This article is part of an ongoing series here on Dal News focusing on international voices in our community.
Prior to moving to Halifax in September 2012, Karthikeyan Damodaran would never have guessed that he would be receiving the Dalhousie Student Union Gold D Award for showing excellence in extra-curricular activities.
Karthikeyan was recognized at this year’s Impact Awards for his involvement with the Canadian Cancer Society, his involvement in the computer science society and activities off campus.
The Chennai, India native started volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society in 2012 after a supervisor at the society helped train him how to promote cancer awareness.
“Their office is close to Dalhousie, so it was very easy to get involved with them,” says Karthikeyan, a student in the Master of Applied Computer Science program. “I learned about tanning beds and how vulnerable people using them are prone to skin cancer.”
Through his involvement with the cancer society, he participated in Halifax Pride Week where he gave out pamphlets on how to take a pap test and let people know that they could take one for free. He also did the same thing at Dalhousie’s fall Society Carnival and took part in the Canadian Cancer Society’s winter Street Team, volunteering to spread awareness about ways to prevent cancer.
“We also let people know about having a proper balanced diet because research shows that having a balanced diet helps reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.”
Adjusting to life in Halifax
Though friends back home had warned Karthikeyan that Halifax was a very cold place with a lot of storms, he adjusted to life well here.
“People were very welcoming here,” he says. “The Dalhousie International Students Association helped me find accommodation here, I was able to find a church and people invited me over for dinner. I got accustomed to everything in less than two months."
He says he enjoys spring and summer the most, and loves that in Halifax he is able to meet many people from different cultural backgrounds. “In India, often you only see people from India. Here you see folks from all around the world, like China, Korea, Europe and Latin America. There’s lot of multiculturalism in Canada,” adding that it’s an environment he’s felt quite comfortable in.
He also appreciates how education is more practical in Canada. “Back in India education is more theoretical and exam oriented. I like it here because students in undergrad can go for co-ops and internships. The education here is more about understanding the class lectures, concepts and submitting assignments.”
Karthikeyan was also impressed with how students are treated on campus vis-à-vis faculty. “I was working at the university computer store as a Microsoft brand ambassador and the president of the university walked in and asked me for help, acting just like a friend,” he says. “The dean and associate dean of faculty of computer science are like comrades to us, who help us in all walks of life. Dr. Srini Sampalli, a professor of Computer Science, knows the name of every student in his class. He personally goes to every student and asks if they have any doubts in the lecture or assignments before starting the class. He actually sits down and listens to his students. In India you would never see this."
Karthikeyan gained a lot of insight at the orientation given by the university for new students and after receiving help from advisors, he decided to get involved in campus societies. Through attending Dalhousie’s Society Carnival he became active in societies that allowed him to experience karate, salsa dancing and kayaking.
Last year he became the president of the Dalhousie Computer Science Society for the summer semester and currently is serving as vice-president external, an opportunity which allows him to sit on the Dalhousie Student Union council. “I really like sitting on the board. I get to know about student issues, like gender discrimination, hikes in student fees and bus fee increases and the expansion of the SUB to create a larger student space.” He also enjoys the opportunity to interact with students from other programs.
His advice for other international students is simple: “The primary purpose why you are here is to study, but you should go beyond your comfort zone and get yourself involved in other social activities and explore your extra-curricular interests. There are over 300 active societies here on-campus and every society is very welcoming to its members.”
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