"The global pandemic changed the course of my dreams," says international student Trishala Zala. Photo credit: Sevval Kokten

On April 21st, 2021, I departed India on the last flight to Canada before the country halted all travel from India indefinitely. Many fellow students hoping to pursue their dreams of an education in Canada remain in India, some able to complete studies remotely, others not. I know what that is like. As I sat through the 15-hour flight to kill the 11,462 kilometres to be in Canada, I thought about how lucky I was, despite many obstacles.

Growing up in India, I was always exposed to diverse cultures, stories and perspectives. After my Bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts, I grabbed my first job as a news broadcaster in Vadodara, Gujarat (a state in India). For nearly two years, I worked as a broadcaster and reporter, and later decided to pursue more of what I fell in love with: Exploring stories and bringing them into the light. The journey took a new pathway in 2020, after I discussed my passion for journalism with the immigration consultant for three hours. He played a vital role in acquainting me with the rich educational resources of Canada. I decided to pursue my dreams.

Little did I know the global pandemic would change the scenario and all my plans. Jan. 15, 2021, was the first day of my first semester and I was studying remotely from my home in India. That evening there was a colourful sunset because of the two-day kite-flying festival of India, alongside the farmer’s strike. For four weeks, I couldn’t attend classes because of the technical shortcomings and the chaos that was going on in India, which made my pathway to good grades impossible. On top of that, I did not have access to books, and of course was dealing with the nine-and-a-half-hour time difference. Learning lessons at midnight made grasping them so ambiguous; I was battling my dire need to sleep while studying attentively after midnight, relying on my coffee addiction.

Finally, after completing my first semester from India, the day arrived when I was in Ottawa. I was filled with mixed emotions. I was happy, excited, scared. I felt like a wind with no direction, moving swiftly, touching each leaf gently.

Completing the mandatory 11-day quarantine provided by Algonquin College at Les Suites Hotel was peaceful and a lot like getting ready for a race that has a different starting point for each student.

The city’s bus service was the first thing that caught my attention and amazed me the most. A ride through the roadways of Ottawa took me through the most beautiful city I have ever witnessed.

Classes for level two started, and this time I had the books I needed. Of course, nothing can beat studying in-person, meeting professors and classmates. As an international student, it would have helped me know Ottawa better. Also, “student life” should always be filled with enriching experiences on campus. To be able to know cultures, places and of course the people. The pandemic has affected the future of students and impacted their mental health the most, as they cope with academic pressures and their family situations. For many reasons, it is difficult at this time for international students to succeed academically.

Approximately 380 students travelled to Canada on that last flight from India. We are hopeful that we’ll study on-campus with our classmates and professors in the fall. After unexpectedly having to study from behind screens for two semesters, we hope it is not going to be difficult to get back to classrooms again.