“Humber is a great place to pursue our dreams. I believe that what we learn here will bring us closer to making them come true.”
One of the year’s first real snowfalls peppered the air as I entered the Tim Hortons at Humber’s Lakeshore campus. I usually order the same thing every morning and I almost forgot to ask Emmalyn if she’d like a coffee before our meeting. I quickly sent her a text, “Coffee or tea?” to which she replied, “Yes, double double please,” with a smiley emoji. I couldn’t help but appreciate that she already took a liking to a classic Canadian staple.
Hot beverages in hand, I headed to a meeting room in L building and waited for Emmalyn to arrive. It didn’t take long, as she showed up right on time. She was all smiles as she greeted me, and I got the impression that she was excited to tell me her story.
I asked Emmalyn to tell me a bit about her background, “I’m 38 years old and married with children. I was born and raised in the Philippines, but I always knew I wanted to travel and work in other countries.”
For the last seven years before coming to Canada, she was an operations manager for a supply chain company in Singapore. “We provided services to electronics companies in various Asian-Pacific countries. It was actually a good job. It was a job I really loved. But I gave it up so I could come to Canada to study.”
She talked the idea over with her husband, who supported her decision. They both wanted to come over, along with their 3-year-old daughter, but unfortunately, Emmalyn’s application was the only one to be accepted, “That’s been one of the biggest challenges for me, actually, because I know a lot of international students get the option to bring their family. But due to some unforeseen issues, they had to stay in the Philippines.”
Being a domestic student, I was curious about the process of becoming an international student. Emmalyn explained that the first step was passing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, “It was a really high-pressure half-day long exam. But I made sure to prepare for it, and I passed.”
Next, she had to decide what she wanted to study, so she could pick some schools to apply to. But that was the easy part, because Emmalyn knew right away that she wanted to build on her previous work experience. This meant focusing on programs that taught supply chain and international business management.
Emmalyn applied to the Global Business Management program at Humber in November 2017. She got her acceptance letter about a month later, but she still needed to get a Canadian study permit. “This process was especially tedious because a lot of documents had to be provided to Canada’s immigration office.”
There were two major requirements of Emmalyn’s study permit application. The first was financial evidence to demonstrate that she could cover the cost of tuition and the cost of living for the duration of her stay in Canada. The second was a thorough medical check-up to show that she was in good health before entering the country. The exhaustive list of required documents included: bank statements, records of employment, credit history report, medical records, and both a background check and criminal record check.
It was February 2018 by the time she had gathered everything she needed and submitted it to the Canadian government. It took roughly three months of waiting before she received her study permit in May. But during that time, something completely unexpected happened. “I found out that I was pregnant,” Emmalyn told me, still sounding shocked.
Thanks to some reassurance from relatives in Canada, who promised to support her during her pregnancy, Emmalyn decided to continue with her plan of coming to Humber. She was determined to advance her prospects in life so that she could build a brighter future for her and her family, which would soon add a new member.
After a 16-hour flight from Singapore, at six months pregnant, Emmalyn finally landed in Toronto in late August. This didn’t give her much time to settle in and adjust to life in Canada, let alone get prepared for her program, “I didn’t really get to see Canada before jumping right into my studies. There wasn’t really any time for leisure, so I just stayed home for the two weeks leading up to the fall semester. I couldn’t complain though, because that was the best thing for me during my pregnancy.”
September came quickly though, and before Emmalyn knew it, she was immersed in the classes and culture at Humber, “I was really excited when the semester finally started. I got to meet a lot of people from different countries and made several friends that were from India and Albania. Plus, two of my classmates were from the Philippines. Having fellow Filipinos to study with was really comforting, especially being so far from home.”
Emmalyn went on to tell me about the school’s International Centre and how they do all sorts of things to get international students engaged in their college experience. They offer things like mixers, workshops, and networking events. While she did her best to participate during her first month of classes, she tried not to overdo it as she became further along in her pregnancy and increasingly strapped for time.
