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'True Canadian experience': Georgian's international students find permanent home in Barrie area

'It is very hard to come to a new country, a harsh weather situation, adjust to the culture, adjust to the food, then find work,' says one student who hails from India

Ishaan Sachdeva took his mom’s advice and carefully researched his options before coming to Canada immediately after high school.

With the help of a consulting company at home in India, he went through his post-secondary learning options and decided upon Georgian College in Barrie for its co-curricular education participation outside the classroom.

“The next thing I knew was I was here in Canada all by myself,” said the Georgian College business student, who is turning 22. “It was all absolutely new to me.”

He was 18 years old at the time. 

Sachdeva is the new immigrant  choosing to create a home in a new country by studying and earning his professional credentials here.

“You would have noticed a lot of young adults coming to Canada who are in the same age group because there have been some changes over the years in government policy for immigration,” he explained.

An increase in immigration to Canada is partly attributed to the number of international students and young workers staying in Canada under the federal Post-Graduation Work Permit Program. The program allows people to come to Canada when they’re younger and obtain their training and credentials here, obtain work and qualify for permanent residence.

Georgian College hosts students from 85 different countries, although the great majority, 80 per cent, like Sachdeva, come from India. In the 2019-20 school year, Georgian had 4,484 international students at its campuses in  Barrie, Orillia, Owen Sound, South Georgian Bay (Collingwood), Midland, and Orangeville.

The 4,600 international students projected for the current school year represents about 39 per cent of the college’s full-time student population. That’s a significant jump from the 2015-16 year when the Barrie-based college registered international 1,100 students.

Georgian estimates 70 per cent stay here after graduating, get post-graduate work permits and then apply for permanent residency.

Their path is often the same: they come for a two-year diploma, then get a three-year work permit and during that time apply for permanent residency. There are variations  some come with their families or have their families follow them to Canada.

“Even throughout the pandemic, Canada still remains a top destination for students looking to study abroad,” said Kevin Weaver, Georgian College’s vice president of academics, adding many are attracted to Barrie and Simcoe County for its safety, friendliness and multicultural nature. 

“We’re removed from the metropolitan areas in Canada, so they give a little of a different experience what we call a little bit more of a four-season and true Canadian experience," he said. 

There are fewer this year because of the pandemic, so Weaver does expect those numbers will grow.

The vast majority of international students studying at Georgian aim to get a post-graduate work permit once they have credentials and then apply for permanent residency. 

Georgian College is also what attracted Arjun Batra and his entire family to Barrie in 2005.

Batra, currently serving as president of the Georgian College Alumni Association, came to Barrie from India with his family straight out of high school, graduating from the automotive manufacturing technology program in 2007. He landed a job at Magna International right out of school, but when the recession hit, he was among the first to be let go and he turned back to tutoring, which had served him well through his school years.

Batra went on to get his undergraduate degree and then a Cornell-Queen's partnership MBA  while starting a private school in Brampton, partnering with his mother, who is a teacher. Their Doon School graduated 150 students last year and has expanded to include international students studying remotely.

Both Georgian graduates describe the need to network and develop a support system in their new communities. And both have driven community initiatives that have earned them Simcoe County Newcomer Recognition Awards.

They have noticed that different generations encounter different challenges and found integrating into the community was more difficult for their parents than it was for them and their siblings. So their families served as the support network at the start.

Sachdeva had been exposed to western culture to family members who had immigrated to the United States. He decided instead of pursuing his education in India and then joining the many competing for the few jobs, that he would resettle in Canada where he saw greater stability. 

Now, having successfully received his business diploma which had two work co-ops, he’s decided to remain at Georgian to achieve a business degree in leadership and management. He aims to graduate with an honours degree in 2023.

And, throughout his time here, he has been an active student and community member.

He is currently serving as student council president and is working with international students and helping to connect them with community supports. He is also launching a nonprofit organization to help newcomers settle in the community with housing and jobs.

“I’m hoping to develop a more professional network of all of the students we are hosting in Barrie… and have one place where students can be helped with all the things that they need in the community,” he said. “The college is doing a really good job supporting students who are on campus. I really want to focus on the community part of things.”

His family  both parents and younger brother  have followed him here and all four have received residency as a family, meaning Sachdeva didn’t have to go through the immigration process on his own.

He said deep family ties prompted his family to follow him here. Now, having disrupted their lives to come to a new country, his parents must forge a new path.

“I faced challenges when I came as a student when I was very young. I was 18, I was able to adapt to new situations because I was still learning. But when you are in that adult age, it is very hard to come to a new country, a harsh weather situation, adjust to the culture, adjust to the food, then find work,” Sachdeva said.

In addition, the work experience doesn’t necessarily translate.

While his parents are working, the goal will likely be to launch a family business. His dad has a wholesale and retail business in India which his brother is now running.

They’ve just purchased cars and the next step is to purchase a home.

Batra, meanwhile, calls the move here a game changer. Although he was raised in a middle-class family, his entire family has found many more opportunities and a higher standard of living than they had in India.

And although they’ve brought with them some of the things they enjoy from home  such as cricket. 

Batra, who was recently married, was determined to embrace the Canadian way of life and has taken up downhill skiing. His goal is to perfect his style with lessons at Blue Mountain and return to the Rocky Mountains where he climbed Mount Norquay two years ago to experience powder skiing.