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Canadian university’s foreign students heavily reliant on campus food bank

The international students' dependence on the food bank reflects the larger financial struggles of the community. Source: Shutterstock

Memorial University’s (MUN) graduate students from abroad rely the most on the campus’ food bank, CBC reports.

Despite making up a smaller portion of the school’s population, these students disproportionately form 60 percent of the those who receive the food bags given out by the bank, which averages around 4,800 bags per year.

“The need is great,”  the university’s food bank president Paul Murphy said.

MUN students from Africa, the Middle East, India, East Asia and South America usually find living costs like rent and food turn out to be more than they thought, Murphy says. And this results in them sometimes running out of food before the end of the month.

These students’ dependence on the food bank reflects the larger financial struggles of the international student community.

The food bank figures did not surprise Emma Lang, a PhD student from Massachusetts.

Lang said many internationals were living on the edge financially and were in desperate shape.

“They don’t want their parents, who sacrificed quite a bit to send them to this great university, to know they are not able to eat here,” Lang said.

Lang herself has resorted to certain desperate measures food-wise due to her shoestring budget. Students like Lang have to make sacrifices in their food intake so they’d be able to pay any extra costs or charges that come their way, Murphy said.

“How many days can I make this bag of rice last? What is the cheapest way for me to buy potatoes?” are among questions Lang often asks herself.

“I’ve had meals where all I eat is potatoes. I rarely eat meat and almost never buy fresh vegetables,” she said.

Local students are not excluded from this.

Last year, a study by national charity Meal Exchange found nearly 40 percent of Canadian students were food “insecure”, i.e. compromising on nutritious food, not eating balanced meals and/or worried about running out of food.

International students, Aboriginal students and students with dependent children were found to be among the most food “insecure”, prompting the charity to recommend improvements to policies and call the government to understand the extent of the problem better.

But in the short run, things aren’t poised to look better for MUN students like Lang.

The university has introduced two new fees they would have to fork out: campus renewal fee and student services fee, a situation Lang says will worsen the plight of its students, some of whom had to resort to a winter coat drive last year to get a coat.

The new fees are expected to cause further cuts to the students’ food budget. Murphy refers to a student who went to the food bank last week as he now has to start saving money due to the fee hikes.

“He’s trying to solve the problem by coming here and getting food here, and then saving the money that way.”

MUN’s website says the university is one of the most affordable places to live in North America with some of the lowest tuition fees in Canada. It says it is committed to an “affordable education for all”.

The estimated cost of living for a single full-time master’s student from abroad is CAD17,573.53 (US$12,900.48).

Study International has reached out to MUN for comments.

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