information when looking for accommodations.  

C/O Travis Ngyuyen

Vaccines, distance learning and living continents away present unique challenges to international students

It should come as no surprise that international students studying in Canada have faced unimaginable barriers. 

Perhaps the most visible of all is the 6.9 billion dollars of revenue earned by Canadian post-secondary institutions in 2018, a 360 per cent increase from 2007. The source of this ballooning revenue is none other than the near $40,000 difference in the tuition paid by international students, when compared to domestic students. 

Despite our long-standing knowledge of these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has only materialized into a steeper financial and psychological climb for international students. With McMaster University’s recent announcement of resuming in-person classes in the winter semester, it’s important to take a step back and fully internalize its impact on the international student population. 

Kimia Tahaei, an Opinions Staff Writer at the Silhouette and McMaster student who has lived in Iran for the past six years, expressed her concerns about re-adjusting socially in the winter semester.

“I’m in a small program of 80 or 90 people and I’m the only person in that program who hasn’t participated in the one or two in-person classes they had this fall. Being in a whole other continent, it’s almost inevitable that I feel left out and that worries me going into next semester,” said Tahaei.

Clearly, the pandemic brought forth a sense of isolation that persisted even while most classes took place online. While it can seem that the return to in-person learning is the ultimate solution to this problem, that may not be the case.

Robin Barala is an executive for the McMaster International & Exchange Club, which fosters connections between international students and planned sightseeing trips, who detailed the difficulties international students will face once they arrive in Canada.  

“For international students who may not be vaccinated with a Canada-approved vaccine, they’ll have to quarantine for almost the entirety of the winter break. It’s going to be even more tough if they don’t know anyone here, which is the case for a lot of them right now,” said Barala.

While Canada has expanded the list of approved COVID-19 vaccines to include Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN, barriers still exist for those who received vaccinations such as Sputnik which were offered in many countries, including India

Although international students remain exempt from vaccine entry requirements, this exemption ends on Jan. 15, 2022, after which an approved vaccine will be mandatory

“While I was lucky enough to get AstraZeneca, which is approved in Canada, I just got the first vaccine I could get. A lot of people in Iran got the Sputnik vaccine so I don’t know what other Iranian students will do when they have to go back to Canada,” said Tahaei.

Ultimately, the return to in-person will inevitably bring about both positive and negative experiences for international students. While it may breed opportunities for socialization, hesitations about mixing vaccines, finding housing and reaching out to university-provided services may be unsurprising effects of the rapid geographical and cultural changes that come with a mandatory in-person semester. 

Barala further expressed that the culture shock that many other international students face often make them more likely to reach out to informal groups at Mac, such as the McMaster Indian Association, before being directed to more formal services like International Student Services.

When asked about this phenomenon, team members at International Student Services — a division of Mac’s Student Success Centre — responded that they were well-aware of the many avenues available to international students and recognize the importance of authentic peer-to-peer connections.

“The important role we play as professionals is reaching out to these clubs so that they are aware of all of the services we provide to international students. When it comes time to give that referral, they know exactly where to refer the student to,” explained Gisela Oliviera, Associate Director at the SSC. 

While it may be easy to paint the university with a wide brush – given the immense difficulties expressed by both international and domestic students with respect to housing, socialization and mental health – progress has been made by International Student Services. 

iCent, an application that sends out exclusive information from the SSC, is just one intervention that supports international students in their journey as McMaster students.

The movement back to in-person learning this winter is an unprecedented change for all of us. It’s incredibly important for the university to be cognizant of what exactly this means for students that may have never lived in Canada before, received an unapproved vaccine or have not yet had the chance to meet any of their peers. 

There’s no doubt that there have been steps made towards increased cognizance — with the strategies introduced by the SSC — but those strides need to be so much larger to truly accommodate the unique uncertainties faced by international students and foster the connections that they need right now. 

However, being cognizant alone isn’t enough.

International Mac students deserve a university that takes on the responsibility of advocating for them, rather than turning a blind eye to “off-campus” issues such as housing, budgeting, loneliness and unique hesitancies surrounding vaccines. 

Our expectations of what international students are responsible for has to ultimately change, taking into consideration the extenuating circumstances of a pandemic and its snowball effects on mental health, among other concerns. 

It’s no longer the time for recognition — it’s time for action.

C/O Yoohyun Park

How are international students staying connected with loved ones this winter break?

During August of 2021, Hamilton saw a massive influx of students returning to McMaster University, including a large number of international students who were finally able to return to Canada. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on previous years, this is the first semester many international students are able to attend university in person and live away from home for the first time.

Dipto Prasun Nath, a fourth-year business student, spoke about his experiences during the holidays as an international student and his plans for the upcoming winter break. 

