How an app helps international students hit the ground running

For newly-arrived international students, iCent provides roadmap for navigating everything from airports and taxis to class schedules and program changes.

iCent guides students through everything from class schedules to health-care access

Ganesh Neelanjanmath says iCent is designed to help ease international students into life in Toronto. (CBC)

When Mohamed Rami Boumaaza first came to Canada in 2015 to study as an international student, he was overwhelmed.

"I arrived here after an eight hour flight and it was a culture shock," the Sheridan College student said in an interview.

"I didn't know any dates, for example, the orientation day, or if I wanted to change my program, what the deadline was for that," he said.

Much of that uncertainty disappeared when he discovered iCent, an app available in a number of languages that helps international students navigate life in Toronto by offering information about accommodations, transportation, and accessing health-care and employment. 

Mohamed Rami Boumaaza is an international student at Sheridan College who says iCent helped him better understand his options at school. (CBC)

Boumaaza says he ended up changing his program from business to architecture after the app helped him better understand his options.

Ganesh Neelanjanmath, the creator of iCent, knows how daunting it can be to live and study in a foreign country. He came to Canada in 2010 for post-graduate studies in project management.

He says on his very first day in Toronto, he went to his campus cafeteria at Sheridan College to try to see if he could find a job, but they asked him for a social insurance number. He then went to Service Canada to get a SIN, but they told him he needed a job offer first.

He took a bus back-and-forth between the two until the issue was resolved, but the challenge planted the seed of an idea in his head.

"Almost every international student faces the same challenges," said Neelanjanmath, "so I thought of building this app to help ease student's life."

He describes iCent as "an acclimatization tool that helps student become acculturated to local community and life and academic systems in Canada." 

Neelanjanmath lanched the first version of iCent on Apple and Google app stores in 2014.  

The tech creator has partnered with 15 colleges to offer a digitized handbook ever since. 

iCent offers relevant information for international students, from health services to transportation and school requirements. (CBC)

Information about everything a student needs, from health services to transportation and school requirements; is available in less than three clicks, according to Neelanjanmath who says information often gets lost on student websites.

The app has now been downloaded 11,000 times. It includes a platform to facilitate meetings between students who might be looking for roommates, traveling partners, or simply new friends.

Some of Canada's biggest universities are beginning the new school year with a record number of international students.Over 140,000 will be coming to Ontario this year, according to the Canadian bureau for International Education.