Far from home: Helping international students during Covid

6 August 2020

There is no doubt that students were impacted considerably during Covid-19. The implications of lockdown meant many students were unable to rely on part-time jobs to fund their studies and living costs, and many were left struggling to pay rent or buy groceries.

For international students, the financial effects of Covid were keenly felt. Without the option of returning home, and many cut off from family support overseas, University staff, alumni, and the wider community stepped in to help.

Alongside enhanced pastoral care and learning support, a hardship fund was established, through the University’s Foundation, to support students most financially at risk from Covid-19.

University of Waikato international student services manager TJ Cloete says the fund has eased financial pressure considerably for international students.

“International students were greatly affected by the pandemic. On top of adjusting to life in a foreign country, to then have a global pandemic to deal with – that’s pretty tough.”

Mr Cloete says his team have helped many international students with much-needed financial support, including help towards rent, groceries, and utilities, and meeting with them regularly to provide further support.

“Lockdown happened very close to the start of the academic year, where international students were still getting used to life in New Zealand. When you have moved to a new country, you don’t immediately know how much a power bill is going to be, or what the general costs of living are.

“And for the pandemic to happen on top of that, when students should be having these great experiences at a new campus, it’s a lot to take in.”

Tom (not his real name), a postgraduate student from Europe who had only been in New Zealand for a short time prior to commencing his first year of study, received support from the student hardship fund for unexpected costs associated with having to hurriedly move house after just settling in, and some unforeseen health-care costs for his partner.

Mr Cloete says the loss of part-time employment has been one of the biggest blows to international students.

“It’s not just the money from part-time jobs, but the loss of socialising that comes at work and their experiences of a Kiwi lifestyle.”

Mr Cloete says the international student services team has worked hard to help each student’s individual circumstance.

“We meet with each student to ascertain what their actual needs are, which we find beneficial as language may be a barrier for some, and it’s been a great exercise to show students who our team are and that we are here to help them.

“And we have had some nice feedback. One student in particular reached out to say they really appreciate the help they’ve had from the University, and hope to give back themselves when they’re in a position to do so.”

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