Over his winter breaks before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nath met up with his international friends from Bangladesh, whom he has been friends with for eighteen years. Although they’re all in Canada, they are separated by university so they have often picked a starting point to meet before travelling as a group.

“It’s nice to have your school friends around. When we move to Canada, it’s a new place where we don’t have any family. So whenever we get together with school friends we always have like, nostalgic feelings,” said Nath.

This year, Nath said he and his friends may be connecting through Whatsapp calls to keep in touch. Nath also commented on how each winter break has been a different experience for him. In his first year, Nath was invited by his roommate's family to stay over during the break.

“Every time it’s a new experience, right? I made really good friends at McMaster, I have to say that. One of my roommates, they were really nice to me. I had [the] experience of spending the winter break at a friend’s place,” said Nath.

“Every time it’s a new experience, right? I made really good friends at McMaster, I have to say that. One of my roommates, they were really nice to me. I had [the] experience of spending the winter break at a friend’s place.”

Dipto Prasun Nath, fourth-year business student

Last year, Nath stayed in Bangladesh and continued classes online, keeping the apartment he had rented during the first half of his second year. This year, he will be in Canada once again for the winter break and for the first time, his family will be visiting him for the winter break in Canada. He says he is looking forward to the visit as he misses his parents.

“In Bangladesh the coldest we get is like 10 or 15 degrees . . . so we never got to experience snow,” said Nath.

Nath said he and his family are looking forward to visiting Vancouver and Montreal during the break.

Another international student, Cleon D’Souza, plans to return to Dubai this winter break to visit his family for the first time since 2018. He looks forward to being in Dubai to celebrate Christmas, his parents' anniversary and his father’s birthday.

“The thing I miss the most is my mom’s cooking because I have not had my mom’s cooking in so, so long. I can’t wait to spend time with my dad,” said D’Souza.

“The thing I miss the most is my mom’s cooking because I have not had my mom’s cooking in so, so long. I can’t wait to spend time with my dad.”

Cleon D’Souza, Fourth-year mathematics and statistics student

D’Souza also talked about meeting his friends during the holidays in person, instead of over the internet like he had during previous winter breaks. 

“100 per cent I’m so excited . . . Usually every winter it’s [my friends] meeting and me just being virtually available in Canada. This time I can actually physically meet them, see them [and] spend lots of time with them,” said D’Souza. 

“100 per cent I’m so excited . . . Usually every winter it’s [my friends] meeting and me just being virtually available in Canada. This time I can actually physically meet them, see them [and] spend lots of time with them.”

Cleon D’Souza, Fourth-year mathematics and statistics student

Not only will D’Souza meet up with old friends, but he will also have the chance to reconnect with high school teachers and volunteers from his church that he hasn’t seen since he left to study in Canada. 

“There’s also other events, like meeting my highschool teachers . . . a lot of them played a really important role in my life. I can’t wait to meet with them and discuss things that they’ve taught me that I use in my real life,” said D’Souza. 

After so many lockdowns due to the pandemic, there is more catching up this winter break to be done than usual. Whether it’s through Whatsapp calls, flights home or visits with friends, international students are finding ways to stay connected to their friends and family this winter break.

PHOTO C/O Govind Krishnan, Unsplash 

Midnight exams, sky high airfare and unpredictable COVID regulations now a reality for many of Mac’s international students. 

Starting on Jan. 29, 2021, alongside the Canadian government requiring all international travelers to Canada submit proofs of negative COVID-19 tests administered at time of landing, new quarantine restrictions for travelers were introduced amidst rising concerns for more infectious variants of COVID-19. The differing and often conflicting COVID-19 travel restrictions administered by governments globally only exacerbated pre-existing difficulties and delays travelers outside Canada experience, and, as a result, transformed international traveling into a grim, confusing undertaking for even the most experienced of travelers. The impact of ever-changing travel policies imposed in early 2021 hit the new and returning international students of McMaster hard, where reaching campus for many has become a source of difficulty. While all of McMaster operated from home in the 2020-2021 academic year, the hybrid 2021-2022 academic year poses interesting challenges for the upcoming plans of international students.

Vaibhav Arora, a second year health sciences student from Kolkata, India who, after a year of online school, has finally moved to Hamilton, and has faced many barriers due to COVID-19

“COVID had an immense impact on my travel plans and I think the same can be said for pretty much any student coming from India . . .  We all had to take long indirect routes to come to Canada, and when landing in other countries, we had to submit negative COVID tests. As a result, obviously air fares were much higher. So, getting to Hamilton in and of itself was a huge challenge,” explained Arora.

“COVID had an immense impact on my travel plans and I think the same can be said for pretty much any student coming from India . . . We all had to take long indirect routes to come to Canada, and when landing in other countries, we had to submit negative COVID tests. As a result, obviously air fares were much higher. So, getting to Hamilton in and of itself was a huge challenge.”

