Nova Scotia

Racist comments frustrate international students in Nova Scotia

An international student at Dalhousie says he's fed up with snarky, racist comments in the community, and he's now questioning his future in the province.

'They feel they cannot stay here. ... It's bad for the long-term prosperity of the province'

Amr ElKhashab, president of the Dalhousie International Students Association, says it's time people openly talked about racism in the province. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

An international student at Dalhousie University said he's fed up with snarky, racist comments in the community, and he's now questioning his future in the province.

The student said he has a vivid memory of his breaking point — an incident a few weeks ago when someone made fun of his shoes. 

"The guy told me behind my back to go back to India," he said.  

CBC has agreed to allow the student to remain anonymous to avoid potential backlash.

"If it happened once, I wouldn't have bothered to tell you about it, but it's happened four or five times."

The computer science student has been living in Halifax for a year and a half. During that time, he said he's been laughed at, pointed at, even cursed at during the Canada Day parade. Those making the comments range all ages.

"I was really astonished that someone can say that."

He's hopeful that education can help people realize that even a passing comment can take a toll on the recipient. While he loves the city and the geography, he's thinking of looking for a job in Ontario after he graduates. 

"I think that's one of the reasons maybe people leave this province. If people behave this way, it might not be the main reason, but it's a reason people leave."

Common complaint

He's not alone.

"I actually have friends who decided to leave," said Amr ElKhashab, president of the Dalhousie International Students Association. His friends were living in Cape Breton when they made the choice to leave Nova Scotia.

"It's usually the casual racist comment that you hear."

He said while some of the comments are from young, drunk people, he points to two occasions when the people responsible were seniors.

On one occasion, he saw a senior ask an international student to move so he could get on the bus. The student didn't hear him because he was wearing headphones.

"When the person passed by, he pushed the headphones out of his ear and said 'you go back to your country,'" ElKhashab said.

Six weeks ago, another passenger on a bus mumbled racist comments when ElKhashab sat near her.

"If they hear this stuff, usually, they don't feel welcome here," he said of his peers. "They feel they cannot stay here after they graduate. It's bad for the long-term prosperity of the province."

He wants people to understand that international students can be a great asset to the community. 

"We have the right to be here. We come here to study, we're not freeloaders. Try to be nice to us. Every international student is having their own story."

He points to their financial struggles just to attend school here, with many international students paying double or triple the fees of domestic students.

"There's a lot, a lot of problems that international students face." 

ElKhashab grew up in Egypt and Turkey and plans on staying in the province.

"There are a lot of great people here, most people are amazing and they're very, very open to international students. A racist comment now and then is not going to change my mind." 

Supports available

A spokesperson from Dalhousie University said it's disappointing some students are having this experience. Janet Bryson wrote in an email that most international students are drawn to the school because of the "warm, friendly and safe city."

International students make up 14 per cent of the school's population. 

Bryson said they encourage anyone who has experienced problems with racism to use their on-campus supports including a variety of programs they offer at the International Centre. 


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