Friends question international student support

International students ‘consistently informed’ about resources, international centre administrative secretary says

Rabia Khattak, centre, looks on as Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane speaks at a memorial service for Ali.
Rabia Khattak, centre, looks on as Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane speaks at a memorial service for Ali.

Three friends of Sukaina Mohsin Ali said she suffered from diarrhea and headaches in the week leading up to her death on April 10, but that the international student from Pakistan didn’t see a doctor because she thought she would have to pay for the service.

The day before she died, Ali’s friends told her she could receive medical attention under her university health insurance program. Ali made an appointment at LaSalle for April 11, they said.

Carol Harris, Health Counseling and Disabilities Services (HCDS) director, refused to confirm if Ali made an appointment, citing patient confidentiality.

Ali’s friends Rabia Khattak, ArtSci ’09, Feriel Kissoon, ArtSci ’06, and Azza Eissa, ArtSci ’07 and last year’s Victoria Hall house president, said the information available to Ali regarding the HCDS was insufficient, and that more should be done to ensure that international students are aware of procedure regarding how to see a doctor.

“Having the info spoon-fed to you sometimes is not that bad,” Eissa said. “[Ali] knew LaSalle building existed, but she didn’t know she could go see a doctor for free.”

But Kathy Beers, international centre administrative secretary, said international students are consistently informed about the medical resources available to them.

“As part of the orientation they are informed about it, and all international students have to register for the University Hospital Insurance Plan,” (UHIP)—the equivalent of OHIP for international and exchange students.

Beers said international students may not register for courses without having first registered for UHIP. She said students are provided with both written and verbal instructions regarding their medical coverage, and the information is available on the international centre website.

“There’s an extensive three-day orientation that [international] students go through,” she said. “Our international students and exchange students probably know more about health services than domestic students because they have to come here and through that process.”

Eissa, whose responsibilities as house president includes representing her residents’ interests to the Main Campus Residence Council and helping organize house events, said the current don training may be insufficient for situations like this one.

According to the don application booklet, a don’s responsibilities consist of, but aren’t limited to, the following duties:

  • • Advising students on personal and academic matters, and making appropriate referrals to University or community services
  • • Mediating disputes and maintaining community standards
  • • Providing a "first response" to emergency or crisis situations
  • • Supporting house team members
  • • Organizing educational programming events that meet the needs of resident students, with support and guidance provided by the Coordinator (Educational Programs) and the Residence Life Coordinators

Tammy Ma was the don for Ali’s floor. The Journal approached Ma for comment on several occasions, but she refused.

However, her LiveJournal blog for April 27 referred to an “incident” that has made her an “emotional roller coaster.”

“One moment I’ll be happy and the next I’ll be in tears,” she wrote. “I think I’ll be better once I move out because being here [in residence] really has not given me the proper time or space to deal [because] I’m still in the middle of it all … I’m so broken right now.”

Vice-Principal (academic) Patrick Deane said that while the international centre works hard to help students adapt, moving so far away from home can still be an extremely difficult transition for many people.

“Kingston is not a city with a lot of immigrant communities,” he said. “Therefore, relatively few nationalities can find that kind of support, which makes the work of the international student centre all the more important. I think they provide extraordinary support given the resources available to them.”

Deane also said he would like to see more resources directed to the international centre to increase its ability to support students from abroad.

“The story of [Ali] is a very instructive one,” he said. “It makes clear how easy it is for someone that far from family and home, in a culture that is quite foreign—even with a circle of good friends, as she appears to have had—to live without supports that the rest of us take for granted, that would prevent us from going into a physical decline that you can’t get out of.” He said one problem facing international students may be that they find it difficult to integrate into the established dominant culture at Queen’s. “The more distinctive culture that prevails here, the more of a challenge there is for people from other cultures to integrate into it, or to find a place in it, or to even be happy in it,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges facing us.

“You can do a lot of things to increase diversity on campus, but the problem is that that runs counter to one of the things that is most compelling about Queen’s,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to maintain our culture, but to make it a more accessible one,” he said.

With files from Brendan Kennedy and Matthew Trevisan

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