Vaibhav Arora, Second-Year Health Sciences Student

Kimia Tahaei, a second year arts and science student who completed her first year online from Tehran, Iran, and is choosing to stay in Iran for the Fall 2021 semester also faced a similar situation.

“It’s really hard to get a visa from Iran to Canada normally and even more so now that there is COVID, and Iran's vaccination and travel policies are very different from Canada’s. Since I would have to make such a huge move despite the uncertainty of the Winter semester being in person or not, on top of the cost of airfare, it financially made more sense for me to resume school from home for now,” explained Tahaei.

While travelling has become increasingly difficult and inaccessible, many international students are frustrated about the trend of rising tuition this academic year, especially for programs that tend to receive more international students, like engineering. Unlike domestic students who have access to financial aid bursaries and provincial benefits such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, international students do not have any such services in place for them, and hence are subject to significantly higher tuition.

Tahaei maintains that the online accessibility of all her classes and the accommodations made for her two in person classes following her academic experiences last year has greatly impacted her decision to stay in Iran for the Fall semester.

“Online school wasn’t the most pleasant experience, especially the seven and a half hour time difference. The time zone was really hurting me because I had a really difficult time figuring out when to sleep or do class. My classes ran from 10 p.m.-4:30 a.m., which really messed up my sleep schedule since I would sleep [until] 2 p.m. and consequently I would only have a few hours before classes to get all of my work done. Now everything is posted so that I don’t have to do that as often,” explained Tahaei.

Arora shares Tahaei’s mixed sentiments about online academics.

“Tests were all situated at midnight, which was really difficult, and it was hard coordinating group meetings with my classmates about different projects. But I think academically besides that, it wasn’t too bad. Most lectures were recorded, most assignments had 12- or 24-hour submission windows. Profs were really understanding if I had to submit assignments late for any reason,” explained Arora.

While campus and provincial policies such as MacCheck and vaccine passports respectively allow some reassurance to professors eager to resume in-person lectures, faculties across Mac have nonetheless been going above and beyond to make all academic work equally as accessible online. The willingness to accommodate the academic needs of international students who are still not on campus is an initiative students doing school from abroad have taken to.

“There is only so much professors can do for me. It will always be hard, but at Mac I would not even have to contact my academic advisors. I would just email the profs about my situation and they would be down to help. I was not expecting this much empathy, so it was extremely appreciated and is a really positive thing I’ve noticed at Mac,” explained Tahaei.

“There is only so much professors can do for me. It will always be hard, but at Mac I would not even have to contact my academic advisors. I would just email the profs about my situation and they would be down to help. I was not expecting this much empathy, so it was extremely appreciated and is a really positive thing I’ve noticed at Mac,”

Kimia Tahaei, second year arts and sciences student

Unfortunately, many international students, both abroad and who have recently moved to Hamilton, feel highly alienated from the McMaster community and campus life.  There are over 300 clubs under the McMaster Students Union, many of which are centered on identity, religion or culture. Despite this, many international students are unaware about these clubs, or unsure about how to join them. This has been detrimental to their ability to engage in campus life. 

“There were certainly issues in getting involved with clubs and extracurricular activities for Mac students from India as most of the club meetings would be held in Eastern Time. However, I wish Mac had done more to help second-year students new to the country for the first time adjust to university life. I know the university has many events that are offered virtually, but many international students are not even aware of what those resources are. There is no way to know anything if they are not actively following social media pages or receiving mandatory emails,” said Arora.

As of now, Mac will continue its hybrid learning approach, with plans to expand vaccination status monitoring on campus. There are currently no released plans for the Winter semester in the event provincial and health regulations impose lockdowns. McMaster has made no comments on the position of its international students.

We should be accommodating for inconveniences caused by time zone differences

By: Jiahe Deng, Contributor

The 2020 fall semester was drastically different from what we are all used to. Different individuals faced a unique mixture of challenges, which made the past semester rough for many.

As an international student staying in my home country where the local time is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, the time zone difference was a huge burden to learning and sadly, there is no substantial change happening for this term.

I returned to my home country in July 2020 and decided to stay there during online schooling since I thought it’d be better for my mental well-being. As the fall semester started, I found studying 13 hours ahead of Hamilton's time more challenging than I thought. 

First of all, it was tough for me to find a routine that worked. A friend of mine usually goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. and consistently gets up at 3:00 a.m. He was able to attend all his classes and it worked perfectly for him. However, this didn’t work for me. If I attended all my classes, I wouldn't see any daylight. After two weeks of trial-and-error, I finally decided to only watch one course live and watch recordings for the other classes. 

Next, I needed to find ways to deal with in-class midterms and exams after 1:00 a.m. I first tried to change my sleep schedule on the date of the tests. I wrote one test at 1:30 a.m., but this resulted in three unproductive days in a hectic week since I needed to sleep extra hours the day before the test and felt exhausted two days after the test. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work for me.

