Whether adjusting to a different environment or trying to master a second language, the challenges new international students face coming to P.E.I. have changed during the pandemic.
And while virtual schooling may be the cause of some of those difficulties, some international students see the benefits to learning this way.
Farzad Vali, a first year kinesiology major at UPEI from Iran, said he prefers having virtual classes because it gives him more balance between work and school. He thinks that’s also the case for most international students.
“It’s the biggest reason I prefer online rather than in-person classes,” Vali said. “I think there are so many opportunities for us to manage our time. As an international student, we have to work as a part-time worker. I think online [learning] will help us keep up with the time better.”
I see that professors and instructors try their best to explain material, and do their best to keep up with students.– Farzad Vali
Although not a requirement, many international students in P.E.I. work while studying. International students can only work up to 20 hours a week.
“It’s really busy for us and it’s really hard to manage it and keep up with it, and the online classes are better in this situation,” Vali said.
“The online [classes] can help us to [set] our hours, for example — three days for university, three days for work and one day for rest or something like that.”
Tuition fees for international students at UPEI are more than double the amount for domestic students. For example, tuition for a full-time, international undergraduate student in the faculty of arts or science at the university is $7,548, plus the standard fee of $6,450, for a total of $13,998.
Vali said he doesn’t think he’s overpaying for virtual learning, he believes the workload and teaching quality is still the same.
“I see that professors and instructors try their best to explain material, and do their best to keep up with students. There’s so many assignments, so many quizzes,” he said.
However, in-person classes would help international students get more accustomed to the Island, he said, while noting that the university is doing the best it can given the pandemic.
‘Human interaction’ key for learning
While UPEI pivoted to virtual learning for most programs until Feb. 27, Holland College returned to in-person classes for most programs following the end of a provincial two-week circuit breaker on Jan. 31.
Eriks Faccin, a first year Holland College student from Brazil, said he’s glad the college is back to classroom learning.
“I think human interaction is one of the most important aspects [of learning]. You also learn from others, you share experiences,” Faccin said.
In-person classes have helped him settle on P.E.I., he said. He moved here with his family in August 2021.
“You meet new people, you go to school and you meet friends and you find friends. You end up meeting more Islanders, you get to know the Island, you get to know Charlottetown,” he said.
Faccin said in-person learning also justifies the high fees international students pay at Holland College.
First year international students pay an additional $4,400 for tuition. If the college had stuck to online learning, the fees would have needed to be reviewed, he said.
Despite preferring in-person learning, Faccin does acknowledge that virtual learning has benefits for immunocompromised students and others who work while studying.
Faccin works part time, his wife works full time and the couple have two young daughters as well.
“I see some benefits. With my schedule it helps me massively, because of my children,” he said, adding that child care can be an issue and they have to hire babysitters sometimes.
Virtual learning requires a unique format
Ashley Clark, an international student coach at UPEI’s faculty of education, said although in-person learning seems to be the best option for students, virtual learning can work almost as efficiently, if delivered right.
“An online class can be done really well and can still have that element that helps support students settle into life on the Island but it doesn’t happen accidentally,” she said.
“If you’re just taking what you did in a face-to-face environment and transplanting it online, I think things are going to be lost.”
An online course can be fantastic and an in-person course can be fantastic.-Ashley Clark
Clark believes most first year international students do not get the same quality of support and access to resources virtually.
“Not only are they trying to acclimatize to the culture, the weather, the school life and balancing all those things in place, they’re doing it in a new place with far fewer of the networks and support they might be used to.”
Most of the students she worked with struggled with virtual learning when it first began in 2020, Clark said. However, some have now seen some benefits to learning virtually.
“There are a lot of benefits to it. It’s very flexible. It feels safer in a COVID world, there are accessibility bonuses,” she said.
“In my experience with a lot of students it became easier in balancing their work and their life. At the same time there were significant disadvantages.”
Clark hopes that universities can find a way to provide the same academic and non-academic support students receive in person, virtually.