As the Quebec government takes more and more measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, McGill is following the guidelines given by provincial and federal authorities. In these difficult times, many students have chosen to go back home to their families. However, McGill has a large proportion of international students: 30% of McGill students come from over 150 countries. With increasing travel restrictions and border closures worldwide, traveling home to seek comfort and support from families and close friends is more complicated for international students, most of whom reside in McGill residence buildings in their first years.
In light of the virus outbreak in Canada and around the world, many universities have been closing down to in-person instruction. Even as classes begin again with an online format, McGill, along with all other Quebec Universities and educational institutions, will remain closed physically until May 1. As McGill has suggested leaving and returning home, how are students in residences currently facing this crisis?
Throughout last week, McGill sent various emails updating students living in residences about the next steps to take. First, at the beginning of last week, as classes have been suspended for two weeks, the McGill housing department took multiple measures in order to contain the virus. Pledging to assist students in need, McGill Housing requested self-isolation forms, that indicated measures to take if one presented flu-like symptoms or had travelled outside of Canada recently. As many students were coming back from abroad after Spring Reading Week, illness was a predominant concern.
What’s more, McGill has indicated that due to travel restrictions, international students deciding to leave the country will potentially face difficulties returning to Canada in the future, and that “re-entering the country may be complicated,” causing anxiety for many. In the email, McGill informed students living in residence that, because international university travel is suspended, traveling outside of Canada is their choice and responsibility, and that if they choose to leave Canada, upon their return an obligatory self-isolation of 14 days will need to be respected as per Quebec governmental regulations on the coronavirus.
In only one week, the vast majority of people in the residence have left.
However, two days ago, McGill sent a follow-up email addressing once more directly people living in residences, calling for them to return home if able to do so. As students will now not be required to be physically on campus for the rest of the winter 2020 term, meaning that there will be no in-person classes and no traditional in-person sit-down examinations for this term, courses can be completed from anywhere in the world.
The email stated, “I know that your residence has become home for many of you, and that you have built incredible communities here. However, this is certainly a time to be in the place you feel best supported, and given the current situation regarding COVID19 and the increasing level restrictions being put in place around the world, we strongly encourage you to seriously consider returning home as soon as possible if you are able to do so.”
Following these instructions, many students have chosen in fact to return home as fast as possible, before borders close and travel limitations increase. In order to make leaving Montreal easier, McGill has offered the possibility for students in residence to terminate their leases earlier than April 31, allowing them to leave the premises in advance to the end of Winter semester 2020. U1 Science student Mila Goulon, who lived in Carrefour Sherbrooke this year, has taken the decision early this week to leave Montreal for her home country of France to be with her family.
“Even if the risk of getting the virus is much higher in France than it is here, I chose to leave and return to France to be closer to my family in these difficult times. I would have preferred to stay in Montreal, in order to avoid the total confinement of 5 weeks in an apartment with my parents and my sister, where I guess the atmosphere is likely to be very tense under the circumstances,” said Goulon.
Goulon described how in less than a week, only one third of the people living on her floor remained and how residence life has changed in a blink of an eye. “In only one week, the vast majority of people in the residence have left. The cafeteria remains open for the moment, since there is no kitchen in the rooms upstairs.”
Goulon shared some of her fears regarding the unfolding of the semester and grade partition. Like many other Science students, laboratories take up a large portion of her grade in many of her classes, and she does not know how the grades will be attributed in such unique circumstances.
U2 Arts Psychology student Faustine Dujardin, working at the front desk for Housing Services at La Citadelle and Carrefour Sherbrooke Residences, has expanded on the policies that residences have undergone to combat spreading the virus.
“Many cafeterias have reduced their hours; some are even closed. Following McGill instructions, gyms and study rooms are also closed in the residences in order to avoid people being close to each other,” explained Dujardin.
She also described many issues that students are facing with leaving the residences so promptly. “As many students left, residence staff is expecting to have only 50 out of 400 students in residence left by Friday 20th of March,” said Dujardin. “The earliest students that left have done so thinking it was only for the two weeks McGill declared classes were canceled, and are now blocked in their home countries with their personal belongings still in residence at this time.”