So I contacted my professors to see if I can write my 2:00 a.m. tests and 5:00 a.m. exam at a different time slot. Although my professors eventually agreed to this, I was also told that it was a university-level decision not to have a policy to guarantee accommodations for time zone differences.

However, I found this decision to be unreasonable. My family is in my home country and I chose to stay here so that we could support each other through this unusual time. I’m sure many international students feel similarly in terms of wanting to stay in their home country, but also wanting to write tests at a normal time. Thus, I believe this problem deserves a systematic solution.

Although some of us stay up late from time to time, it is unjust if students are required to attend classes or take tests in the middle of the night. 

Although some of us stay up late from time to time, it is unjust if students are required to attend classes or take tests in the middle of the night. 

To make my point, we first need to reflect on our circumstances. Right now, courses are almost exclusively online, so we should interpret our classes as "online school" instead of "taking in-person classes in digital form."

If we "take in-person classes in digital form," then it’s reasonable to expect everyone to show up for every class just like when we are attending school in-person, with the only difference being the delivery switched from in-person to online. However, this expectation is unrealistic.

Instead, we should look at this as "online schooling." This means we need to respect the fact that not everyone has a quiet place to study all the time and that not everyone is in the same time zone. If we disrespect this fact and choose not to be flexible, then we systematically make it harder for students who don't always have access to quiet space, who live in another time zone and who have limited internet access, to thrive.

Second, not giving accommodations for a time zone difference is unjust and puts students’ health in jeopardy. Without accommodations, it implies that the university expects students to write a test at inconvenient times, say at 4:00 a.m. However, it’s reasonable to assume that an average person is not able to function to their average ability at that time. Therefore, it’s obviously unjust to test students when clearly some can’t function normally. 

On the other hand, without accommodations, a student may have to switch their sleep schedule often. I don’t need to over-emphasize how important a consistent sleep schedule is. Even people who work night shifts can have several days off after their shifts. However, after writing a test at 4:00 a.m., students often don’t get a break since the course goes on. Thus, I believe not giving accommodation has systematically put students’ health in jeopardy. 

One argument against giving accommodations is integrity. As much as I agree that integrity is crucial, I insist it is necessary to accommodate time zone differences. After all, testing that is equitable takes precedence over integrity.

Additionally, Student Accessibility Services students have the ability to get their tests rescheduled, so there must be ways to balance rescheduling and integrity; for instance, having different versions of the test.

Another concern is that when international students write exams at time slots convenient to them, there might not be staff available to answer questions, which is against university policy. However, if the instructor can let the student know rescheduling might result in no staff available during the test, this concern can be resolved, since students waive the right of that policy.

Ideally, I think all courses should be designed to adapt for online learning and if some courses must be taught synchronized, there should be a notice on that before the semester starts. However, at this point, I think what could help is a formal statement from university officials that acknowledges that a time zone difference is to be accommodated and encourages students to contact instructors for accommodations.

However, at this point, I think what could help is a formal statement from university officials that acknowledges that a time zone difference is to be accommodated and encourages students to contact instructors for accommodations.

We need to respect people’s decisions. If international students think staying in their home country is the best for them, then what others can do is to support them. To adjust to remote learning, I selectively chose courses with lectures in the morning and during last semester, I dropped one to cope.

Those are my efforts and I'm sure others are trying their own ways to thrive. But personal efforts or merely encouraging instructors to accommodate simply isn’t enough.

There needs to be a policy change that allows tests and exams to be accommodated for if there is any inconvenience caused by time zone difference. This problem is systematic and it deserves a systematic solution.

Students in different time zones are feeling unsupported and unaccommodated by the university

By: Aislyn Sax, Contributor and Elisa Do, News Reporter

In the Fall semester of 2020, McMaster University has become a ghost town with many students enrolled in exclusively online classes or with occasional in-person labs. 

This transition has allowed many students to live away from campus throughout the school year and significantly impacted the lives of international students. With different time zones, international students now often face the challenge of writing exams at inconvenient times during the day. 

Annie Deng is a math and stats student in her third year. She decided to stay in her home country of China for the fall semester. 

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said.

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said. 

However, as soon as the semester started, Deng found that staying in China brought other challenges. Deng now has classes at 2 a.m. and realized that the Registrar scheduled her final exams at 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. in her time zone. 

To resolve the time zone issues, Deng considered completely changing her sleep schedule, but family duties have made this option unrealistic. Instead, she decided to change her sleep schedule just for the days of exams and tests. 

"It's simply exhausting. Even if I try to sleep four more hours during the day, I still can't function normally at those hours,” Deng added.  

Deng had contacted her professors to ask if she could write the midterm tests at a different time but was met with an unsatisfying answer.

