International students say U of M left them without mental-health support during strike by faculty

Classes resumed yesterday after University of Manitoba faculty voted to accept a deal with the university, ending the five- week strike.

However, some international students say the effects of the strike are far from over.

Sabrina Noor is one of approximately 6,345 international students at the university. She’s a third-year statistics student at the university who is relieved that the strike is over, but discouraged by the continuing challenges she will face. 

“There’s no winning in this situation for us,” said Noor, who had four of her courses affected by the strike.

One of the biggest concerns for international students is the shortened winter break. The usual three-week hiatus has been cut to 10 days.

International students can only work 20 hours a week during the semester, so many rely on being able to work full-time during the winter break to help cover tuition and living expenses.

Noor says her tuition this semester climbed above $10,000. She had been counting on being able to work full-time at the Costco flower kiosk over the break.

“A lot of people rely on these Christmas hours because these are the best paid hours,” said Fardeen Zareef, who is in his final year of studying economics. The president of the arts student body council works two jobs at Skip The Dishes.

Because the strike was not a scheduled school break, affected international students were still only able to work 20 hours a week.

Unable to travel home for holidays

The shortened winter break affects more than the students’ ability to work. The latest schedule from the university says that it will be closed from December 24, 2021 to January 4, 2022. More detailed plans are expected to be released later this week.

While pandemic travel restrictions are a concern for international students, Zareef says the main reason many won’t be travelling home has more to do with a lack of time.

“It’s 10,000 kilometres to travel back to Bangladesh. So going for 10 days makes no sense,” he said.

Noor was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but now calls Bangladesh home. She hasn’t made holiday travel plans, either, due to uncertainty about her school schedule. 

She’s been in touch with family and friends back home, but has had a hard time explaining what’s been going on.

“We’re all just waiting every day — and usually during the weekends. Instead of relaxing, we’re looking at our phones, [wondering] what’s going to happen?” 

Lack of mental health support

Noor says her mental health has been seriously affected by the strike and lack of support offered to international students.

She started at the university three months before the pandemic, and making friends without in-person classes has been challenging. 

She says the strike made her feel more isolated and anxious. On Monday morning, she had a panic attack when she heard that classes might resume the next day.

“Everything has been all over the place, there’s no time to breathe,” Noor said. 

In an email response to CBC, a University of Manitoba spokesperson said that all student supports continued throughout the labour disruption. 

“We sent no fewer than 15 direct communications to students keeping them up to date on the labour disruption and its impacts, as well as the supports that were available,” the spokesperson said.

But Noor says she’s so overwhelmed she’s considering taking a break from school.

Zareef agrees that there’s been a lack of support and communication. As a student councillor, he says, he is constantly fighting to get better help for international students.

“I don’t see the support that my people should be receiving,” he said.

“They [the university] all preach diversity, they all show BIPOC faces. But when push comes to shove, we have no support. Our voices are not heard.”

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