Dear International Students to Brampton, ON:

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This is a guest blog post by Jaskaran (Jazzy) Chahal, a proud Bramptonian, a high-school teacher, and blogger.

Before you read Jaskaran (Jazzy’s) insightful piece on the contentious issue of international students from Punjab who have gained notoriety for their disregard for Canadian laws and way of life, I want to direct y’all to the commenting guidelines of Toronto Desi Diaries. Happy reading.
This picture from 1989 is of Jazzy’s dad who came to Canada as an international student. Jazzy says, “He(dad) was 20 years old at the time and he never did any of the things that are mentioned below. Times have definitely changed.”

I want to start this off on a positive note and humbly welcome you to Canada! This is simply an incredible country to live in with plenty of opportunities to chase your dreams. I wish you all the best in your studies and careers. I praise your work ethic and I understand the sacrifices that you had to make for the pursuit of a better life. It’s not easy to pack your bags, leave your family behind, and begin a new life in a foreign country. I commend you for your determination, perseverance, and resilience. You have nothing but admiration and encouragement from me!

What follows is a special note for international students from Punjab, India, as well as other Sikh students who have chosen to come live in Brampton and its surrounding areas. I’ve been living in Brampton for over 20 years now and I have personally witnessed the influx of students within the past decade. I live in the neighbourhood right beside Sheridan College where a significant number of international students are admitted, and my family has provided accommodation to several international students over the years before they moved out and rented out their own place.

While this land welcomes you with open arms, it doesn’t give you the right to take advantage of its kindness, strut around like you own the place, and disturb its inhabitants. It is a privilege to be able to come here and be able to make a name for yourself, it is not a right. I’m probably going to sound like a grumpy old man to many of you, but my words are influenced by my genuine observations and experiences over the past few years. You don’t have to listen to me, but just know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many relatives, friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens have expressed the same sentiments as I have. I just decided to make it a bit more permanent in writing so you can refer to it. Once again, I’m not prohibiting you from doing these things because I’m obviously in no position to do so. I’m simply reinforcing the possibility that you can choose not to do them anymore! Here’s a list of things that you don’t have to do anymore in the 2020s and beyond:

  • You don’t have to buy a car as soon as you arrive here. If you do, you don’t have to buy a Dodge Charger, a Dodge Challenger, a Ford Mustang, or a Jeep Wrangler. There are thousands of other cars to choose from that are less expensive and can help you get from point A to point B.
  • You don’t have to buy a custom license plate that costs $300 and spells something absurd, such as “blackia,” “dabbka,” “bandook,” or “jatt.” You are not a smuggler, you are in no position to scold anyone, you can’t legally own a gun unless you have a valid license, and you shouldn’t be promoting an obsolete caste system here.
  • You don’t have to display an enormous silver or gold Khanda hanging from your rear-view mirror inside of your car. A bigger symbol doesn’t mean it’s a bigger and better religion. I’ve seen so many of them that I’ve begun to think it’s the new Dodge logo.
  • You don’t have to blast Punjabi music on residential streets at 3am on weeknights. Most people are trying to get some sleep and they aren’t going outside to do the bhangra with you. There are a time and place for everything.
  • Speaking of Punjabi music, you don’t have to idolize singers who promote gangs, drugs, and violence. It’s not a lived experience for 99% of them and listening to gangster music doesn’t magically turn you into one. Just a small reminder that this isn’t Los Angeles or New York City, it’s Brampton. Our nickname is literally Flower City.
  • You don’t have to drive like a maniac and have road rage 24/7. One of you once drove your car into oncoming traffic on the left side at night just so you could surpass my car in the right lane. Somebody could’ve lost their life that night, but I guess you watched one too many Fast and Furious movies.
  • Speaking of movies, you don’t have to Snapchat the opening credits of one while sitting in a theatre. Nor do you have to text or literally take phone calls while the movie is playing. It’s extremely distracting for the viewers sitting around you and its one of the reasons why some people are opting out of going to the movie theatre altogether.
  • You don’t have to continuously stare at people while walking or driving. Some of you stare at people as if you’re about to snatch their soul straight out of their bodies. It doesn’t make you look tough; it just makes you look creepy.
  • You don’t have to buy expensive name brand clothes or accessories to try and be “western.” Just be yourselves and dress accordingly. Your $600 Gucci belt holding up your pants is doing the exact same job like any other belt.
  • On the other hand, you don’t have to purposely wear flip flops and slides outside in the winter, especially when it’s snowing. In this case, I recommend investing in a pair of shoes or winter boots so that you don’t get frostbite.
  • You don’t have to use or speak the Punjabi language in a derogatory manner. Sprinkling in profanity throughout your entire conversation doesn’t make you sound tough. It ruins the purity of the language and makes it seem like you have a very limited vocabulary.
  • You don’t have to disrespect the gym environment and its equipment. This includes slamming your dumbbells or barbells down on the ground, leaving them there without putting them back on the rack, screaming your lungs out while lifting, and taking a few hundred pictures of you flexing in the mirror. I know that the Punjabi rap music playing in your headphones has you feeling some type of way, but you don’t have to boost your ego by losing your sanity.
  • You don’t have to get into physical fights with other international students because of a senseless argument or disagreement. Among other incidents, you took humanity back to prehistoric times with that fight in the Sheridan College Plaza. It literally looked like a bunch of cavemen yelling, grunting, and fighting with sticks and stones.
  • You don’t have to keep promoting this show-off culture that seems to be engrained within our DNA. Much of this is transferred from our parents, like when they feel the need to throw their child an extravagant wedding reception and invite over a thousand guests to flaunt their status. You can be the one that changes this and puts an end to this mentality of showing off because it simply doesn’t make you look cool and it’s not impressive to anyone.
  • Last but not least, you don’t have to forget about the generous hospitality and accommodation that your relatives or family friends provided for you before you moved out. Whether they allowed you to stay in their home for 8 months or 8 weeks, you owe them a debt of gratitude. You owe them a simple text or phone call to show appreciation for what they did for you, even if its just once a month. These are the people who helped you set yourself up in a new country across the globe and supported you when no one else would. If you slept in their bed, ate at their dinner table, drove their car, borrowed their money, or used their internet, the least you could do is a check-in with them from time to time to see how they’re doing. We live in an age where smartphones and social media supposedly bring us closer together, yet we drift further apart.

I don’t have any prejudice or bias against international students, nor am I trying to compromise their reputation or embarrass them. There are many of you who are amazing individuals and work extremely hard to make your families proud. Some of you work two to three different jobs in a week while still managing to attend class. I honestly look up to you and I admire your journey of establishing yourselves in this new environment. The list above is for the “bad apples” of the bunch, whose behaviour and attitude influenced me to write about what’s going on in my city. Hopefully, some of you read this and realize that you can do things a little differently and you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. For the rest of you, I wish you good fortune, success, and happiness in this beautiful country!

Sincerely,

Jaskaran Chahal, A Citizen of Brampton

You can read Jazzy’s blog – Jazzy Writes here.

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