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

When she tried to reschedule, Deng was faced with more problems. After being referred to several different places and attempting to contact people, Deng was yet again unable to seek a fulfilling answer. She heard no reply from the Registrar and the Ombuds office. She learned that the University Secretariat has an appeal form where students may submit a formal inquiry on policies. When she inquired about it, Deng was met with a reply that the appeal form only dealt with faculty-level policies, whereas time zone differences were a university-level policy. 

While each of her professors eventually accommodated her, Deng said that she would like to see clear information on who to contact to resolve time zone issues.  

According to Deng, many international students she knows are considering returning to their home countries. 

"After all, it's too hard staying in a foreign country alone during a pandemic without family around. Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," she added. 

"Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," Deng added. 

Another international student, Yifang Wang, also expressed her concerns for this school year. 

As Wang is currently residing in China, she does not have access to various websites required for their academics, such as Gmail and Avenue to Learn. Although the university offers Virtual Private Networking software for students and a network accelerator for those in China, Wang expressed that she could not get the software to work for her. Hence, Wang had to purchase a VPN in order to access the necessary tools for her studies.

Wang is currently taking a linguistics course that includes weekly quizzes and said that using a VPN has made it more challenging for them to access the quizzes right away. 

“[The professor] will give us like 10 minutes or 15 minutes, but it will take me four minutes, sometimes three minutes to load the page and he didn't care about that,” Wang said. 

Wang added that the professor would not provide her more time. The professor said there are always students who complain about the time limit. Wang believed that the professor did not consider the number of international students in the course, many of whom likely struggle with the same problem.

The university had also maintained tuition fees at the same amount as they would have had the 2020-2021 school year been in-person. This includes international tuition fees, which are extensively greater than those with Canadian citizenship.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year. Despite the fact that Wang is now attending lectures that are pre-recorded rather than in-person, tuition has only increased since last year. Although recordings may be necessary due to the pandemic, Wang expressed that recorded lectures are much less captivating and motivating for her to attend. 

If international students wish to return to Canada, it is also challenging for them to do so during this time. According to the current travel restrictions, students who applied for their study permit to Canada after March 18 are not allowed to return at all, and those who applied before have no guarantee that the border will allow them entrance and can still be refused entry on a case-by-case basis.

 

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The university is rapidly transitioning its services to a near exclusively digital world for the first time. They have recently created the "Where in the world are you?" survey on Mosaic, which they say will be used to determine where students are located for the fall term. 

The survey comes eight months after the initial school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. It was also initiated four months after the university had made the decision for all classes to be held online during the fall term. 

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said. 

With months in advance to plan and navigate the digital world, international students are still not receiving adequate support for their academics.

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said.

Although we live in Canada, this election will have a huge impact on Canadian students

By: Saad Ahmed, Contributor

In 1969, the late Pierre Trudeau told Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, “Living next to [the United States] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” 

Now more than ever, this phrase resonates with Canadians — particularly students. With a high-stakes American presidential election around the corner, Canadian students should be concerned about its implications.

Up and down the ticket there are stark differences in political ideologies, governing styles and personalities. Many issues have clear implications for Canadians, as candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden offer some strikingly different policy positions.  

With carbon pricing, a progressive Pan-Canadian Framework and billions of dollars invested in green infrastructure, Canada has become a global leader in the fight against climate change. However, because the US produces such a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions, regression in their climate policy could have more of an impact on Canada than Canada’s own climate policies. 

With a high-stakes American presidential election around the corner, Canadian students should be concerned about its implications.

Recently, many Canadians in British Columbia felt the harsh effects of the smoke from the Oregon and Washington wildfires — a reminder of the inextricable climate link between Canada and the United States. Trump pledged to expand oil drilling, increase pipelines and decrease environmental regulations. On the other hand, Biden planned to invest heavily in clean energy, rejoin the Paris Agreement, implement green tariffs on countries that fail to cut emissions and even “transition from the oil industry” — a statement from the last debate that was met with plenty of controversy.

Besides personal changes to mitigate climate change, civic engagement and policy support by Canadian students are effective in bringing light to climate consequences, even if these policies aren’t Canadian.

In terms of trade, platforms from both candidates are mostly unfavourable to Canadians. Biden promises to increase “Buy American” policies and continue disputes regarding commodities like softwood lumber. However, he has said that he would consider dropping Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs that Premier Doug Ford notably called a “slap in the face” to Canadians.

Recently, right as Canada was about to unveil plans for retaliation with $3.6 billion in tariffs of its own, Trump walked back the 10 per cent tariff. However, he has indicated that he may “reimpose the tariff” as early as the end of this year. Overall, the Trump plan promises a more aggressive trade policy that includes more tariffs and duties if he wins the upcoming election — a move that is sure to cause continued chaos

With Ontario as a major supplier of steel and automobiles and Quebec as a key supplier of aluminum, Canada is the largest exporter of both commodities to the US. Thus, Canadian output is affected by these tariffs, having an effect on economic activity, jobs and consumer price inflation. For Canadian students, the economic implications of these trade policies will be felt as they enter the job market — and for years to come — making it all the more important to care about this election. 

