When wildfires forced major swaths of the N.W.T.'s population to evacuate their communities last month, some students didn't get a chance to return home before heading off to college or university.
Students who spoke with CBC News described feeling isolated and having to leave their homes in a rush without their school gear and in some cases without getting to say a proper goodbye to friends and family members. Some are still waiting on student financial assistance, as the territorial staff responsible for handling that were also forced to leave.
Monique Chapman said it was gut-wrenching leaving her home without properly being able to say goodbye — she misses not having the chance to see her friends and family in Yellowknife.
"One last hug, one last meal with some of these people — It was really hard to just not be able to do that," she said.
When Yellowknife evacuated in mid-August, Chapman headed for Edmonton. From there, she flew to Scotland to begin studying at the University of Edinburgh.
Mary Chocolate said having to evacuate had an impact on her mental health. (Submitted by Mary Chocolate)
Another student, Mary Chocolate, didn't have all the school supplies she needed with her because she had to evacuate from Yellowknife very quickly.
"I only had whatever I had in my suitcase," she said.
Chocolate evacuated from Yellowknife, headed to Edmonton and then went to Lethbridge College in Alberta.
She had to buy notebooks, pens, pencils, bedding and hygiene and healthcare supplies. She also had to repurchase textbooks she'd left behind in Yellowknife.
"I had to start from scratch all over again."
Chocolate said the whole experience of having to evacuate and then go straight to class was stressful. On top of that, it left her short on funds.
"From not having enough money for my rent and tuition or groceries, to having to leave my home pretty quickly due to a fire ... that impacted my mental health. So I've been feeling a little on-edge or anxious and stressed, while also trying to maintain my schoolwork and being in classes as well," she said.
"It's just been a lot."
Kira Young, a Grade 12 boarding school student who studies in Victoria, B.C., had to flee Yellowknife just days before her school year began. (Submitted by Kira Young) (Submitted by Kira Young)
Chocolate said she's still waiting to receive student financial assistance.
In an emailed statement, the N.W.T. Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) said student financial assistance staff had to work remotely, and have now returned to the office and are dealing with a high volume of phone calls and emails, while continuing to process payments.
"Additional staff resources have been added to help with the workload and we're continuing to ask students to please be patient during this time," the department stated.
From evacuation to the classroom
For Kira Young, a Grade 12 boarding school student, going from an environment where you're evacuating and then going to a different classroom environment was definitely a change.
"Everyone was pretty panicked...and everyone was sharing the same sense of uncertainty and fear. And then coming to a place where everybody was pretty much oblivious to what was going on, it was very strange experience," she said.
"Even when I talked about it to my friends ... it never really felt like anybody truly understood the depth and the breadth of what was going on back home."
Young studies at a school in B.C., but comes back to Yellowknife for the summer. The evacuation hit two days before she had to fly to Victoria to start her school year, and she spent those days in Edmonton with her family.
She said evacuating and then going to school had left her feeling isolated, but she found an outlet in another student at her school who is also an N.W.T. evacuee.
Together, they did presentations in their school detailing what's happening in the N.W.T., the climate change background of the wildfires and what kind of impact the wildfires are having on people.
"We want everybody to feel the same sense of urgency to start combating the climate crisis," she said.