Nfld. & Labrador

Stranded in Corner Brook, Grenfell Campus international students resume studies on quiet campus

While courses start at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus for the fall semester, some international students have been on campus the entire spring and summer break because COVID-19 travel restrictions left them stranded in Corner Brook.

About 100 students stayed in the city as COVID-19 prevented their return home

Shireen Merchant could not travel home to Pakistan this summer from her base at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

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 when the pandemic reached Newfoundland and Labrador.

Second-year visual arts student Shireen Merchant of Pakistan found herself alone in an campus apartment when the school closed in April and most students went home.

"It changed everything for me. Everything. I was so isolated, I couldn't meet anyone," she said.

Merchant had 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 apartments or chalets on campus.

Carolyn Parsons is Grenfell Campus's registrar and director of student services. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Emergency relief

Many students were able to 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 that her situation improved as public health restrictions eased.

"There are my friends who have access to cars and they would take me to get groceries, and that's how I managed."

Online learning

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.

Merchant is now studying online this semester, a big change from her mostly in-studio visual arts classes. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

Memorial University is offering most courses online this semester because of the pandemic, and Parsons said Grenfell Campus's 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.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.