TALES FROM HUMBER: Quarantine rules are tough for international students

by | Feb 26, 2021 | Campus News, Opinion, Tales From Humber

I left Pearson Airport a half an hour after I arrived in Canada on Feb.11 and the wait for an Uber ride was twice as long. But these were minor inconveniences.

But the trip to Canada to resume classes at Humber College was filled with obstacles, both natural and man-made, that I wondered if there must have been some sort of conspiracy to prevent my return.

I was planning on returning to Canada closer to the start of my on-campus classes — after the upcoming reading week this term.

I was at my cousin’s birthday party in Ukraine on Jan. 29 when I saw a press release outlining Canada’s new restrictions on travelers entering the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. And I am glad I didn’t read it all, otherwise, the jolly mood would have evaporated.

The following day I realized my plans to return to Canada were broken and they needed to be fixed quickly.

It was a confusing time. I could have booked a flight right away, but that would have been premature because was no date for when the new restrictions would be effective. And that made me more anxious.

My family and I took three days to develop a plan. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, I bought a ticket for Feb. 11 to Toronto from Kyiv, with a transfer in Amsterdam. That meant I had 10 days to prepare for my flight.

I was required to supply a quarantine plan with a self-isolation address, a travel letter and COVID-19 tests. And on top of my assignments, which were due the following week in four of five of my classes, I had to work at my teaching job where I offered 10 English and French classes weekly to people from my area.

Finding the apartment in Toronto was also a challenge. I needed it urgently so I could start preparing my documents.

I was shaking while my dad and I surfed online, checking all the possible places to live. We asked our friends in Canada. People were ready to take me to live with them for free, but only after my self-isolation was completed.

Luckily, I found the apartment in two days on the Russian forum Torontovka. It was the first time I was glad I’m able to speak Russian. I applied for all my documents and I was finally breathed without worrying about my flight.

Little did I know, that on Feb. 8, everything would change. Again.

Finally boarding the flight in Kyiv to Amsterdam to begin on Feb. 11 the second part of the return journey to Humber College.

Finally boarding the flight in Kyiv to Amsterdam to begin on Feb. 11 the second part of the return journey to Humber College. Photo credit: Sofiia Rusyn

I woke up with an email notification from the airport that two COVID-19 tests were required before boarding, one of them four hours before the flight.

Then the news only got better. My quarantine plan had not come yet, but I already needed to change my Toronto address as I found a better place.

I live in Zbarazh, a city in the Ternopil region about 400 kilometres west of Kyiv. Trains from Ternopil to Kyiv are scheduled four times at night. But for the night I needed to travel, only the two worst scheduled times were available, arriving at the capital at 11 p.m. Feb.10, or 6:30 a.m. Feb. 11.

Waiting all night in a big unknown city or risking being late for the flight were both poor options. My mum was accompanying me to Kyiv and suggested renting a car.

Alas, not to be, as a heavy snowfall hit Ukraine the next day.

The winter until then had been dry. But on Feb. 9, whatever or whoever is responsible, decided to dump snow on the country. There was no choice but to take a train.

I took my first COVID test before boarding the train. After lunch, the results were apparently ready and my dad went to check on them. But the clock was ticking at 3 p.m., the train was to leave in two hours, and I didn’t have the results of my test or a quarantine plan.

As expected, everything arrived just minutes before leaving the house. At last, some calm while on my way to the train station. I met a friend in Kyiv who took good care of my mom and I. She took us to her place where we rested from a six-hour trip.

My mom and I arrived at the airport two hours before the flight. Never in my life have I seen Boryspil Airport so empty. It was also closed to non-passengers and my mum — as mothers are wont to do — waited two hours in the freezing weather until I departed.

I had one last thing to do while at the airport before taking off: undergo an express COVID test, for 1,000 hryvnias, about C$45. I found another place that offering the same thing for half that price.

A woman who also took the test compared the express test to a pregnancy test: if two stripes appear, you’re in trouble.

My trip to Toronto however was smooth. I had a short stopover in Amsterdam and a pleasant flight from there as well.

Finally, I arrived to the place where waiting for an Uber takes more time than the border inspection.