The life of an international student is full of uncertainty. The decisions we make are dependent on the university’s decisions: whether or not to return home, departure dates, where to stay in Toronto if returning home is not an option, how much to spend on an Airbnb to not break our budgets. International students must make these considerations every year while most domestic students do not. 

International students should not be in this on their own. Just like domestic students, international students are members of U of T and should have support from their community in times of need. Hence, it is the university’s responsibility to ease the burden on students’ shoulders and aspire toward fulfilling needs and expectations in a year full of questions. With academic pressure weighing on their minds, it is simply unfair for international students to suffer additional mental stress searching for shelter every winter break. 

Despite a quarter of the entire student body being international students who pay significantly more in tuition fees than most domestic students, U of T does not adequately take the needs of its international students into consideration. 

This is evident in the university’s abrupt announcement in the middle of finals season on December 15, 2021, when many students were experiencing peak stress levels. U of T decided to cancel all in-person exams starting on December 16, 2021 and shifted classes online until January 31, 2022. U of T has since announced a more gradual transition to a full in-person return with in-person activities beginning to increase on February 7.

Due to U of T’s untimely announcements, students — especially international students — bore most of the consequences of the ineffective decision. Those who could have returned home earlier missed their chances of booking a cheaper flight. Those who booked flights at a later date to fly home needed to rebook their flights. Those who were not fortunate enough to return — due to the late notice — were stuck in the country. Some paid extra to stay in residence. Some were forced to move out of residence, struggled to find a place to stay over the break — disconnected from family and friends — and spent the holidays alone without support in a foreign country. 

International students with no residence in Canada may have struggled to find proper accommodations to stay over winter break. Although students residing at University College, New College, the Chestnut Residence, and the Chelsea Hotel could apply to stay for winter break, those who were in other student residences — including St. Michael’s, Victoria, Trinity, Innis, Loretto, and Woodsworth College — had to find elsewhere to stay. 

For residence in winter break, the cost of renting a room can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars, and sharing a room with someone else could increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. With that said, U of T should be able to relieve students’ stress of finding a safe and suitable place to stay during winter break or any inconvenient times of the year in the future. 

While the university may not be able to realistically keep all of its residences open over winter break as a result of staff shortages, there are alternative ways to give support to those who have to leave their dorm at the end of term. For instance, U of T could team up with nearby accommodations in Toronto such as hotels, Airbnb, and hostels to provide annual student-friendly deals for long-term stays during winter break and possibly summer vacation. These deals could take the form of student packages, discounts, or coupons depending on which works best for the school, the provider, and the students. Not only would the financial burden on international students be lighter, but also the workload of residence staff could be more manageable. 

With rising COVID-19 cases, changing government policies, and mixed economic situations compounded with late school announcements, international students have been living in constant worry and indecision since the start of the school year. With mistakes unexpectedly made, decisions untimely announced, and policies inadequately enforced, there is room for improvement, and U of T has the capacity to make those changes. 

Stephanie Shih is a first-year social sciences student at Woodsworth College.