Navigating the First Weeks
Tuqa Al-Musawi, the general coordinator of World University Service of Canada UVic (WUSC UVic) reflects on the nature of supporting new student arrivals to the University of Victoria during the pandemic.
Al-Musawi elaborates that one of the difficult aspects of the transition was the first two weeks where newcomers had to self-isolate. “We were very afraid that they're going to be feeling really depressed or shocked because they're in the new country, and they have to stay 14 days and not see anyone. And even when they get to see us, it's going to be all in masks. So it's always weird. They're not looking at them with our face expression” said Al-Musawi.
One of the ways that a sense of community was fostered was through online interaction and voice calls and well as delivering groceries and other necessities. Social events with all members of WUSC UVic were another way to acquaint new students and with lockdown restrictions making that impossible, WUSC UVic reached out to previous members to ensure a community was still surrounding the newcomers.
“This year was different. We couldn't do all of that. But what we did is that we asked a few of the former students to come and talk with the zoom meeting we had, just talk about their experience and how they're now going as successful and how they're first year was a bit hard, because we asked someone who came last year. So they had their school life in person, and then the other half online. So we asked them just to say their experience to our new students, and so they can learn. And they can also meet them and become friends,” said Al-Musawi.
The Role World University Service of Canada UVic Plays
WUSC is a non-profit organization that provides resettlement to displaced student refugees all across Canada. Al-Musawi immigrated through the program in 2018 from Iraq and the following year, began volunteering.
The members of WUSC UVic assist in getting new students who range from age 18-25 set up financially, with their accommodations and with the classes they will take. Al-Musawi explains, as the majority of the students come from Somalia, Syria and Iraq, past members are encouraged to support new students as they are familiar with the language and culture.
“Sometimes at the beginning it’s a bit difficult to actually cross the culture and talk to others but the good thing with the work is that we actually have a lot of volunteers from different backgrounds, we had volunteers who were already international students, we have volunteers who were immigrants, like 15 years ago. So we already have the variety with volunteers. So the students are getting used to that. And then becoming engaged with different clubs.” said Al-Musawi.
The Importance of Community
Al-Musawi reminisces back on her initial moments arriving in Canada and the power that a nonprofit like WUSC holds in easing the transition for student refugees. Al-Musawi said, “Yes. So when we first arrived in the airport, they were like, there was like 15 students and they were all wearing WUSC T shirts. And there was like 15 students and they were had like a big sign with our names in Arabic, like in my language, and also in English.”
It was this warm welcome that Al-Musawi credits with easing the nerves of arriving in a new country. “At first we got shocked because we didn't expect that there is actually going to be anyone we thought like is going to be someone holding our names so we can go home. So we like actually went back, we fixed our makeup, we were like, okay, maybe they're going to take pictures or something we need just fix ourselves. And we came, I immediately felt home. And I immediately knew I was in the right place finally.” Said Al-Musawi.