Lost in translation: Some CBU students didn't comprehend Dorian's danger

While Nova Scotia prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian last weekend, some newcomers to the province were left wondering how to do just that.

About half of Cape Breton University's roughly 5,400 students are international students. According to student union vice-president Samual Shaji, many of those students had never experienced a hurricane and did not know what to expect.

"They never thought there could be a power outage for two or three days," said Shaji, adding they encouraged students to buy things like bread and finish cooking supper by 6 p.m. before the storm rolled in.

Although the university used social media and posters to encourage students to stay inside, Shaji said it didn't always translate well for some international students.

Differences in emergency management

That's in part because Canadian protocols for storms confused some of the students. For example, if there was a flood in India, residents would rely on local government and police for both information and instruction.

"There would be cops with big speakers going through each and every street giving instructions," he said. "So when we hear the word disaster these are the things in our minds."

Shaji said the onus to take precautions is more personal in Canada. That led to some students not understanding the severity of the storm.

Several students went to Dominion Beach to check out the waves before being called back.

While Shaji wanted international students to understand the severity of the storm, he said he also didn't want to frighten them. Some students were particularly worried after seeing footage of the Bahamas in the news.

Tom Ayers/CBC

The student union put up posters regarding the storm and reached out to international students through social media to warn them.

Transportation woes

International students also faced another challenge during the storm when it was announced public transit would be taken off the roads at 7 p.m. Saturday. Many students rely on buses to get to and from work on the weekends.

According to a spokesperson from CBU, the university encouraged students to check on the transit situation as the storm progressed. They university put updates on social media and fielded calls from students regarding which cabs were running.

But Shaji said the student union had to explain to international students it was acceptable to call in to cancel their shifts or leave early if they didn't have a way home from work.

He feared many students who live kilometres from the bus stops would walk home just as the hurricane was reaching the Sydney area.

Different types of social media

Reaching all of the international students and keeping them updated was complicated by the fact that some don't use the same social media platforms.

According to Shaji, Indian students use the same social media platforms as Canadians, which meant notices put out by the university or municipality were easily found on Instagram or Facebook.

However, Shaji worries even the student union's information didn't reach international students from South Korea and China. They use their own social media platforms.

Submitted by Samual Shaji

The student union was in contact with the municipality throughout the weekend gathering information. Mayor Cecil Clarke said the municipality would be looking into its communications with both newcomers and locals in the future.

"We have thousands of new citizens … that don't understand our protocols when there is a major weather event," said Clarke.

Shaji wants the municipality, university, and student union to work together on an emergency plan.