Prince Dutta remembers a snowy, chilly welcome to Cape Breton when he first arrived three years ago.
"You don't know anyone, and you have to adjust to the weather here,'" said Dutta, who moved in 2018 from Punjab, India.
"I've never seen snow in my life, and here there was snow welcoming me, and it was –20 (Celsius) something like that."
In Dutta's home province, the coolest temperatures found in January usually hover around 7 C.
But it wasn't all bad, as Dutta remembers touching down in Halifax and a man asking if anyone was coming to pick him up. Before he knew it, the stranger had offered to drive him to Sydney.
"He didn't allow me to touch my bag also — he said, 'It's your first journey. I want your first journey to be memorable.'"
'I want to stay'
About eight or so months later, Dutta was joined in his new home by wife, Ravinder Kaur.
The couple are looking to make the island their permanent home, but Dutta admits it can be difficult to find work.
"People are friendly, I want to stay," he said.
That's welcome news to the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration in Sydney. The division of New Dawn Enterprises is encouraging international students and their families to make the island their home.
About two years after launching a pilot, the centre's international student support and integration program was recently awarded $600,000 from the federal government to continue its work to support settlement and retention.
Officials say the money from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will provide help for up to 800 students the first year, and scale up in years two and three.
Dutta said he was among the nearly 1,200 students who already received free support from the centre, and has attended various employment workshops and social activities.
"With this program, the student doesn't have any hard time," he said.
Gifts to Cape Breton
Part of the aim of the centre is to introduce newcomers to the island through activities such as skiing, snowshoeing or brewery tours.
After travelling around the island to meet with potential employers, about 30 students also secured employment last year alone.
"The international students and graduates and their families are gifts, really, to Cape Breton Island," said Nadine Paruch, interim manager of the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration.
"To feel the sense of welcome from not only the area they live, but from the community as a whole, and to be exposed to the fact that there are employment opportunities here and they can build a future that's safe and welcoming for their families has been really appealing."
Paruch said the centre's programming is about showcasing to students what Cape Breton has to offer. Plans are to expand tour offerings to place a greater focus on history and culture.
"Maybe spend more time with the Indigenous communities, the Membertou Heritage (Park), Louisbourg, the Miners Museum ... that's what we aim to do this year in terms of spending," Paruch said.
In 2020, Nova Scotia's population reached a record high, based largely on its immigration efforts. But there remains a challenge in keeping newcomers who are often attracted to the larger city centres.
Paruch said based on their feedback, students appreciate the fresh air and scenery. But what really makes them want to stay on the island are feelings of being safe and welcomed.
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