By Victoria Shariati
Ryerson held its first International Mother Language Day Festival on Monday that was hosted by Ryerson’s Cultural Awareness Committee (CAC) in conjunction with Salad King, which declared that it was doubling the monetary value of their international student awards.
The restaurant also announced the creation of the Ernest and Linda Liu Ontario Graduate Scholarship. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established International Mother Language Day in 1999 to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity.
Sanjid Anik, an international student advisor and chair of events for CAC, helped plan the festival. He said that while the school has held speeches about International Mother Language Day, CAC felt that Ryerson should “officially” celebrate it this year.
The event took about two months to plan, Anik said, and 20 student groups were involved. Anik said social events like these can help international students have a sense of belonging by demonstrating that Ryerson celebrates every cultural background.
“We’re not just saying that now they’re here, Canadian culture is all they’ve got,” he said. “We want students to know that their school is doing something.”
Ryerson’s International Student Support (ISS) has many resources for students, ranging from immigration workshops to citizenship ceremonies. However, Anik said that events like International Mother Language Day are designed to create a “home away from home” for those who are new to the country.
“Social, cultural, and educational things are different flavours,” he said. “But they’re all important to international students.”
Ruixuan Wang, a first-year sociology student, is a member of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association (CSSA). Wang is an international student, he moved to Canada from China in 2012.
Wang said international students are often faced with many challenges in their transition periods. This can lead to a sense of detachment from campus life.
For Wang, Monday’s festival provided a fun way for international students to find others who speak their language. He said this can help people develop more confidence.
“I came to Canada four years ago. For me, events like these helped,” Wang said. “I feel comfortable here.”
Husna Zekria, a nursing student, said getting involved with different student groups expanded her social circle by introducing her to people outside her program. Zekria is the vice president of marketing for the Afghan Students’ Association.
“I wanted a sense of community, and I feel like I get that from these people,” she said. “We share values and we share language.”
Zekria said the International Mother Language Day Festival was an “eye-opener” in the sense that people are learning about cultures they had never heard of before. She said other Afghan students who attend the festival feel instantly connected.
“It’s almost like networking,” she said. “It’s exciting to know you’re not the only Afghan student here.”
Ekaterina Plaxiy, second-year aerospace engineering student and president and founder of Ryerson’s Union of Students Speaking Russian (USSR), said that when she was in first year she struggled to find Russian cultural events around campus.
“I love my culture and I feel like it should be represented at Ryerson,” Plaxiy said.
She described the event as a way for international students to learn about what Canada has to offer in terms of cultural diversity.
“Some people think Canada is only white and English,” she said. “But here, they can see that it’s not.”