By Tuan Minh Nguyen
Samar Singh Grewal sits on the sofa outside the hallway, with a hoodie hood covering his head. He is video calling his mother back home before starting his class, occasionally sniffing. He was feeling sick.
Not far away, at the end of the hallway, Cynthia Gihozo is quietly walking back to her dorm after a morning class at college. Today her class was running late so she didn’t call home. Both of them come from different countries and cultures, but they both share the same feeling. It is homesickness.
“I’m suffering from a fever right now, and I didn’t want to do anything. So, I just feel like if my mom were here, she would always treat me in different ways. She would make my favourite food, give me some medicine, and give me a lot of love,” Grewal said.
Grewal is currently a first-year student in the construction engineering technician program at Loyalist College. Ever since he came to Canada to study abroad, he calls his family in Punjab, India every day.
“My mom won’t go to bed if I’m not called to see her,” he said. “Actually, since my childhood, I have never been this far away from my family. I’m here and I miss my mom a lot.”
For Gihozo, the frequency of contact with her family back home is not as frequent. It’s difficult for her and her family to communicate because of the time difference.
“They are always busy,” she said. “And sometimes, like now, I have time, but back home it’s night, and they are sleeping. That’s kind of hard.”
Gihozo is currently in her final year in the public relations-event management program at Loyalist. When she first came to Canada, she was able to call her family every day. But now, with her busy schedule preparing for graduation from college, combined with her part-time job on the weekends, Gihozo can only manage to call her family in Rwanda a little bit on Saturday or Sunday when she has time off.
In the beginning, adjusting to the new life in Canada was not easy for Grewal.
“In the first three to four months, I felt homesick,” he said. “I was also going through depression and a lot of stress.”
Gihozo also found it difficult to adjust, especially due to the lack of familiar foods and the harsh winter weather.
“During the winter, there’s nothing to do, just going to school and going back home, staying in your room,” she said.
Grewal was lucky to have friends from his home country, who he considered as his brothers in his early days in Canada.
“Most of the time I talk with my friends, my roommates, they also came from my country. We have seven people in our home, and we are all good friends, we talk to each other,” he said. “If I feel homesick, they try to make me laugh. They are very kind to me. The atmosphere of our home here makes me feel like my home in India.”
Unlike Grewal, Gihozo only has three friends from Rwanda that she knows.
“I just sleep and drink. There’s nothing I can do,” she said.
But Gihozo finds comfort in her dreams. “Every time I miss home, I sleep. When I’m sleeping, sometimes I dream about my mom, dad, and brother,” she shared. “At least you can see people you love. So that’s what I do. At least when I’m sleeping, I start to see them. I feel like I’m at home for a little bit of time.”
Grewal will complete his course next year, but he has a long-term plan to stay in Canada. Similarly, Gihozo also plans to stay in Canada after graduation from Loyalist to find a job.
“I love home and I miss them. I wish to go there and see them,” she said. “But in Canada, there are a lot of job opportunities here.”
Loyalist international manager Jodie Russett said that the college does offer support to students before arrival and upon arrival to assist them as they navigate arrival in a new community, country and campus.
“We offer pre-arrival workshops and orientation programs where we specifically discuss homesickness and the many emotions that students may or may not experience.” she said.
“We have several student leaders that are hired to support new students and be a friendly face, someone to talk to as we recognize that it is a very be culture change.
“ We have staff in the centre who have also been international students and can share their stories and feelings of their own experiences. We have an open-door policy in our office so students can connect with staff quickly and when needed, the team would refer students to Student Success as referenced above.”
Student Success director Aaron Doupe said that Loyalist also has a number of plans to support the mental health of international students.
“Our free, confidential on-campus counselling services are available to all students and we are pleased to see the number of international students accessing our services increasing each year.
“Our counsellors can assist students who may be experiencing homesickness or facing other challenges as they navigate their transition to Loyalist and to Canada.” he said.
“Thanks to a grant from the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, Loyalist College Counselling Services is partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Hastings Prince Edward to develop new supports with the needs of international students in mind.”
Currently, Campus Supports provides mental health support to students through the My SSP (Student Support Program). Specifically, My SSP can help students with issues such as health, including stress, sadness, anxiety, depression, wellness; living away: loneliness, confidence, time-management; relationships: family, friends, roommates, culture, communication; and student life: study habits, etc. This program supports students in multiple languages, operates 24/7, and students can also request specific counsellor options.