Back in April of 2011, a York University student was killed in front of her own webcam with her boyfriend in China witnessing the murder on his own computer screen.
The unfortunate girl Qian Liu was found lying dead in her apartment only after her distraught boyfriend contacted the Toronto police, informing them about the brutal attack that happened.
The news of the shocking murder became the talk of the town in Toronto. Perhaps what made the incident even more tragic was that the 23-year-old victim is an international student.
“One of the most memorable news about an international student that I remember would be the homicide at York University,” said Shane Holladay, an Online Journalism instructor at Ryerson University and Dgital News Product Manager at the Globe and Mail.
“I was surprised that it was a student from China. It was a really tragic tale of a young girl who goes off to school and gets killed by a lunatic.”
Having been Canada’s first murder caught on a webcam, the horrific story caught the attention and sympathy of many because the victim Liu was ‘alone’ in Canada when she was killed: her family and boyfriend were back in her hometown in China.
Another more recent piece of news involving an international student is the tragic incident of Japanese international student Ayano Tokumasu being swept over Niagara Falls. The 20-year-old Japanese woman came to Canada to study English at the Hansa Language Centre on Eglinton Ave. E.
Although these incidents have been catching the attention of the general public, does it necessarily mean that Torontonians have been more concerned about international students after hearing about these stories?
“This (tragic incidents) is how most ordinary people end up on the news,” Holladay said.
“There’s other international student issues like housing, healthcare, changes in lifestyle that are not mentioned in mainstream media. There are questions such as, if they have children here, how are the children going to be cared for. International students have problems no different from Canadians, but the methods of solving these problems are often unanswered.”
Holladay also raised another issue that comes with minimal coverage of international student issues in the media: a misconception that international students are privileged.
He explained that many people believe that foreign students can afford to go to school in a foreign country because they are rich. He believes if international students have a higher profile in the news, the public could better relate to them and have a better understanding of their backgrounds.
She agreed with not seeing very many issues about international students covered in the news.
“I haven’t seen anything yet personally,” she said. “I don’t see anything about international students.”
One of the major issues that she feels could be covered by journalists is plagiarism. She has been hearing about how the majority of people who plagiarize at school are international students. She advises journalists to find out why this phenomenon occurs.
Telaye also pointed out that housing is a big problem for international students.
“Every Christmas break and during summer vacations, students living on campus residences have a hard time looking for other places to live because their parents are not in town,” she said.
“My friend is an international student from Budapest and she finds it hard to find an affordable place to live because one year for an international student equals to an entire undergraduate experience for local students in terms of tuition fees.”
She also pointed out that even with the higher payments, international students still suffer from disadvantages. She was not allowed in a U of T nutritional science summer student research program after talking to the professors in charge of the program. She was told that international students are not allowed to apply.
About her future plans, she said, “I’m looking for a job of some sort in Toronto, I don’t want an employer thinking that if I am an international student, I would want to leave the company at some point.”
“If people here have a better understanding of the intentions of international students through the media, they would know that most students are here to stay and are not going back to their home countries. If the media had better coverage of international students, I would not have that fear.”
Jeff Rybak, a blogger at Macleans OnCampus (Macleans’s online education blog) and lecturer in business at U of T’s Scarborough campus, also pointed out the lack of stories on cultural difficulties that international students face.
“A lot of my students are Chinese,” he said. “The problems they face are very different from the problems that recent Chinese immigrants face.”
“They are staying here all by themselves, and they try to fit into the cultural setting here. Some students would be returning to China. However the lessons that they took here are taught with the assumption that students would be applying what they learned in North America. It could be very different applying it to the systems of their home country. People don’t acknowledge this enough.”
Echoing Holladay, Rybak also stated that the main assumption the general public has of international students is that they are well off or have scholarships to support their finances. He said that many people do not know how badly off international students can be.
He mentioned that some students are even exploited by their own cultural communities. Landlords from certain cultural groups charge international students “ridiculous” sums of rent and provide them with poor living conditions that “no local student could tolerate”.
An international student from Beijing, Jennifer Pang is a fourth year U of T Journalism specialist student. She raised another issue concerning media coverage of international students: “too Asian”.
“The entire world knows that Asian students are hardworking and focused on their academics,” she said. “The article simply enhanced that image instead of offering another image of Asian students. It was reinforcing and stereotyping a negative image that mainstream society has of Asian international students: they are all nerds.”
Pang felt that the media should also expand their scope to other nationalities and places of origin when covering stories about international students.
Being a journalism student herself, she has started an online tv news channel called The Omelet, where mainly Chinese international students gather and report on news around the city in their own language.
“An omelet is something that is yellow inside and white on the outside, and you mix it to have something new,” Pang said.
The creatively designed website also had its own ‘Asian Abroad’ section, which showcased videos answering questions international students may have when they first come to Canada.
Dave Date Nguyen, the president of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association, is also the publisher and founder of Thoi Bao, the largest Vietnamese community newspaper in Canada. He suggested that news publishers send reporters out to specifically target international students.
“We lack good quotes from the international students themselves,” he said.
“Most international students are under the radar, we don’t know that they exist. If we knew, we would care and we would know what we are dealing with. Mainstream media might be missing out stories that could bring in a lot of readers from different communities.”
Nguyen said that the benefits of promoting more stories about international students would be that Torontonians would become better hosts of this population of foreigners in the city.
He also pointed out that these students do not only bring money into the country but also skills because they would eventually stay and try to find jobs here.
American musician Jim Morrison once said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”
Perhaps it’s time to put international students in Torontonian’s minds starting by covering stories about their issues in the news.