Ludhiana is a major city in the northern Indian state of Punjab, a bustling industrial centre in the middle of a rich agricultural region.

It’s been called India’s Manchester, and it’s easy to see why: Ludhiana is home to a massive apparel industry, as well as a major producer of automotive components.

Despite Ludhiana being named one of the nation’s smart cities that will be developed by the government of India, it is small-scale manufacturing that is the city’s lifeblood.

Karamjeet Singh’s family owes its livelihood to the electrical supply business his father built in the community, serving the many small companies that have come to rely on quick access to parts to keep their machinery humming and the wheels of industry turning.

“Growing up there, running the family business was always in the back of my mind,” Singh says. Still, as teens, both he and his younger brother were obsessed with athletics, as Singh saw success at track and field events, and his sibling excelled at running.

Singh pursued the commerce stream in secondary school and was contemplating a degree in business, but a sudden change of heart had him looking in another direction.

“I received admission into college for psychology, but after one year of study, I realized that I had made a mistake,” he recalls. Feeling listless, he decided that studying overseas might sharpen his focus and motivate him to complete his studies, so he applied to college in Canada.

“My friend had suggested that we apply and enrol together so that we could support each other.” While Singh had been accepted to Langara College in Vancouver, his buddy had favoured Centennial College in Toronto and urged Singh to join him. Without a family acquaintance in Canada’s biggest city, however, he was a little reluctant – but his friend assured him that he would help him adjust.

They landed in Toronto in August 2016 and settled in with the assistance of his friend’s uncle. The pair found their own apartment, but his colleague soon announced that he could not stay due to the crushing homesickness that compelled him to return to India. Relocating to the other side of the world proved difficult, but Singh was determined to persevere and find his way.

“The experience showed me that you should be accountable to yourself and your family first,” says Singh. “You can’t come to rely on your friends, but instead the strength should come from within you.”

What Singh had discovered at Centennial College is that he was not alone in his predicament. The Scarborough-based institution attracts more international students than any public college in Canada, with more than 11,000 visa students enrolled – of which Indians make up the largest contingent.

“I saw so many international students, and some of them wore blue shirts identifying them as college ambassadors. They were very friendly and helpful to me,” Singh remembers.

As he began his business program of study at Centennial, Singh became involved in other activities outside of the classroom to socialize and combat the loneliness that might have seen him packing for home like his friend.

“I was motivated to become a volunteer and an ambassador. I wanted to be involved in the college, beyond being a student. I found it very helpful, and it filled me with positive thinking. I love talking to students.”

One activity he signed up for was the college’s Summer International Programs, which invited Centennial students to take a credit course at a partner institution elsewhere in the world. Of all places, Singh chose Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland.

“There were 17 of us students from Canada, Spain and elsewhere taking the summer course there,” says Singh. “We all spoke English, so it was easy to communicate. It was an excellent personal growth experience.” The trip broke new ground for Singh, as he was able to return last fall with new perspectives to share with others.

Naturally, Singh was looking for more doors to opportunities, and eagerly applied to a GCELE (Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience) trip to Brazil with the college earlier this year.

“Four hundred students applied and nine went, including me. We learned how coffee is produced, and worked with a local school to provide nutritious meals to students there,” says Singh. The 15-day trip augmented his leadership skills, and he returned energized and ready to do more.

“I was really shy when I first arrived in Canada. But my new experiences, combined with my studies in such topics as professional sales, helped me gain confidence.”

Singh had also gotten involved in student government at Centennial, and soon found himself elected as vice-president of the organization. He had wanted to learn more about leadership and the CCSAI student association fit the bill in a complementary role.

“Why do Indian students gravitate towards campus politics? It’s a big thing in India! I think it’s because students feel that they are treated like VIPs when they are elected,” Singh explains. In his own case, any feelings of superiority are negated by the enormous self-satisfaction that comes with the job.

“Students often see us standing at the bus stop and ask us questions all the time,” he says, referring to his brother Taranjeet, who is also on the governance board and studying at the college.

He remembers counseling a student who was ready to quit college, but Singh’s interest in his reasons for leaving, along with his advice, convinced the young man to stick with his studies.

“The emotional support I provided kept him from withdrawing from college and returning home defeated. Now he’s doing well in his studies. It feels good when you can help someone and they thank you.”

Singh has extended his business program with a third year of administration and leadership studies at Centennial, while fulfilling his mandate as CCSAI vice-president. As for his own future, Singh is somewhat noncommittal beyond planning to complete a bachelor’s degree in business administration at university.

What he does know is that the journey that got him to Canada and to persevere is hardly a unique one, but one that is shared by thousands of other young people who crave a brighter future. His advice?

“When you become proactive and get involved in your new environment, you can inform other students through your experiences and help them thrive, too.”


• Karamjeet Singh is enrolled in Administration and leadership studies at Centennial College and is Vice-President of the student government.

• For more information, visit www.centennialcollege.ca

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