University of P.E.I. student Melissa Lazcano arrived on the Island last August. The environmental studies student always wanted to explore the island, especially the rural part, as she's a big fan of nature. But she doesn't have a vehicle.
She was one of the 30 students who joined a bus tour to rural P.E.I. on April 22, visiting communities and local companies in central and western P.E.I.
"The sun is out now, so it's great. I've been seeing a lot of businesses that are starting to open," Lazcano said.
"It's amazing to think of having the opportunity to stay here and work."
Lazcano and other students first explored the town of Kensington before going to Borden-Carleton and Summerside. Later in the day they went further west to visit the West Point Lighthouse.
'A really good way of keeping us here'
Besides meeting up with the mayor of Kensington and the chamber of commerce in Kensington and Summerside, the students spoke with local employers such as Lone Oak Brewing and Trout River Industries to learn about life and job opportunities in rural P.E.I.
The tour was offered for the first time by Study and Stay P.E.I., a program funded by the provincial government and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The next trip will be in June, where students will be touring eastern P.E.I.
Lazcano said tours like this should be offered more often to attract international students to come and find work in the Island's rural communities after graduation.
"A lot of international students, they don't have a car. It's not as easy for us to go out of the city," she said.
"So inviting us on tours like this and getting to know the opportunities we might have in rural P.E.I. and getting to visit and look at the beaches and actually talk with people, I think that's a really good way of keeping us here and getting us engaged and staying in rural P.E.I."
Program co-ordinator Abby Goodwin says they've heard great feedback.
"There's a lot more opportunities than they thought outside of Charlottetown. And it's great to be able to highlight those," she said.
Important to make rural P.E.I. more accessible
Mohamed Ateeq, a first-year political science student, learned things about rural P.E.I. that he otherwise would not have known.
Kensington Mayor Rowan Caseley told him about the community's business park and work opportunities available there. When in Summerside, Ateeq found out about the city's clean energy initiatives.
"It really inspires me to come here and work," he said. "I would love to come to one of these towns in rural P.E.I. and work with the provincial government or the town government here."
However, he was concerned how far apart rural communities on the Island are.
"I've heard today from different officials that they are working on the transit systems from Charlottetown, so that students can be able to come out here and actually experience and work here as well," he said.
"That is very important to develop to make it accessible for students to come out from UPEI and work here."
Hope to see more diversity
Third-year psychology student Prabhatha Meduri had another concern: the lack of diversity.
Along the bus tour, she didn't see many restaurants and stores in rural P.E.I. that are more culturally appealing to her, who came to the Island last August from India.
"So many people from the eastern side of the world, like Asia, and then there's people from South America, we have some other taste in the food," she said.
Once more people from diverse backgrounds settle in rural P.E.I., that sense of community will grow, Meduri said.
"What people want is people. If you know there is somebody who knows you, who you can relate with, I think people will come in that way," she said.
"The [relatedness] is really important when you are in winter and if it is really depressing."
Meduri said she was happy for guidance and support available from local groups like the P.E.I. Community Navigators. The group, which helped organize the tour, is a government-funded initiative providing assistance to newcomers to rural P.E.I
"In rural P.E.I., what I felt is people will help you so much. So they will help you settle and they will be your guidance," Meduri said.