The beautiful McGill campus. (Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)
The beautiful McGill campus. (Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

Behind the Scenes: The real experiences of an international student at McGill

a/Student Living by

I’ve been studying as an undergraduate international student at McGill for the past three years. Born and raised in Iran’s second largest city, Esfahan, I moved to Canada to acquire the best possible education I could afford. The trend among Iranian families is to send children abroad only for post-graduate studies. More importantly, it has become extremely difficult for Iranians to gain travel visas since the Revolution of 1979. Simply put, the past three years for me have been nothing short of a miracle.

McGill was an ideal choice for me because of its sterling reputation on the East Coast, and its relatively reasonable tuition rate. That is not to say that $25,000 a year is cheap; however, McGill is ranked among some of the best American schools which charge almost twice as much. So in the hopes that a McGill degree would increase my chances of getting into a top law school, I packed my bags and hugged my parents tightly.

I took the campus tour on a sunny day in late June, and I was awestruck by McGill’s beauty and rich heritage. To say that for me, it was a dream come true would be an understatement. A few weeks after that sunny day, I joined thousands of other first-year students in an event I had read much about on Wikipedia: Frosh!

My college life had officially begun. In just a few weeks I made friends with people from all over the world, and to my parents‘ relief, I wasn’t feeling lonely or homesick at all. Thanks to years of watching Hollywood movies as a teenager in the solitude of my bedroom, I speak fluent English, so the language barrier was not an issue for me.

Cooking was another story. Three destroyed pots and a couple of epic failures later, I decided that Persian dishes were too complex and time-consuming for a busy college student. With the help of a few friends, I revamped my nutrition and lifestyle altogether by starting a fitness routine, and learning simple, healthy recipes. And that’s how I overcame cooking: the greatest fear I had when I left home.

Iran has historically strained diplomatic relations with much of the rest of the world, but things have escalated dramatically since I arrived at McGill three years ago. The Canadian consulate general in Tehran closed its doors last year, along with the Iranian consulate in Ottawa, marking the start of a wide-reaching diplomatic blackout that could potentially last for years. Yet the actual shockwaves have been hitting me hard over the past year as the sanctions against the Iranian government have deteriorated its currency’s purchasing power by a shocking factor of four. In other words, three years ago my parents had to pay one Iranian rial for every Canadian dollar they intended to send me. Now, they have to pay four times more for every Canadian dollar. Everything I pay for here—from my international tuition fee to a cup of coffee at Redpath Café—has become four times more expensive!

The McGill Administration has not offered any assistance.  They sent out an email upon the Iranian consulate’s closure, informing those students who needed to renew their passports that McGill was willing to give more time for students to update their immigration documents, given the predicament. I’m not expecting an email from them asking about how I’m doing with the quadrupled costs of living, or if I need help financing my tuition. With the multi-million dollar cuts looming on the horizon, I just hope they manage to save the university from the questionable actions of the new government of Quebec, which to me, has become oddly reminiscent of a myopic and pro-isolation system I fled from three years ago.

As for me, I have enjoyed every second of my time here at this inspiring institution, meeting amazing people, pulling all-nighters at Redpath, joining clubs, and having fun with friends I love dearly. Frankly, I do not know whether I will be able to afford my tuition next year with the Iranian economy in turmoil; but a long time ago, I made a decision not to live my life as a victim of my time nor nationality. So I laugh with my friends, and study hard, knowing very well that this could be my last semester at McGill.