Navigating COVID-19 away from home

Navigating COVID-19 has been challenging for us all, and being an international student has come with its own set of challenges. While many Canadian students are far from home during this pandemic, they don’t have to deal with the uncertainty of an international border crossing when deciding whether to return home. I fretted for months about venturing back to the United States to see my loved ones, not only over safety concerns, but also whether I’d eventually be allowed back into Canada.

Additionally, domestic students tend to have more of a support network by virtue of being in their home country. Thankfully, UNBC’s International Student Office has proven responsive and helpful in assisting me with a multitude of matters since the pandemic started. My studies have certainly been impacted by COVID, but fortunately I have been able to stay largely on track. As a graduate student, I only had two classes in spring 2020 that needed to be completed remotely when things shut down in mid-March. With my coursework now complete, my work these days revolves around my thesis research with the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation on conservation planning in their territory.

I can occasionally meet in person with employees of Chu Cho Environmental, the Nation’s consulting firm, which has undoubtedly enhanced my work. However, I had hoped to visit the Tsay Keh community over the summer but have yet to do so out of caution. On a more personal level, I was fortunate to form friendships pre-COVID that have helped see me through a dismal 2020. Rachelle, my first friend in Prince George, was my lone social contact through those first couple months of uncertainty. We would meet up for late afternoon walks around the neighbourhood, tea in hand, to cap off our solitary days with some fresh air and exercise.

As restrictions eased a bit and tourism within the province was encouraged, I explored various corners of northern BC with members of my “safe six”: the Berg Lake Trail at Mount Robson with Ella; Stuart Lake, Mount Pope, and the Fort St. James National Historic Site with Cale; and the Great Northern Circle Route with Megan and Rachelle. While I sometimes feel that COVID-19 has cheated me out of the full grad school experience, I’m able to take pride in trying to make the most out of a terrible situation.