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'Very stressful': Finding place to live in Kamloops an ordeal for international students

Nirjara Ju Pd from Nepal is studying business at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Nirjara Ju Pd from Nepal is studying business at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Nirjara Upadhaya

An international student was in a housing crisis for months after arriving in Kamloops in late 2022 to study at Thompson Rivers University.

Nirjara Upadhaya came from Nepal to earn a bachelor degree in business administration, but since she arrived finding a secure housing placement has been her biggest challenge.

“You don’t unpack, you keep carrying bags around and you never know if you’ll be housed the next month,” she said.

The city is experiencing a shortage of affordable housing and the problem is impacting international students, like Upadhaya, who often arrive without money to spare or a vehicle, and need accommodation near the school or on a bus route.

When Upadhaya and another student from Nepal arrived in Kamloops on Dec. 29, 2022, they were supposed to be staying with a friend of the family. When that arrangement fell through, the pair were left scrambling.

“I was given some last-minute reasons, that another roommate wouldn’t approve,” she said. “She couldn’t keep us, I don’t know why, but we had to hurry up and find another place.”

At the time, Upadhaya didn’t know how difficult it would be to find an affordable rental for students. At first, she found an Airbnb, but it was only available for a few days.

The following two weeks were spent at a motel, bussing back and forth to school and searching for an affordable long-term placement.

“At a motel you don’t have everything, no cooking stuff, we were buying frozen stuff and microwaving it,” she said. “We didn’t have a stove, the laundry machines were expensive. I was tired and emotional with worry, at different times I almost had a mental break down."

To make matters worse, Upadhaya was running out of money. 

"It was very stressful,” she said. “We found out many international students here have to stay at motels for months until they find a place.”

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It took almost a month searching local listings and applying before she found an affordable room to rent the pair could share.

At the end of the summer, the family they were renting the room from said they were expecting a child and the long-term arrangement had to be shortened. In October, now immersed in another school semester, Upadhaya was again searching for a rental.

“I would find maybe one or two listings but it would be off the bus route to school and work. There is a competition when a rental room is listed, they don’t last long. You have to provide references and let them know you are students, that you haven’t had time to get a job and reassure them our families can support us until we do.”

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Her roommate moved out immediately leaving Upadhaya with the option of finding another affordable room to rent on her own, or staying a little longer while paying the full rent, which she couldn’t afford on her own.

“It was cold outside and I didn’t know if I would be safely housed from month to month,” she said. “I kept looking for more places but couldn’t find anything.”

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Upadhaya finally found a room to rent and she's been living there for five months now.

“It’s a lot easier to focus on my studies now, I can work on other things like studying and handing out resumes. When you don’t have a secure place you’re focussed on finding that housing security, always worried you might have to move again, it’s difficult.”

Upadhaya said there are barriers that make it difficult to secure a room such as your income, fluency in the English language and whether or not you have a vehicle.

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In January, the federal government announced new visas for international students would be cut by more than a third this year to relieve pressure on the country’s housing system. A temporary two-year cap is in place while affordability and housing are looked at, along with some institutions that are taking advantage of the high international tuition. Students are competing for lower-cost rentals and the housing market needs time to catch up.

“I think (the temporary cap) will be really good, there are housing limits that reduce opportunities for international students and this will reduce some of the issues,” Upadhaya said. “Also, some universities are taking too many students and too much money from them.”

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Upadhaya is currently looking for part time work in the customer service industry. She has completed a paid office assistant contract with AIMCanada Mentorship Society in Kamloops, an organization that supports international students with life skills, job skills and mentorship opportunities.

“I’ve learned a lot of skills and I'm still learning,” she said. “I’ve connected with many supportive people in the community.”

Upadhaya won’t forget the stressful months she spent searching for housing.

“I don’t buy anything unnecessary. I hold onto what money I have in case I’ll need it for a place to stay next month because I never know.” 

— With files from The Canadian Press

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