Toronto festival honours international students

Sanjay Surendran, an international student from India, received the community services award for contributing to the multicultural community at Durham College. (Sunnie Huang/Toronto Observer)

Sanjay Surendran realized the popularity of cricket in Canada was the same as ice hockey in India. That’s why he started the first cricket team at Durham College. Today, the college recognizes cricket as an official intramural sport.

“The thing about Canada is people appreciate your talent,” Surendran said.

The India-born student also co-ordinated the college’s first celebration for Diwali Dhamal, India’s largest religious holiday. On Oct. 6, Surendran was one of six award-winners recognized at Toronto’s second International Students Festival at Nathan Phillips Square.

“When you do something good and you see people are appreciating it, you will do some more,” Surendran said.

The festival was part of Toronto’s two-fold effort to welcome international students to the city this year.

During the back-to-school season, city staff and post-secondary institution partners set up booths at Pearson International Airport to give students transportation assistance and academic advice upon their arrival. Coun. Michael Thompson is chair of the economic development and culture committee.

“We want to demonstrate to the students we fully appreciate them being here and want them to explore and get to know the city,” he said.

According to Thompson, there are currently 26,000 international students from over 130 countries living and studying in Toronto. In 2010, he said, they contributed $850 million to the city’s economy and generated more than 9,000 jobs.

Surendran, who now works as an international student mentor at Durham College, said one of the biggest challenges for international students is adjusting to a new environment while completing their studies. Events such as the International Students Festival, he said, help bridge cultural gaps.

“When we let people know what we are and what our cultural background is, they will see that this is no different than anything else,” he said.