Cape Breton influencers seek to create a sense of belonging | Pro IQRA News

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Cape Breton, NS, is home to thousands of students around the world who come to the island to study and work.

And while blending in with the local area isn’t always easy, two classmates from India are working to change that.

Business partners Ankit Wadhwa and Monika Sharma have launched a marketing company known as Cape Breton Influencers.

So far, the couple has hosted events such as flash mobs, bhangra dance lessons, cultural performances, and social mixers which were sold out.

The event has grown from a few dozen people to over 150 attendees.

Ankit Wadhwa and Monika Sharma, far right, helped lead a bhangra dance workshop last week at the Savoy Theater on Glace Bay. (Cape Breton Influencers)

‘A sense of belonging’

“What we’re trying to do is connect students with the local community — to give them a sense of belonging — that they are part of the community, and the community belongs to them too,” said Wadhwa.

Wadhwa says bringing together international students with locals from the wider community creates cross-cultural ties and strengthens the community as a whole.

Although the number fluctuates, there are around 3,500 students from more than 55 countries studying at Cape Breton University.

Wadhwa himself grew up in a small town in central India and later completed his bachelor’s degree in California.

He moved to Sydney, NS, last January where he met Sharma. The couple, who shared several classes, later realized that they were both friendly and wanted to help others come out of their shells.

Deep connection

“The culture we come from, the traditions we come from, it takes time for people to blend in,” said Wadhwa.

“Most events are usually student-oriented. We never got involved with the community, or we didn’t know what was happening in the community.”

Wadhwa said he and Sharma would like to see more international students forge deep connections and friendships with locals in Cape Breton.

And he says that actually means getting to know the people who live and work there. As a bonus, Wadhwa says the connection can help students find a place to live or work or other opportunities they might not know existed.

‘Settlement and retention’

Nadine Paruch, interim manager for the Cape Breton Island Immigration Center in Sydney, said that lasting relationship also often translates to new arrivals living in an area.

And that’s what Paruch said needed. In fact, the issue was recently highlighted in the economic development strategy adopted by the Cape Breton Local Government. Experts say that without intervention, CBRM faces a declining population, shrinking incomes, and rising costs.

“It’s important for these newcomers to know that they are accepted, they are welcome, they are valued,” Paruch said. “This is very important when we think about completion and retention.”

The center regularly asks clients whether they feel welcome in the community or not.

“We’ve always said there’s a difference between being friendly and welcoming,” says Paruch. “You can smile at someone and nod your head as you walk down the street, or open a door – that’s friendly, but being friendly takes that step further.”

Paruch said the response from the newcomers was mostly positive. However, the immigration center is now working on surveys for both international graduates and students to see how many are laying roots and what perceived barriers they may face.

The results of the study are likely to be completed by the end of October.

Wadhwa believes if students can find connections in Cape Breton, they will be more likely to go to big cities like Halifax and Toronto.

“If they can find that connection in this community, they want to live here. It’s a great place for everyone.”

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