*** NOTE ***
By Anna Sarkissian
Most international students arriving at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport don’t expect to see a smiling welcome committee standing by, eager to help them.
“They’re surprised to see us,” said Soda Faty, a recent Concordia graduate who is Student Coordinator of the Airport Welcome Activity for International Students, “but they’re also really grateful and happy that we’re here.”
A team of eight students are employed by the CREPUQ and the Conférence régionale des élus de Montréal to work at welcome booths in the airport’s international arrival hall. Now in its second year, the project operates in partnership with universities and CEGEPs across the province throughout the month of August.
While the agents patiently field questions from weary travellers who mistake the booth for an information counter, their mandate is to assist foreign students who are coming to Canada for the first time.
Faty came to Canada four years ago from Senegal and began her studies in Vancouver. She arrived alone in the middle of the night and got lost trying to find her residence.
“In a new place, you don’t know how things work,” she said. “Some students are visiting a developed country for the first time. Others have nowhere to stay. People come to us all stressed, so we try to appease them and offer guidance.”
In addition to providing a list of temporary housing, maps of the city, and access to a computer, they offer complimentary calling cards so students can let their families know they’ve arrived safely.
Fabien Zermatten flew into Montreal last Friday afternoon from his native Chamonix, France. Though he already had an apartment in Côte-Des-Neiges lined up, he approached the booth for information about the best way to travel into the city.
“A taxi will cost $40 or you can take the shuttle bus. We have arranged a discount for international students so it’s only $5,” Vanina Pitsch, one of the agents, explained.
Zermatten will be studying at the John Molson School of Business. He chose Montreal for its culture and bilingualism. “I can improve my English but also speak French when I need to,” he said.
After using the free phone to get in touch with his roommates, Zermatten climbed into a cab and was on his way.
“My goal is to make sure foreign students have the necessary information to start a life in Montreal,” said Pitsch, who is an international student herself studying Human Resources Management at Concordia. She often gives out her email address in case the students have questions or need advice.
“I know what it’s like to arrive alone, start from scratch, and meet new people,” she said. “And I really want to help them.”
As of last Friday, 1 263 students have already taken advantage of the service. The project was originally slated to wrap up by Aug. 31 but it has been extended by a week because several universities are starting classes after Labour Day.