South Asian international students struggling during COVID isolation, harsh winter

South Asian international students in Calgary need more help than ever, according to a group that works to support them.

Recent arrivals are dealing with pandemic, mental health and freezing temperatures

Food donations make up a big part of One Voice Canada Alberta’s efforts to help international students. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

South Asian international students arriving in Calgary need more help than ever, according to a group that works to support them.

Many new students from countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are struggling to find the jobs they need to support themselves while navigating winter in Canada and studying online in isolation, usually living alone in apartments, basement suites or with host families.

That isolation and financial stress can lead to mental health issues and fears they might not be able to complete their studies, which are key to realizing dreams of starting new lives and careers in Canada. 

"Some people sold their land, have withdrawn their savings, borrowed money, so that their children can leave for Canada," said Reyme Kaur with One Voice Canada Alberta, a group that helps international students.

Kaur says many students are suffering, stuck indoors, impacted by social isolation and depression and not able to find work, which can be particularly hard for new arrivals to the city.

"They are not even making it to the interviews," said Kaur. "But they have rent to pay, groceries, transit, clothes."

One student from the Punjab region of India, whom CBC agreed not to name, says she's been in Calgary for only a few months and is struggling to find the work she needs to get by.

"I've never seen such drastic changes in my life. You cannot imagine what it's been like as an international student. I'm jobless and have been depressed," she said. 

Reyme Kaur with One Voice Canada Alberta says international students are facing a lot of financial hardship as well as the culture shock of their first winter in Western Canada. She is helping connect them with winter clothing and food hampers. (Submitted by Reyme Kaur)

The student says they can face discrimination in the community and are often treated like second class citizens by more established immigrants.

Kaur says many jobs that international students could rely on in the past are increasingly harder to find since COVID.

"Full-timers have gone part time, part-timers have gone casual. Entry levels jobs like food industry and customer service, Canadians with degrees are now competing for those jobs," said Kaur. "International students are now third or fourth in category."

Kaur says this winter in Alberta has also been particularly harsh and many students aren't well prepared with the right clothing.

Her organization is busy helping deliver food donations and clothing, along with a long list of additional supports to make life easier. 

"More and more students are in dire need of help," she said.

"We help with hampers and care packages, winter clothing like jackets, boots, tuques, socks. And we help them with documents, appointments and transportation and even gas money," said Kaur.

Recently, some students forced out of the flooded Westview Heights apartment building in downtown Calgary have needed the organization's help.

Kaur says anyone who wants to help out with donations, gently used coats and food packages can contact One Voice Canada Alberta online.


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using just an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is largely focused on under-reported communities and issues in Calgary and southern Alberta. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at