Support for International Students During Covid

OCENET innovates to support international students during Covid

The 2020-2021school year has definitely been a different kind of year for international students.  Like everywhere else, OCENET has had to modify and reconfigure our programs to accommodate all the changes that have taken place over this pandemic year.

This year has definitely been a challenge for us, but more than that, it has been a difficult year for our international students who are far from home and trying to adjust and adapt to a school year and a cultural experience in an uncertain and unpredictable world.  There are few friends to be made, little social interaction to be had, and no gatherings for school or social events.  It has been a year of Google Classroom, Zoom, and Google Meet.  Video chats have taken the place of in person get-togethers, parties with friends and family, and human interaction.

Through regular and on-going contact and discussions with our international students, we have learned that their greatest challenges have been ways to find coping mechanisms, the effects of long periods inside on their mental health, missing family, making new friends, being alone with no real sense of belonging, and the realization that any normalcy will most likely not return in 2021.

When we speak with them about their challenges and struggles, we also ask them how they are managing and what strategies they are using to lessen the Covid impact.

They are a resilient bunch these international students of ours!  They are “learning to knit and cook”; they “talk to everyone”; they discover their own novel approaches: “I sometimes use the classroom and find the name of my peers and search for them on social media and start a conversation with them.  Some of them are great and are really eager to make new friends”; others try to “visit places to see the beauty of Ottawa” but most, we believe, share this student’s sentiment: “I am trying to make the best out of the time I have in Canada…Having a good time with the people you have and the things you can do to make this year as fun as possible.

OCENET recognized early on in the pandemic that additional ‘fun’ support would be needed for our students, especially for those students who couldn’t return home during the summer of 2020 because of the lockdown and new travel restrictions.  It was through that initial realization that OCENET decided to offer something very enjoyable for the students, something to take their minds off their situation if only for a few hours.

 

OCENET sponsored a QuarantArt Contest and a COVID Cooking contest over the summer and then as the pandemic situation failed to improve into the fall, OCENET decided to host a virtual discussion group with our international students to share ideas and suggestions for other virtual activities.  Our combined suggestions have led to virtual scavenger hunts, games night, movie nights, an amazing workshop through the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, Anishinabe drawing classes through Wabano, and another Art Contest (COV-ART).  In collaboration with our international students we are currently ‘in talks’ to start a virtual book club and a Culture Sharing Evening.

These virtual events have been as interesting and fun for OCENET as they have been for our students. Our plan and commitment is to continue these events long after COVID has left the building.

by Kari Haines, Manager, Programs

Cov-Art Contest

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