International students are forced to find alternate ways to pay tuition amidst COVID-19

Beatriz Cordeiro launched a GoFundMe page to help her pay for tuition. (Submitted: Beatriz Cordeiro)

When Melissa Peña, a third-year economics and business major at St. Thomas University, came from Guayaquil, Ecuador, she said she didn’t know how difficult it would be to pay tuition and find affordable housing off-campus. 

To help pay the bills, Peña started her own business in the middle of the pandemic, MelQui Desserts, where she sells healthy treats.

Peña said her parents cover the cost of her full tuition but she has to cover the rest of her living expenses. 

With the help of two other jobs at the University of New Brunswick, she is making ends meet, but she said she always finds herself drained at the end of the day. 

“I work full-time and study as well full-time,” she said. “It’s challenging because it requires mental and physical effort. I feel burnt [out] most of the time.”

Peña said she and other international students are feeling the financial burden of paying tuition at double the rates of domestic students. Tuition for international students is $16,389 per year at STU compared to Canadian tuition, which is $7,292.

“I think STU offers some financial help to international students but most of the benefits are for Canadians,” she said.

Fourth-year international STU student Melissa Peña, right, launched MelQui Desserts to help pay for expenses. (Submitted: Melissa Peña)

Beatriz Cordeiro came from Brazil to study fine arts at STU. With the pandemic, her family’s catering business shut down and her mother’s income decreased. 

Cordeiro said she searched for ways she could help her single mother and GoFundMe was the best option. 

“I didn’t want to set too high my expectations,” she said. “If I could reach my $6,000 goal it would be like taking a huge weight off our backs.”

Cordeiro said she currently works as a barista at Starbucks 20 hours a week because that’s all her study permit allows. She often works the night shifts to take advantage of her morning energy to keep up with school work.

Cordeiro said the money she makes covers her living expenses while her mom pays for her full international tuition.  

The financial help she received from STU wasn’t enough, said Cordeiro. The $500 bursary from the university only covers one month of her rent.

Cordeiro said she stayed in Canada for one reason. 

“Here I can work and pay my bills,” she said. “I can’t help my mom, but at least I’m not adding to her expenses.” 

She had a positive experience when she travelled to Canada, but she said when she arrived she was stereotyped as being rich because she’s an international student.

“How can we be rich?” she said. “We come from third world countries with major economic instability.”