To stay or not to stay: Students leave Toronto as university goes online

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By Mariam Nouser

When Ryerson announced in May that classes would be held online for the fall 2020 semester, some international and out-of-province students had to leave Toronto due to financial risk, health security and the lack of family support.

First-year professional communications student Sam Sakaluk decided to start her Ryerson journey while remaining at home in Edmonton. 

Although moving to Toronto would not be hard for Sakaluk, she said her pre-existing medical conditions posed a risk she was not willing to take.

According to Health Canada, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, an underlying medical condition or who are taking medications that lower the immune system are more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

“As someone who has a pre-existing condition, I don’t know what would happen to me if I did end up being diagnosed with COVID-19, or what my recovery would look like,” she said. “I’m not sure if I want to take that risk [and fall behind].”

“As someone who has a pre-existing condition… I’m not sure if I want to take that risk [and fall behind]”

Despite moving online, Ryerson’s tuition for the fall 2020 semester remains the same. 

Sakaluk said she is frustrated that some of her courses are being taught asynchronously while tuition rates have not been reduced. 

“I’m paying money to teach myself content and not have access to a professor during lecture times to immediately answer questions or explain concepts,” said Sakaluk. “Further, being online and [away from] campus has taken away my ability to use some resources that my tuition still goes towards.”

For second-year global management student Laiba Farrukh, the lack of family and social interaction drove her to return to Pakistan before school started.

“The lack of social interaction during the pandemic has intensified feelings of loneliness for me,” said Farrukh. “In addition to not having family around, it didn’t make sense to pay rent and stay in Canada while being unemployed when I could attend my classes from anywhere in the world.”

Fourth-year global management student Annabelle Carreiro decided to return to Seattle in March when the university announced all classes would be moving online. With the pandemic still fresh in Toronto but growing rapidly in her hometown, she believed it was the right decision to go back.

“Seattle was one of the first cities to be hit by the pandemic and hearing what happened there gave me a good sense of what could happen in Toronto,” said Carreiro. 

On Sept. 17, Ryerson announced that the majority of courses in the upcoming winter semester will be offered virtually, according to a statement by university president Mohamed Lachemi.

Carreiro said that while she is a dual Canadian-American citizen, it would still be difficult for her to return to Toronto. 

“I gave up my apartment lease and finding housing before arriving would be extremely difficult.”

“I have to stay up all night for the entire semester”

Students who have returned home are dealing with another challenge—time differences.

For Carreiro, the majority of her first lectures are at 9 a.m. EST which is 6 a.m. PST. She said she had to change her routine and get up with her dog in the morning rather than sleep in like if she were on campus.

Farrukh said she has a synchronous lecture that starts at 3:30 a.m. her time, which makes it impossible to tune in live. There is a nine-hour time difference between Multan and Toronto. Luckily, these class lectures are recorded and she is able to catch up at a reasonable time. 

However, the early morning course for Farrukh is a finance class that she said is “extremely difficult to ask questions [later on] via email if necessary.” 

Since most of her classes are late for her, Farrukh said she has to “stay up all night for the entire semester,” which she worries will affect her health. 

“Sleeping during the day doesn’t really make up for a good night’s sleep,” said Farrukh. “It is going to have a negative impact on my health because I am sleeping throughout the day.”

Ryerson Student Wellbeing suggests students get an average of eight hours of quality sleep every night, as it’s necessary for students’ mental wellbeing and academic success. Poor sleeping habits will cause mood swings, a lack of focus and the inability to process information effectively.

Farrukh believes that in-person learning cannot be effectively replaced by online learning while having peer-to-peer interactions.

“In our Zoom lectures, students like myself are nervous to connect with classmates via chat because other students can see,” she said. “Since we have a group chat with students from around the world, everyone cannot contribute all the time.”

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