Safe and sound: SFU welcomes international students back to our campus community

September 01, 2021
With the help of Kelsey Boule (left), manager of program administration for SFU CARES, SFU student Delaram Zali (right) traveled safely to Canada ahead of her first in-person semester at SFU.

When Delaram Zali learned that she had been accepted into SFU’s Master of Education program in Contemplative Inquiry and Approaches in Education, she was beyond thrilled. There was just one hurdle to overcome before she could start her studies: relocating from Iran to Canada while navigating ever-changing travel restrictions and a global pandemic.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to do it alone.

“Travelling to Canada is not simple right now,” says Kelsey Boule, manager of program administration for SFU’s Covid Assistance and Remote Engagement Support (CARES) program. “Understandably, there have been many restrictions and protocols put in place during COVID-19. But it is possible to come to Canada, quarantine, and join the SFU community safely.”

CARES program helps students integrate safely

Available to all registered SFU and Fraser International College students, the CARES program was first established in 2020 to support students who were self-isolating due to COVID-19. From setting up quarantine accommodations and meal support to providing emergency funding and answering questions about testing and arrival conditions, CARES staff have worked hard through the pandemic to ensure that students can arrive safely and comfortably in Canada, no matter where they’re coming from.

"The constant and ever-evolving changes in travel rules and restrictions have posed challenges for many international students. We put the CARES team in place to make the process easier by working with students each step of the way,” says Carolyn Hanna, director of International Services for Students.

According to Zali, the support she received from the CARES program—including snacks to eat upon her arrival, hygiene products, a hotel booking and meal vouchers—was fundamental not only in helping her to enter Canada according to government restrictions, but to start feeling connected with the SFU community.

“One of the most stressful things faced by newcomers to Canada is finding a safe place to self-isolate,” she says. “We were so lucky to have the CARES package cover us—our hotel was pre-paid so we could check in and rest right away.”

“Sometimes you’re provided with a website or list of resources, but no personal support,” she adds. “But every time I reached out to SFU, there was a response from Kelsey. It was a huge relief and helped me concentrate on my studies—I was even able to finish a four-hundred-page book during my isolation period.”

Supporting students through self-isolation and beyond

While the CARES program is focused around helping students to self-isolate, Boule and her CARES teammates, Amanda Furney and Satwidner Guru, only see that as one part of their job.

“Right now, coming to Canada is a complicated process,” says Boule. “We’re here to support throughout that entire experience, whether that’s helping students apply for a credit card, enroll in classes or connect with International Services for Students so they’re ready to start their lives and their studies once they leave quarantine.”

Now that her two weeks of quarantine are complete, Zali is indeed looking forward to her first semester on campus this September.

“My goal is to make a difference in the world of education and make a better world for all of us, so I cannot wait to meet my classmates, start my program and work with one of the leading professors in the field,” says Zali.

“And,” she adds, “I’m excited to see Kelsey in person and express my heartfelt gratitude. During a stressful time, she made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done.”

As the fall semester approaches, the CARES team is busier than ever, adjusting on the fly to meet ever-changing restrictions and support as many people as possible. But the joy of seeing students like Zali integrate into the SFU community is keeping Boule going.

“Our international students are an integral part of the SFU community and bring so much perspective, knowledge and diversity to our campuses,” she says.

“We want them here, and whatever we can do to bring them safely and help them feel welcome—we want to do it.” 

The CARES program is available to all registered SFU undergraduate and graduate students, and all registered Fraser International College students. For more information, visit the program website.

New to Canada? International students can connect with International Services for Students to access support from student advisors and start getting to know the SFU community.