When I first arrived in Canada, I lived with my family. But the need for privacy and proximity to school grew along with my course load. For a full-time international student, the price of independence in the Greater Toronto Area can be a challenge.
My first shock came when the Canadian immigration officer told me “you are only allowed to work 20 hours per week.” I went stone cold and zoned-out after hearing that.
“How will I survive working only part-time and having to finance school and rent?” I asked myself.
Two weeks after being in Canada, I moved out of the hotel recommended to me by a family friend and into a beautiful one-bedroom basement apartment in Brampton, where I paid $1,200 a month, including all amenities.
Undoubtedly, this was way above my monthly earnings, but I made it work since it was close to work, and I could save on transit fare and food items. Even so, my salary could not sustain my lifestyle.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the economy went into complete shutdown. I was unemployed for more than a year, and I could not pay my bills. That affected me tremendously. But I was fortunate enough to have a family who could take me back into their house during the pandemic.
The budget for my living and school expenses now stands at $2,500 monthly. While I’m grateful for the family support, there are other bills I have to pay on my own, and working 20 hours a week produces income far below the threshold needed to live comfortably in this province.
With Premier Doug Ford’s recent announcement of increasing the province’s minimum wage, I was excited. But the increase will ease the pressure only slightly. Obviously, earning $15 an hour is better than making $14.35. But 75 cents more an hour is not likely to change many lives. For instance, my biweekly income will rise to $600 from $570.
During the pandemic, many businesses went into complete lockdown, forcing their employees to apply for government assistance or work from home. School, too, was entirely online.
To receive any available benefits, applicants had to work a certain number of hours before the pandemic and show their financial circumstances. Many students were forced to return to family homes.
Some post-secondary students petitioned their schools for assistance with their expenses. Humber College was among the schools that announced emergency relief benefits, and the college continues to support students. For this, I am grateful.
Later, the government, too, acknowledged that students, especially those from other countries, were unable to meet requirements for support and made minor changes. Even so, the benefits only covered a few months of expenses.
As the price of food, gas, and rent increases, many students worry about their ability to sustain themselves. For some, ensuring that their mental health is in good shape has been their top priority during times of unprecedented social crisis and steady stress and anxiety.
I continue to reminisce on the life I lived in Jamaica as compared to here in Canada. I remember my grandmother saying, “one, one cocoa full basket,” which translates to “do not expect to achieve success overnight.”
Indeed, success does not happen overnight. As students, we must budget wisely and make sound decisions.
Living in Ontario can be expensive. For students, budgeting — like time management — is an essential skill. And taking advantage of resources available on campus through the International Centre and through IGNITE can help set you on the right path.