While courses have begun virtually for the fall semester at Grenfell Campus, some international students are resuming their studies having never left campus at all, as COVID-19 travel restrictions left them stranded in Corner Brook since the pandemic reached Newfoundland and Labrador.
Shireen Merchant, from Pakistan, is in her second year of a visual arts degree. In April, she found herself alone in an campus apartment when the school closed and most students went home.
"It changed everything for me. Everything. I was so isolated, I couldn't meet anyone," she said.
Merchant had plans to travel home to see her parents for July and August, but ended up never leaving the province.
"They were really upset, but they also said it's safe to be there, because travelling was really not safe. So they preferred me staying here," she said.
Merchant is one of roughly 100 international students who spent the spring and summer stuck in Corner Brook, with some moving off campus, while others stayed in on-campus apartments or chalets.
Many students were able to apply for and avail of a university emergency relief fund, said one Grenfell Campus official.
"It couldn't help with everything, but it definitely was some assistance," said Carolyn Parsons, the registrar and director of student services.
"We also helped our students connect with other community organizations. We always have a food bank on campus and we bumped up the services to the food bank over the last number of months as well."
Merchant took remote jobs with Student Services at Grenfell Campus and then with the Association for New Canadians to help her pay rent.
"When we weren't allowed to move or meet anyone, that's when student services helped us with food bank," she said, adding as public health restrictions eased, her situation improved.
"There are my friends who have access to cars and they would take me to get groceries, and that's how I managed."
Merchant said she struggled with the isolation of quiet on-campus life, but feels much more social now that she can talk to students through her online classes.
She is taking all her courses in her living room, with yarn and thread piled up on her coffee table — a major departure from her in-studio classes where she used machinery and other equipment.
"Now, it's opposite. I have to do everything in my chalet. But the good part is our professors have worked so hard during summer to build up this whole curriculum where we can do projects while being at home," she said.
Memorial University is offering most courses online this semester because of the pandemic, and Parsons said Grenfell Campus' strong international student body of about 200 students are mostly studying from home.
"Students can be sitting anywhere in the world at their computer," she said.
"There are still live lectures, with classroom discussion on different topics. Some will be offered not live. Students can do them at their own speed and at their own time."
Grenfell Campus staff are preparing for a time when international students may return to campus in 2021 and may need to self-isolate, she said.
"The university has a very detailed plan in terms of how self-isolation will occur and how students will be cared for during that period, because it is a difficult period for anyone especially when you are moving to a new country," Parsons said.