Andres Bustamante is no longer afraid to go outside at night.
The International student at Lambton College said wandering around Sarnia after dark is not like venturing into the treacherous streets of his home in Caracas, Venezuela, a city of 4.5 million.
“Barely anyone goes out on the street after 6:30 (p.m.) because you will get mugged, you will get killed, you will get kidnapped,” said Bustamante, who is studying information technology.
The 28-year-old who arrived last year and is the midst of a co-op placement said he has been made to feel welcome.
“That feeling, that you can actually feel secure,” he said.
Sarnia’s reputation as a safe city is a major draw for students from abroad, along with relatively low tuition and living costs, the college says.
Enrolment has more than doubled in just three years, with 974 international students studying at Lambton this fall.
“It’s changing the face of Sarnia,” said Cindy Buchanan, the college’s marketing and communications director.
It’s also a two-way street, she added, with Canadian students enjoying the chance to experience different cultures without leaving home.
So what’s it like for the new arrivals?
“When they hear my accent they ask, ‘Where are you from?’” said Bustamante. “That actually feels like people want to know more about the people that come here to Sarnia.”
The promise of clean beaches and nature trails helped lure Nandani Aggarwal from India.
“The whole Sarnia community was so welcoming,” she said. “From bus drivers, to college (professors) — everybody.
Aggarwal is from Vadodara, a city of about 400,000 in western India. Despite her hometown being a major cultural hub and university centre, her family encouraged her to study in Canada to gain independence.
Aggarwal, who had never been outside of India before arriving in Sarnia, said the biggest culture shock has been adjusting to the local affinity for table manners.
“It’s always, ‘please,’ ‘thank-you’ and ‘sorry,’ she said with a laugh. “It’s a very major thing.”