Student support in a time of uncertainty

Continuing Studies

- Dorothy Eggenberger

Eryılmaz. Photo provided by Begüm Eryılmaz.

Begüm Eryılmaz moved to Victoria a year ago to enroll in UVic’s Continuing Studies diploma program in business administration. She was no stranger to living abroad; as an entrepreneur, she’s experienced operating across borders.

Eryılmaz studied architecture in Turkey—where she grew up–and landscape design in Germany. She combined the two fields in 2008 when she founded her own firm, BGM Design. The international company has completed major projects with leading architectural firms in Italy, England, Libya, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Eryılmaz was traveling for work amidst her studies when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada. “I was stuck in Istanbul during the pandemic. My business trip combined with the pandemic and my flu turned into a complete nightmare,” says Eryılmaz.

Doctors hesitated to clear Eryılmaz for travel, but she also had to return to Canada immediately to keep her student visa. So she reached out to UVic for help.

The Student Services Admissions and Immigration Assistant and Continuing Studies team were tremendously supportive. They did whatever was necessary to protect my rights, and even gave me information about the scholarships I could receive, in case I needed any financial support during this period. Knowing that I could get financial support and also the support of the team was priceless.
Begüm Eryılmaz, UVic student

Eryılmaz is now back in Victoria with her student visa and on track to complete her program.

English Language Centre adapts

Eryılmaz was just one of more than 300 international students at UVic this March. The Student Services team at Continuing Studies had a lot of questions about how to best support their students’ needs when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. The English Language Centre, part of Continuing Studies, has offered intensive English programs at UVic since 1970, and is now one of the largest on-campus English schools in Canada. And their students—each uncertain and vulnerable in their own way—needed timely help to change direction.

Eight Student Services staff had confidence and trust in each other, having worked together for a long time—some for over 20 years. So even facing a shifting mass of circumstances—a patchwork of new travel restrictions, evolving rules for campus gatherings to share information, and the overall looming uncertainty of how much COVID-19 would turn the world upside-down—they adapted by focusing on their principal shared priority: supporting the needs of the students.

ELC team
The Continuing Studies Student Services team. Back L-R: Dana Clavette, Christa Kutzner, Sheila Taylor, Stefan Grbavec, and Katie McDonald. Front L-R: Nykita Downie and Angel Antonio. Absent from photo, but not from the team: Alesha Akouri.

“Our goal is to help the student and everyone buys into that. So we help each other the same way. No one is left alone with a student they can’t help,” says Stefan Grbavec, Director of Finance and Student Services.

The team worked on a case-by-case basis, helping each student with their unique situation and often coordinating with parents overseas, homestay families, visa agents, and airlines.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the whole team, especially Katie McDonald (Admissions & Immigration Assistant) and Jolene Kendzel (Business & Management Program Assistant). They were always with me on the other end of the phone and mail every minute.
Begüm Eryılmaz, UVic student

Six months into the pandemic, ELC continues to develop and deliver online programs. Their new student-centred, innovative suite of online English programs combine real-time lessons with expert instructors, class chats, interactive activities and assignments. 

Learn more about the ELC

Learn more about Continuing Studies


In this story

Keywords: international, COVID, student life, administrative, English Language Centre

People: Begüm Eryılmaz, Stefan Grbavec, Katie McDonald, Jolene Kendzel

Publication: The Ring

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