For Canadian students, the economic implications of these trade policies will be felt as they enter the job market — and for years to come — making it all the more important to care about this election.

Between the two candidates, immigration is one of the more polarizing topics of discussion. If Trump wins, he has pledged to continue restrictive temporary work programs like the recent overhaul of H1-B visas. The H1-B visa allows foreign workers, including Canadians, to work in specialized roles in American companies. Overhauling this visa will cut off Canadians from the American job market, even if they have excellent job qualifications. 

Trump’s immigration policies have also resulted in an influx of international students to Canada. From the election of Trump in 2016 to now, the number of study permits issued to international students by Canada jumped up by a whopping 50 per cent. According to Reuters, this is a major economic plus, as foreign students contribute approximately $21 billion annually to Canada’s gross domestic product. 

On the other hand, Biden has promised to reverse Trump’s H1-B visa freeze, meaning that the prospect of working in a specialized job in the United States when it is reopened to Canadian students and those looking for work. However, this means that Canada could potentially lose some of the international students and skilled foreign workers it attracted. Though, this also means less competition for Canadian students applying for these competitive positions – something to keep in mind.

For American students studying in Canada, voting is imperative. Given the United States’ role as a global superpower, the policies and decisions that are made by American leaders — such as the travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries — can have devastating international impacts.

While issues such as controlling the current pandemic and cooperating on a COVID-19 vaccine become increasingly discussed in the international world, Americans abroad are getting more involved. Steve Nardi, the chair of Democrats Abroad Canada, stated that membership in Democrats Abroad Canada has grown by 73 per cent since 2016, with 35 per cent of this growth occurring in the seven-month leadup to this election. Canadians that volunteer with this organization help out with digital canvassing — using their social networks to make sure that Americans and dual citizens in their communities vote from abroad.

To get more involved, students at McMaster can strengthen their knowledge of U.S. politics and history by enrolling in classes like POLSCI 3I03: Topics in American Politics, HISTORY 4JJ3: U.S. Foreign Relations, HISTORY 2RR3: U.S. History Since the Civil War and HISTORY 2IS3: Scandal and Intrigue in American Political and Social History. 

Joining politically-affiliated organizations on campus like Democrats Abroad can offer students a chance to meet and discuss issues with others that share their views and help with voter outreach. Clubs and local political organization chapters also engage in activities to get out the vote for each election cycle. With the number of Americans living in Canada, voter outreach efforts can genuinely make the numerical difference for victory in close down-ballot races. 

With the number of Americans living in Canada, voter outreach efforts can genuinely make the numerical difference for victory in close down-ballot races.

Fewer than 80,000 voters in three swing states decided the U.S. election in 2016 and it is becoming increasingly apparent that this election will again come down to only tens of thousands of votes. Outside the United States, Canada has the most Americans eligible to vote — 620,000 — which is more eligible voters than in Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming or the District of Columbia. However, data from the 2016 election indicated that only about five per cent of these 620,000 voters in Canada exercised their civic duty. 

The implications of the American election extend far beyond domestic issues. As the leaders of tomorrow in a neighbouring country, Canadian students should do their part in staying informed regarding policy in the United States. Undoubtedly, much of it will affect us in the long run.

Photo by Kyle West

By Elliot Fung  

In L.R. Wilson Hall on Oct. 26, McMaster staff and students listened to presenters such as Peter Mascher, vice-provost (International Affairs), and Sean Van Koughnett, associate vice-president (Students and Learning) and dean of students, speak about the status of the “McMaster Model for Global Engagement” implemented in 2017.

The model’s key focus is global engagement with ethical principles and the enhancement of McMaster’s presence on the international stage. One of the problems identified in the strategy document was the absence of a centralized location where people can get information about McMaster’s global engagement strategy. One of the university’s goals is to create a hub-like structure to bring together various aspects of global engagement.

As such, on Oct. 26, McMaster launched MacGlobal, an online hub for information about activities, support, services, opportunities, news and events relating to McMaster’s global engagement. Debates on the possibility of a physical location for a global hub are being held as the logistics are being worked out.

The number of first-year international undergraduate students is growing every year. Van Koughnett reports that the number of international undergrad students will almost double in the next few years. As a result, McMaster is looking at introducing more support for international students.

This year, McMaster is already looking at an array of new programs for international students. The Ignite pre-Welcome Week program, a new English as second language support service, and smaller initiatives such as an airport welcome, help to support incoming international students as they make their transition to McMaster.

