Ontario schools team up to welcome international students at Pearson airport

A group of current and past international students are staffing a welcome kiosk at Pearson International Airport, hoping to ease the arrival for new students coming to Canada to study.
At the Destination Ontario kiosk at the Toronto Pearson Airport, current and former international students greet newcomers beginning their studies in Canada. From left: Ganesh Neelanjanmath, Esther Mustapha, Darshit Modi and Alaa Alobaidy. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

A group of 25 colleges, universities and municipalities have teamed up to try and ease the transition for international students arriving to study in Ontario. 

As students come through the doors of the international arrivals area they're greeted at the Destination Ontario kiosk by the friendly faces of students who were in their shoes not too long ago.

Esther Mustapha came to Canada from Nigeria to go to school at Centenial College in January.

"I have met students who have had to travel over a day to get here," said Mustapha, so she says she understands when new arrivals are cranky and road-weary.

"My journey was pretty, pretty, pretty messed up as well when I came here. It's bad enough you have to travel about 24 hours to get here. When you get here you have to travel another two hours to get outside, because of the queue and customs, immigration and all of that," said Mustapha. 

"It can be really really frustrating. If you don't have someone to pick you up — it's even worse."

Lost passports, missing baggage

500,000 international students are expect to come to Canada to study this fall. The kiosks are staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week until Sept. 8. 

"We greet and welcome students, primarily," said Ganesh Neelanjanmath. "If there's a problem, we help them. There are cases where students have come out without a study permit, passports were misplaced, baggages were lost. So we help them with such processes."

Most students ask for help with getting a Canadian SIM card, setting up a bank account and arranging transportation to their schools, said Darshit Modi, who came to study at Sheridan College from India last year. 

"60 per cent of our students don't know what to do and 40 per cent have their plan, and somebody to pick them up," said Modi. 

The Destination Ontario program doesn't end when students leave the airport. The schools have partnered with Neelanjanmath who developed an app for the students and their schools, called iCent.

Ganesh Neelanjanmath, who came to Canada as an international student, developed the iCent app. Each school has their own version tailored to the needs of students coming from abroad to study in Canada. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

The app has dedicated portals for each institution so students have tailored information about their new schools — information they need to know before they leave home, are in transit and for after they arrive. 

"Students, before they arrive, they are cautioned by their families, friends, [placement] agents: don't talk to strangers, be careful, do the right thing when you get there," said Neelanjanmath.

He said the students' experience in Canada is important.

"When we are here to welcome them, they see: 'This is how Canada welcomes us,'" he said. 

"That is the right step towards welcoming students, making them feel comfortable and providing all of the information they need to ensure they are enough resources to keep you informed and make the right decision."


Jackie Sharkey is a producer for CBC News in Kitchener-Waterloo and an occasional guest host. She has been been based in Kitchener, Ont., since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC in Kelowna, B.C., Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.


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