Left out in the cold

Photo by Madelayne Hajek
Photo by Leslie Schacter.

Concordia University students and supporters protested outside the annual meeting of the Canadian Bureau for International Education Wednesday, to denounce the alleged mistreatment of Chinese international students in homestay programs and at the hands of recruitment officers associated with the university.

A rally of approximately 30 people stood outside the Sheraton Hotel at noon to demand Concordia be held accountable for the allegedly questionable recruitment practices of Peter Low, the director of the Concordia China Student Recruitment Partner Program.

This issue first came to light in an article published in the Sept. 25 issue of The Link.

The international students who spoke of their experiences went only by their first names out of fear of repercussions. Many described situations where their money disappeared, they were poorly treated in homestay programs, and they were lied to by Low.

Lydia, the first student to speak, explained how she paid her tuition to Low, only to find that more than $2,000 of it vanished without ever reaching her Concordia student account.

“I understand paying money but not why it disappeared,” she said. “I paid money to Peter Low because he is the person who is on Concordia University’s website. I trusted him but now it seems like he has taken my money away.”

Gloria, a Chinese exchange student, said that despite the promises of what her homestay experience would be like, her time there left her feeling angry and betrayed by the university.

“I was not eating well, I was not receiving the food I was promised,” she said. “I feel cheated because I came here thinking Concordia University would take care of me and they didn’t.”

Nadia Hausfather, VP external of the Graduate Students’ Association and an organizer of the event, said that it was unfair to offer what she felt are unrealistic expectations to international students.

“Unfortunately providing these kinds of expectations is not new to Concordia, such as in 2009 when the Board of Governors raised tuition for certain international student programs by up to 50 per cent without warning them even before they came to Canada, so some students did not find out about this huge increase until they got off the plane.”

Concordia Student Union President Schubert Laforest confirmed Monday that he had seen documents in which Low implied to a student that the homestay program, which is independent of Concordia, was mandatory when that is not the case.

Walter Tom, the CSU’s legal information clinic’s co-ordinator, stressed the need to hold an investigation in conjunction with student groups like the CSU and GSA, because an investigation by the university alone may not be seen as credible.

“[The university] recently launched an external review regarding the compensation of executives at Concordia, why not do the same thing with this question,” Tom said. “This is even more fundamental, it’s about how students are affected directly, students they have brought over here, students they have recruited and are supposed to be cared for.”

Concordia responded to some of the allegations in a press release Friday, stating that they had received the full co-operation of Peter Low and that he “has adhered to the highest standards while helping students from China begin their studies at Concordia.”

The release states that contrary to the reports from some exchange students, Low only suggests homestays as an option, and receives no remuneration from homestay providers. According to the release, Low provided the university with evidence suggesting “that the complaints reported on by the media are likely the result of miscommunication.”

Jennifer Humphries, Vice-President, Membership, Public Policy and Communications for CBIE, told The Concordian that the role of the bureau is to provide guidelines for its members to follow, not to investigate its members actions, and that they trusted the university to act appropriately.

“Our sense is that Concordia will and is keeping us informed of the situation,” she said. “Frankly it’s just our role to work with them, and at this time we believe that they are working very hard to make sure that the students who have raised some concerns are responded to.”


1 comment

  1. It seems all the faults are blamed on agents. I am a Chinese student and
    had been living in home stay for 2 years. I have to say I had a good
    experience. Even though I had some conflicts with my former homestay
    hosts, there were so many ways to solve the problems like talk to the
    hosts or talk to the agents. After talking, many of the problems were
    solved, but most importantly I had to know one thing was that I was not
    enjoying life here; instead, I was learning here and I could not
    complain more. Homestay is not a bad to start especially when you
    suddenly change from the Chinese surrounding to the French surrounding. I
    thank my homestay.

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