Concerning international recruitment, increasing attention is being placed on increasing quality and diversity of applicants. To achieve diversity, student recruitment is targeting specific countries such as China, India, United Arab Emirates, the United States and Turkey.

Another aim is to increase the number of international career opportunities for students and reduce financial barriers. McMaster’s involvement in university networks such as U21 and 20 United Nations University and partnerships with universities abroad will help to support collaborative programs such as joint PhDs and dual master’s degrees.

In addition, collaboration between universities gives way to opportunities such as McMaster’s partnership with a university in Rome to provide students access to the resources of a world-class institution for classical studies. In return, students from Rome will have access to McMaster’s resources.

Scholarships such as the McCall MacBain International Fellowship are being introduced to reduce financial barriers with respect to student mobility. The fellowship provides 10 McMaster students with $23,500 towards academic and work experience abroad.

Despite these shiny initiatives, McMaster currently offers no scholarships that only international students can apply for. This may act as a deterrent for international students who are dependent on foreign government funding, such as the students from Saudi Arabia who were forced to leave McMaster amid a diplomatic dispute in September.

For now, it seems that the university’s model is still in the process of developing the framework and structures needed to enable McMaster’s global engagement. However, more lasting changes are on their way as the university introduces more student mobility funding, new support for international students and the launch of MacGlobal.

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Illustration by Sukaina Imam

This fall, more than 1,500 new international students set foot on McMaster University’s campus. In the coming years, the university plans to further increase international student enrolment. As more international students are accepted to McMaster, student and university-led groups are working to identify and address key issues that they face.

McMaster’s 2017-2020 Strategic Mandate identifies international enrolment as a strategic priority. In 2017-2018, there were 2,589 international students studying at McMaster, a 25 per cent increase from the year prior.

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The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development does not limit the number of international students that a post-secondary institution can admit. The ministry estimates that by 2020, international students will make up 20 per cent of all post-secondary enrolments in Ontario.

International students choose to study in Canada for a wide variety of reasons, including the high quality of the Canadian education, the perception of Canada as a tolerant and non-discriminatory country and Canada’s reputation as a safe country.

However, many international students face significant barriers upon arrival, which can lead to problems with mental health, housing, finances and work.

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Tuition

One of the most commonly cited issues for international students across the province is tuition. According to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Association’s 2015 Ontario Post Secondary Student Survey, 49 per cent of international students stated that they had difficulty meeting their annual tuition payments.

At McMaster, a first-year domestic computer science student would pay $8,886 in the 2018-2019 academic year. However, an international student registered in the same program could pay between $25, 514 and $31, 658 per year, depending on their year of enrolment.

Universities across the province rely on international students’ high tuition to offset their operating costs. According to a 2016 Global Affairs Canada study, international students account for 11 per cent of the Ontario undergraduate population but generate 28 per cent of total tuition revenue.

The 2018-2019 McMaster Consolidated budget states, “to increase undergraduate enrolment and ensure our budget remains balanced, we need to shift our efforts to recruit additional international students, up from the current 10 per cent of undergraduate enrolment.”

This is possible because international student tuition rates are unregulated, meaning that there is no limit on how much they can increase year to year. As a result, international students face the burden of sharp, and often unpredictable, increases in tuition rates.

In addition to being an issue on its own, high tuition can also cause other problems for international students. Paula Daidone, a McMaster alumna, remarked that high tuition can put international students in vulnerable housing situations, as they are more likely to be willing to sacrifice quality in exchange for low rent.

Additionally, international students may have limited English skills, and might be searching for accommodations while living outside of Canada. Overall, these factors mean that international students are more likely than domestic students to face predatory landlords or end up in unsafe living situations.

Anant Jain, a second-year computer science student from India, also noted that high tuition means that international students often face a great deal pressure to succeed in school. International students may also face increased mental health issues due to the pressure to meet high tuition payments, problems with housing and academic stress.

 

Campus Life

International students can find it difficult to participate in campus life, due in large part to prejudice and racism from other students, cultural differences and language barriers.

Jain noted that some international students are nervous about initiating conversations.

“When they don’t talk to people, when they don’t interact with people, they obviously have a close community feeling, they feel like people are not accepting them,” Jain stated.

However, not all international students have trouble integrating to campus life. Jain’s outgoing nature and desire to participate in campus events helped him was integrate easily into the McMaster community.

“I think, if you really want to talk to people, people will talk to you anytime,” he said. “And people are really welcoming here.”

Jain also benefitted from mentorship programs and social events offered through International Student Services. Last year, McMaster Student Affairs conducted focus groups to help identify the needs of the university’s growing international student population. Outcomes from this included a pre-orientation program for international students called Ignite, as well as investment in iCent, an app to provide new international students with information about their move to McMaster.