When it came to Emmalyn’s pregnancy, her baby was originally due in the middle of December. But unfortunately, Emmalyn experienced a sudden health concern in October that prompted doctors to force a change in plans. “During my first prenatal checkup here in Canada, the doctor discovered that I had high blood pressure. I was so surprised because I felt fine. I felt strong, actually. But my doctor assured me that this was a serious concern and that the health of me and my baby was at risk. I was sent straight to the hospital.”
When the doctors examined her at the hospital, an alarm was raised. “They told me that they couldn’t hear my baby’s heartbeat and so I had to give birth right away. I was really scared.” Emmalyn admitted that she always knew that pregnancies could be dangerous, and that things could go wrong, but she never thought something like that would happen to her, “I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and they had to induce labour via C-section. At just 29 weeks pregnant, I had to give birth to my son. He had to endure the complications of being born as a premature baby.”
Because her son, William, was born prematurely he had to be kept at Sunnybrook Hospital for around the clock care. Emmalyn, though enamoured by her baby boy, was still concerned about her studies at Humber and had hoped to return to classes after a few weeks of recovery. But this wasn’t possible because her high blood pressure started causing symptoms she hadn’t experienced before, “At that point my vision was affected. I could hardly see. Everything was very blurry. I wanted to push through, I wanted to study, but my world was upside down.”
Still, Emmalyn resolved to return to Humber, even if it meant she had to start over in the winter. “I asked my international student advisor, Miti, if I could get back into my program. Luckily, she offered to help me find a slot in the next semester. But in order to be eligible, I had to send a letter to Humber about the details of my condition and I had to apply to my program all over again.”
While she waited for her winter application to be sorted out, Emmalyn had other things to take care of. She was still within the grace period to drop courses without academic penalty, so Miti had her withdraw so she could return to Humber with a clean slate. But there was another problem: Emmalyn had missed a separate deadline to have her tuition fees returned, “Because the circumstances of my medical condition were unforeseen, and out of my control, I filed an appeal to have my tuition refunded.”
Then, seemingly all at once, she was accepted into the winter semester and her appeal was granted. Though, instead of a refund, her tuition for the following semester was deferred (meaning she didn’t have to pay to come back and start again). This was a blessing for Emmalyn. Her stay in Canada was permitted on the condition that she was enrolled in active study. If she didn’t secure a spot in her program, then she would be forced to return to the Philippines. And if she didn’t get her tuition deferred, she wouldn’t have been able to afford to enroll all over again, “I was really thankful to the International Centre and to Humber because they were really compassionate and understanding of my situation.”
However, another burden was weighing over Emmalyn: hospital bills. Thanks to Canada’s healthcare system, most citizens don’t have to worry much about the costs of going to the hospital. But international students don’t benefit from the same luxury, “I had to pay for the delivery of my baby, and it was really expensive. It cost me around $15,000.”
The good news is her son is doing well now, though he had to stay in the ICU for nearly 10 weeks. During that time, Emmalyn was still suffering from blurred vision and other symptoms of her high blood pressure, but she made sure to visit William in the hospital as often as possible. Especially since cuddles and story time were the doctor’s orders.
Now we’re in the winter semester and Emmalyn is back in classes. After going through so much since arriving in Canada four months ago, she’s still in good spirits. After graduation, she hopes to bring her family here and start her career with a manufacturing or logistics company. She says she knows Humber is the key to making it all happen. “Humber is a great place to pursue our dreams. I believe that what we learn here will bring us closer to making them come true.”
Before parting ways, I asked Emmalyn what advice she had for international and domestic students alike. Taking a second to reflect on the story she just told, she eventually nodded and said, “No matter how we plan our future, there will always be challenges that come our way. The only thing we can do is face those challenges, learn from them, and move forward to something better. So, you should always do your best to stay positive, even when it seems impossible–especially when it seems impossible.”
Want to hear more about your fellow students? Check out Madelyn Crowther’s story.