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Experiencing a Global Pandemic as an International Student

Blog/FavouritesDecember 8th 2020
M. Harrison Shin

It is November 2020, and it has been nearly eight months since McMaster University halted in-person classes and examinations and the McMaster Student Union (MSU) halted services. I feel like time flew by at sonic speed; I still cannot believe it’s November. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was making several interesting life decisions I never thought I would have had to make. After the previously mentioned decisions by the university, my life plan, as an international student from South Korea, has changed drastically, in order to survive in the global pandemic. Here is my story.

Challenge #1: Finding a Place to Live

In March 2020, I was a first-year student, living in Les Prince Hall. When I heard the news that the university halted in-person classes and examinations, I was at the CFMU studios doing some work. I was a little shocked but not at a radical level. I thought I could just finish up my semester and hop on my flight back to South Korea, which was scheduled for April 30th, 2020. That thought did not last long. Later that day, I got an email from my flight booking website, saying that my flight has been cancelled. I started to panic, because that meant that I could not go back to my parents’ and would be homeless after finishing my final exams. The Government of Canada deciding to restrict non-essential travel between borders did not help me.

I needed to find shelter.

My CFMU co-host Jani Panda had a list of apartments she was looking at, so I decided to join the open house events. Thankfully, there was an apartment available for April 1st, 2020. It is financially bleeding for my family, since I do not have an income in Canada, but was a necessary decision at the time.

Challenge #2: Move In Day

When move-in day came, I did not have a car. I did not have lots of furniture in my residence, but I still had enough stuff to envy people with a car. My improvisation was using two luggage bags and taking an Uber back and forth until I finished moving. I wanted to get cheaper furniture, but since I did not have a car, I had to find a business that would deliver to my place. I got my furniture in DIY format (i.e. I assembled all by myself, which was a good physical workout!). I finally had a bed, a table to eat and study at and chairs to sit on. I still lack a couch and other decorative furniture, but I did my best at the time.

Challenge #3: Extending My Study Permit

Now that I was settled in my new home, it was time to apply for my study permit extension. Originally, my study permit was set to expire on July 31st, 2020. I didn’t care that much, because I was planning to take two years off from university, due to my mandatory military service as a South Korean citizen. However, now that there was no option for me to go back to my parents’, I had to extend my study permit to stay in Canada legally. I gathered and submitted all the necessary documents asked by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and paid my processing fee. One thing I did not realise at the time was that the biometric gathering regulation was changed. I had to submit my biometrics via nearest Service Canada location. However, because of COVID-19, all Service Canada locations were. Thankfully, IRCC granted a 60-day extension of my biometrics submission deadline.

I had to extend my study permit to stay in Canada legally.

Fast forward to mid-July 2020. The biometrics deadline had passed and IRCC finally decided to exempt in-Canada applicants from biometrics regulation during the COVID-19 pandemic. They just started reviewing my application, and I had less than a month to get a final decision from IRCC. July passed, and I was under implied status, a status for applicants whose applications were still processing by IRCC.

For whatever reason, IRCC did not decide my fate as an international student until late-August. I was originally planning to make a brief trip to South Korea, to sort out some military service paperwork, in early September (flights to South Korea had resumed at this point). I did get the final decision in late-August, but I had to wait until I received my study permit in the mail. I had to change my departing flight, because I feared I would not be able to get my permit by the day of flight. Regardless, I finally got my study permit, and I took my trip to South Korea. I had to quarantine two weeks in South Korea with two COVID-19 tests, and another two weeks in my Hamilton apartment with one COVID-19 test when I returned. Now, I am back in my Hamilton apartment, trying to catch up with my overwhelming amount of assignments.

Looking back at the last eight months of this journey, I feel like I have a good story to tell my kids some day. I am sure others had more challenging problems than me, but from my perspective, I can confidently say that I completed my challenges with improvisation and quick decisions. I hope you found my journey through COVID-19 interesting as I continue navigating and improvising the best I can!