Other plans for this year include the recruitment of a Student Success Coach and an Immigration consultant. According to Gina Robinson, director of the Student Success Centre and assistant dean, these changes will come in addition to existing programs relating to “life on campus, building connections, getting to know our Hamilton community, and celebrating culture and educating students on life in Canada.”

Additionally, the McMaster International and Exchange Club is a student run-initiative that connects incoming and outgoing international and exchange students. For Tom Johnston, an exchange student from Australia, MIX was a good way to get involved, meet people, and become a part of student life.

 

Mental Health

While these programs are helpful to some, other international students experience additional barriers that can prevent them from accessing the support available. Daidone, a McMaster alum from Brazil, emphasizes that mental health issues can make it difficult to get involved and seek out support.

Daidone points out that international students lose their support systems when they come to Canada.

“People come here from another country, by themselves. […], at home, you have more support, or family support, and more actual resources,” she said.

The 2017 OUSA Policy Recommendations notes that the rise of mental health issues is of particular concern for international students due to issues with integration and adjustment.

Additionally, while international students are automatically enrolled into the University Health Insurance Plan, they cannot enroll into the Ontario Health Plan. While OHIP covers psychiatric care, UHIP does not, meaning that international students have to pay out of pocket in order to access coverage.

The OUSA Policy Recommendations emphasize the importance of providing “high-quality mental health supports that are culturally appropriate and sensitive to the needs of international students”. Currently, the Student Wellness Centre does not offer mental health support specifically catered to international students.

The experiences of international students can vary drastically. Coming to McMaster can be an exciting way to meet new people, gain new experiences and seek new opportunities. However, many international students still face problems due to immigration policy, tuition deregulation, social prejudice and language limitations.

In the years to come, it remains to be seen how provincial government policy, university administrative decisions, and support services will work together to influence the experiences of the steadily growing international student population.

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

In the wake of a diplomatic dispute that broke out between Canada and Saudi Arabia last month, the Saudi government cut funding from students at Canadian post-secondary institutions, including McMaster University. While the university has offered to support affected students, it is unclear what this assistance entails and how much it is actually alleviating the situation.

McMaster has just under 200 Saudi students, with roughly 150 enrolled in the faculty of health sciences and 40 in other programs. The students who have been particularly affected are those studying in Canada via the King Abdullah Scholarship, a government program that funds students’ tuition, medical insurance, living costs and airfare.

Medical residents are in a safer spot, temporarily being allowed to remain in Canada until they find arrangements outside of the country. However, many students are still being forced to leave by Sept. 22.

“McMaster University is working to provide assistance to students following the sudden announcement made by Saudi Arabia over the weekend,” read part of a statement released by McMaster Daily News on Aug. 7. “Students who may be impacted by this change may reach out to the office of international student services or the faculty of health sciences.”

Despite the university’s call for students to seek out support from the institution, Sean Van Koughnett, the associate vice president (Students and Learning) and dean of students, did not offer specific information when asked what forms of assistance McMaster can provide.

I tell students that the best thing to do is to come up with some sort of plan if possible with their faculty to see what can be done to help students in this situation,” said Ana Pereira, the ISS international students program administrator.

However, Pereira was unable to share details regarding the specific forms of support ISS can offer, citing the sensitive nature of the subject and the distinctions in individual cases.

The university’s lack of clarity about its capacity, according to Andrea Farquhar, the assistant vice president of communications and public affairs at McMaster, stems from its limited scope. For instance, while a Saudi student may obtain a leave of absence from the university, they could only do so if the Saudi government greenlights it.

In essence, the Saudi government has more control over students’ futures than the university does. However, the McMaster Daily News article does not highlight the university’s lack of control over the situation.

Khizar Siddiqui, a second-year engineering student at McMaster, came to Canada after studying in Saudi Arabia his whole life. It was only a day before he was supposed to fly to campus when the Saudi government suspended flights between the countries.

Although Siddiqui came to McMaster as a private student, not tied to funding from the government, he remains concerned that if diplomatic relations continue to sour, he will not be able to stay much longer.

“The university has encouraged students to ask for help if they need it. However, I’d be convenient if students were told what kind of assistance the university is actually able to provide so we could be aware of all our options on how to act,” said Siddiqui. If Mac is offering help to Saudi Arabian students, I think they should do a better job of advertising their services.”

Siddiqui also believes that the university should be creating scholarships for international students, particularly those who’s funding could be stripped as a result of diplomatic strains.

Currently, international students at McMaster are not eligible for government loan services such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program and only qualify for the McMaster general bursary and merit-based scholarships.

“If diplomatic matters were to escalate between the two countries and Saudi Arabia were to call its citizens back from Canada, there's not much that could help me stay in Canada,” said Siddiqui.

Amid the diplomatic fallout and the university’s lack of clarity and control, many Saudi students remain less hopeful about a future in Canada.

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