Massoud has been planning his move from Iran to Canada since February.
He and his wife, Faezeh, would arrive early enough to find a place to live and make that space their home – filling the kitchen cupboards, painting and decorating – before Massoud began his PhD studies in mechanical engineering in early May.
But COVID-19 happened and borders began closing around the world, so Massoud arranged his flight from Iran early, landing in Toronto on April 3. Alone. Faezeh stayed behind and is waiting for the ban on discretionary travel to be lifted, so she can join him in Hamilton.
But transitioning to academic life in a new country during a worldwide pandemic brings with it a unique set of stressors that students have not faced before, beginning with a 14-day isolation upon arrival.
To help incoming international graduate students comply with current rules around mandatory self-isolating and physical distancing, McMaster Housing and Conference Services (HCS) and Hospitality Services have partnered to offer rental accommodations and contact-free food delivery in campus residences. After the isolation period ends, students have an option to extend their campus stay and rent space in another residence.
McMaster’s Les Prince residence was Massoud’s home for the first two weeks of life here. He received breakfast, lunch and dinner deliveries to his door each day and stayed connected to the outside world via his laptop, speaking with Faezeh a few hours each day – time that he calls “really heartwarming.”
“We have taken a serious hit by COVID-19. It is really difficult to handle without her,” Massoud says. But he is happy to have had a safe place to self-isolate. “People have been very kind here. I am thankful to have had this opportunity.”
After self-isolation – which ended with a check-in appointment at McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre – life is a little less lonely and a lot busier.
Massoud decided to stay on campus for now, moving to Mary E. Keyes residence where he has access to a kitchen – a real plus for someone who loves to cook and has dreams of becoming a chef for his much-later-in-life career. He takes walks around campus and into the local community. And in early May, Massoud met online with his supervisor, laying the groundwork for the beginning of his PhD work – his research is focused on the development of cardiovascular diagnosis techniques.
“I have started my degree studies, working on those things I can do now,” he says.
Laurie Ham, manager of conference and event services in HCS, says her team has been happy to help graduate students as they transition to the university.
“It is important for McMaster to support all those in our community, including international grad students who will need assistance and compassion as they adjust to both this strange situation and a new and unfamiliar country,” Ham says. “We do our best to provide the support we can across all departments.”
Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Doug Welch agrees.
“The pandemic has reinforced what we already knew – that we are all in this together. We are working within Graduate Studies and across the Faculties, to ensure our international graduate students are receiving information and support to help during their transition to McMaster and the broader Hamilton community,” Welch says.
The School of Graduate Studies has organized several online sessions and events for international grad students, including a Virtual Café to welcome incoming international grad students – an opportunity for current students and staff to answer questions from incoming students. As well, students are receiving one-on-one support.
Massoud appreciates the support and services to help him in this first step of the journey.
“I have been extremely fortunate to have so many supports (through Housing and Conference Services, Hospitality and Graduate Studies), and I look forward to a time when I can help and support others in the same way.”
For now, he is trying to stay focused on the present because what the future holds is still filled with questions.
But he hopes that soon, his biggest question will be answered and Faezeh will be by his side as they begin their adventure together in Canada.