International students finding it easier to stay in Atlantic Canada thanks to EduNova. 

Most of us rarely spare a thought about family and community. We’re born in it and grow up in it; it’s always there and always will be. The few times we worry about it are when we leave it by choice, to travel or move, or through loss. 

It’s a different story for international students. They leave all their family and community behind when they decide to come here to study. It isn’t unusual for them to develop feelings of loneliness, home sickness, isolation, and even depression. They need to rebuild their own community and family to be successful. 

That’s why it’s a challenge to get international students to stay in Nova Scotia after they complete their studies. They want to return to their families and communities. However, thanks to the efforts of EduNova’s Study and Stay™ Program, that’s no longer the case for hundreds of former and current students. 

Ahrthyh Arumugam is a perfect example of the program’s impact. Originally a Tamil woman from Malaysia, Arumugam originally came to British Columbia to complete her undergrad degree. She was thinking psychology back then, but when she crossed paths with Dr. Benita Bunjun she changed her focus to Women and Gender Studies. This eventually led her to Nova Scotia. 

“In B.C. I took some Women and Gender Studies courses with Dr. Bunjun and they really helped me. When I was looking at where to go to work on my Masters, she had moved to Saint Mary’s, so I decided to come here.” 

Arumugam says she heard about the Study and Stay™ program right away when she started looking for ways to find support and employment.  

“The program helped me become much more familiar with Halifax. The way the population is comprised, there are a lot of immigrant communities, there’s lots of demand for the food we eat, there are five different educational facilities in the city, and lots of international students.” 

“As an immigrant myself, I know how much inclusion matters. The program allows students to find their own pathways and connections to their own communities.” 

The program has helped her find the things she needs to make Halifax a permanent home. “Because of my involvement with the Study and Stay™ program, I want to stay here. I feel I can get the support I need to build my community, to build a family and a career.” 

This is the kind of response Nicole Johnson-Morrison has become used to hearing. As president and CEO of EduNova, she says she gets to hear first-hand from students the impact the program has on their lives. 

“I’ve been very impressed by what I hear from students. The program represents hope of what they can do once they finish their studies. It has provided them a pathway to see where they can go in the future. They feel very supported. It’s critical for them to feel included, to feel heard.” 

Johnson-Morrison gets it. She understands what the students are talking about at a personal level. 

“As an immigrant myself, I know how much inclusion matters. The program allows students to find their own pathways and connections to their own communities.” 

Study and Stay™ is the first program of its kind in Canada. It grew quickly from a purely Nova Scotia focus to where it covers the entire region today. EduNova, and its partners in the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, have created something which reaches far beyond the region’s borders and is instrumental in attracting international students to our shores. 

However, even a successful program can encounter a few bumps along the way. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a new curve at international students, forcing the program to adapt in ways not previously considered. 

“The program is offering us tremendous support during COVID-19,” Arumugam says, “but we’re struggling financially to stay here. We’re not able to have conversations outside our usual circles (due to social distancing) and we can’t do the usual types of jobs, such as teacher’s assistant. Figuring out how to support students outside of existing programs would be one direction in which the program could grow. Perhaps look at some of the concerns we’re facing and initiate those discussions. Maybe look at reducing or eliminating fees.” 

Johnson-Morrison says EduNova is indeed initiating discussions based on participant concerns. “Like most organizations, everyone was a little panicked at first, but we were able to pivot so easily. So much of what we do is virtual anyway. We started a series of webinars right away with hundreds of students participating, focused on needs students have told us about, such as health, COVID-19, continuing their studies, immigration, returning home, and even mental health.” 

Although many students have opted to return home during the pandemic, when asked if she believes them lost to becoming a resident of the region, Johnson-Morrison is confident this isn’t the case. “I don’t think so. We continue to be very engaged with them. A large number of students have stayed in Nova Scotia and those that have gone home are very committed to their studies. We’re working to facilitate the return of those students.” 

The unplanned adaptation to COVID-19 has equally unplanned benefits. Johnson-Morrison says she believes it points the way to the program’s future. 

“We have so many students that come to us that we can’t pull into the program. The future is definitely expanding it. We see definitely the boon COVID-19 has delivered to us in delivering things in a virtual environment to provide support for all the students coming to us, even if they aren’t part of the core program.” 

Arumugam remains positive about her future here too, despite the current difficulties. She wants to stay and says Study and Stay™ is something she recommends to other students looking to start their own journey. “Absolutely. It provides access to many resources I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. I also recommend being involved with the community and volunteer. I understand the community and what Nova Scotia needs by doing just that and I don’t feel like I don’t belong. Participate in what you’re interested in and learn more.” 

Ken Partidge

Ken Partidge

Ken Partridge is the Managing Editor and Head of Content at My East Coast Experience Media. He is a 34-year veteran of the Halifax journalism scene and worked at both the local and national levels to help provide better resources for journalists.

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