While classes remain online at the University of Windsor, some international students still made the trip to study in Canada this year, including Dilusha Kankanamge who left his friends and family behind in Sri Lanka to do his master's in civil engineering.
While this isn't his first time studying abroad, he said being an international student during the pandemic is strange.
And said he had to go through an extensive process just to come to Windsor, which included getting tested for COVID-19 three times within two months and quarantining completely alone for two weeks.
Kankanamge said this was especially difficult for him since he doesn't know anyone in the city and had no means to communicate with loved ones back home for at least a week.
"I wasn't able to go for a run even like, nothing. I had to just stay inside my room. So that was hard. That was mentally very hard," he said. "I didn't have time to get a mobile plan. So I couldn't reach anybody, like I didn't have a Canadian number."
He said that he had no other option but to come to the country in order to secure his full-ride scholarship.
While he did consider deferring his study, he said he couldn't predict when the pandemic would be over.
"You can't really push your life behind until everything is done. So I just took my chances, but this was not what I was expecting," he said.
Kankanamge said he feels like he's missing out on the true student-life experience. He wants to socialize and make friends in the city, but the lockdown makes that difficult.
But another international student, Ahsan Mujeeb, considers himself lucky as he has some family in the country and secured a job as an associate at Home Depot. He's not yet living in Windsor as he's decided to stay with family in Pickering, Ont.
"So, I do go out. I meet people. I meet people in my workplace, interact with them. I'm getting to know about the culture, the values and rituals, things like that, he said, adding that his time in Canada has still been restricted.
"Seeing that everything is in lockdown, I cannot go out. No sight seeing yet. All I'm doing is staying at home," he said. "It's kind of depressing, but I feel fortunate that I do have a job and I'm going out at least."
Originally from Pakistan, Mujeeb is also enrolled in the master's of engineering program at the University of Windsor. He had already deferred his enrolment last year and did not want to wait any longer to begin.
Missing out on student-life experience
Though Mujeeb has yet to set foot in Windsor, he said he hopes to live in the city once he can attend classes in-person.
Even with online classes, both students say it's beneficial to be close to the university as it allows them to study in the same time zone and find employment after school.
Kankanamge and Mujeeb also say the university has helped them adjust during these difficult times.
"People don't quite appreciate the challenges that they're facing," said Chris Busch, the associate vice-president of enrolment management at the University of Windsor.
"A lot of our pedagogy has been primarily delivered. It has changed. It is now online delivery and different modes of assessment and learning. And I think we have to be really appreciative of the the large amount of effort that students are putting into their learning these days, but also [what] faculty and staff are also doing to try to stand up and support effective teaching," he said.
COVID-19 test centre at UWindsor
The university set up a COVID test centre in December inside the campus for incoming international students. It tested 408 students so far, Kankanamge being one of them.
In an email statement, the university said it has seen a slight decrease in enrolment of international students this year —221 less students this semester compared to the winter semester in 2020.
It attributed the decrease to "challenges associated with travelling to Canada, obtaining a study permit and other factors related to COVID-19."
Even though it's been difficult, neither of the students regret their decision to come to Canada, but hope in-person classes return soon.
In the meantime, the university says it offers counselling services for those who need it, including an app that provides help in other languages and can be accessed 24/7 by international students.