Khushi Chunch had a breakdown a couple of days ago, worrying about not only her graduate studies at the University of Windsor, but how to make ends meet and eat. The Master's student in electrical and computer engineering isn't the only international student feeling the added stress of finding food and even a job.
"Overall, it's a good place, the people are good. And it's a nice community, small and nice community over here," Chunch said of her time in Windsor. "The most disappointing thing is, since we have come during the harsh winters, there is a scarcity of jobs. So it is quite overwhelming and quite an emotional thing. Because we are having a hard time keeping up with the expenses and all."
Chunch said she lives off of about $630 a month. She has two other roommates, so they do what they can together to make it all work. And that includes pooling their efforts at the University of Windsor Food Pantry.
"They gave us canned food, like soups and lentils, and even fruits, so there's a lot for one person, and like, it might be sufficient for a week or 10 days," Chunch said. "We bring it together for all of us."
Kathryn Jago, Co-ordinator of the University of Windsor Food Pantry, said she has seen so many similar stories since beginning her position in September. Jago said to do her part to help, she is inputting as many appointments as she can, even if it means doing it manually.
"We have an online portal website, the barcode is outside the food pantry, or you can just go to the food pantry website for the University of Windsor," Jago said. "But it is very booked up in advance. So they can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I can sense people's frustration and when they can't get a slot," Jago said. And that's why I try to book them in manually. I definitely can sense people's frustration and like the stress of not being able to afford food."
KNEW THE SITUATION IN ADVANCE
Chunch, who arrived in Windsor at the end of December for her 16-month program, knew what she was getting into, leaving her homeland of India and having a job. She said other students have chronicled their journeys as graduate students in Canada on YouTube. She also has friends that have taken a similar path.
"I was mentally prepared. All of my friends said, you're going to innovate," Chunch said. "There will be harsh winters and you will have a hard time finding a job. So maybe you will have to, you know, cut through your expenses, cut through your food, like cravings and everything. And you will have to use this and that."
Though she was prepared, she didn't think it would take as long as it has to find a job, which she would happily take anywhere. Chunch said, she and her roommates have looked for jobs at the mall, in retail and in the food industry, among other places.
This unfortunately has been a familiar theme for many international students, said Tashlyn Teskey, Manager of Research Projects at Workforce Windsor-Essex.
She attributes a competitive job market and cultural bias being two issues for the international students.
"The labour market is getting more competitive," Teskey said. "A lot of people that were in more skilled positions for a long time were either laid off or maybe wanted a change of scenery, looking for those lower-skilled jobs that are in food service, hospitality and retail. And that's kind of pushing out those student jobs that were always consistently there."
She added that needing flexible schedules because of their studies is also pushing a lot of students out.
And when it comes to cultural bias, Teskey said businesses need to focus on who is going to be a good fit and the best person for the role, rather than focusing on the country they come from.
"Employers really need to keep in mind that one-quarter of our local community is immigrants," Teskey said. "So these students are an advantage to have in some of those smaller businesses, especially if they're downtown where a lot of international students and newcomers live. They speak a lot of the other languages the store owners can't, as well as being able to make a connection with someone that can speak their language and help them as a customer. Employers need to look at the advantages these students bring instead of a hindrance."
Teskey and Chunch said the post secondary institutions need to provide more support for the international students, especially when it comes to finding jobs.
"It's important when these post secondary institutions are recruiting students to come here, letting them know there are great opportunities for work after they graduate," Teskey said. "But they have to focus on being able to support them while they're in school as well."