A journey from Africa to Canada
On Nov. 19, as a part of the University of Waterloo’s International Education Week, two African refugees, who are now students at the University of Waterloo, shared stories about their personal journeys to Canada.
The event, entitled “From Africa to Canada,” was held at UW’s St. Paul’s Chapel.
The two students, Tariku and Yuec, shared tales of their personal experiences as refugees.
Amazingly, while sharing a glimpse of what the 9.2 million refugees worldwide have experienced, the two managed to keep the room in high spirits.
Yuec, now a third-year geography student, shared his story of life in the Kukuma refugee camp, located 100 km from the Sudanese border.
It was this camp that Yuec left behind to begin his journey to Canada.
While Yuec admits that he endured many hardships while living in this camp, he chose to focus on the ailing education system.
Yuec explained that due to such large class sizes and a lack of resources, “We had to share everything,” and textbooks were taken and sliced in half so they could be distributed between two people.
However, teaching supplies was not the only lack of resources; there were also very few teachers.
Furthermore, Yuec explained that there was no curriculum; instead, a policy of “survival of the fittest” took place.
Due to such structural difficulties, Yuec explains that, “I never had a chance to learn well because of the poor structure.”
Some of Yuec’s classmates were in the army or had been child soldiers. According to Yuec, “They wouldn’t always do what the teachers said, so they ended up beating up the teachers instead, and schools were then governed by the students.”
Yuec also explained that there were times when his teachers performed the beatings, and he frequently received them.
With all of these trepidations, the appeal of school was understandably starting to wear off.
Yuec admits, “When I reached grade five, I was getting fed up and no one was serious about it. I just wanted to play and then go back home when I felt like it.”
Although most of these hardships have been alleviated for Yuec today, the transition into Canadian life was not easy. Recounting his first night in Canada, Yuec said, “I could hear the sounds of all the lights on. I wasn’t used to electricity.”
Beyond that, Yuec explains other transitions that were difficult to make, such as adapting to the Canadian language customs.
“I don’t understand sarcasm at all. It exists in every culture, but when I try it, no one understands that I’m only joking when I say I will kill them,” he explained amid laughter in the crowd.
Once past the language barrier, tackling technology was Yuec’s next step. Yuec was soon introduced to Google and quickly picked up the popular university catchphrase “just Google that shit.”
Yuec added that he often resorts to this search engine when he does not understand a certain Canadian custom. One custom that Yuec noted he has had trouble adjusting to is the small talk that takes place at parties attended by university students.
“I’ve been to a few parties. When I party, people would talk to me about TV shows, and I am not experienced in these topics. In my culture, I would talk about cows, war, child soldiers, girls, but I don’t know what it means to talk about these TV shows,” said Yuec.
“I start to look like a party pooper,” he said.
Instead, Yuec has found entertainment in activities such as paintball and laser tag that don’t rely so heavily on verbal communication.
Although it appears that Tariku and Yuec are well integrated into Canadian culture, they still face challenges.
The two men openly pondered where their future will lead them now that they have had the experience of attending university in Canada.
“If I get a job here, I can work here, but I don’t plan on living in Canada forever,” Yuec said.
Tariku quickly agreed, stating, “I have no places that I feel is my place. My clan has land back home.”
Along with Yuec, World University Service of Canada (WUSC) also brought Tariku, a second-year mechanical engineering student from Ethiopia, to UW.
Tariku and Yuec are hosted by WUSC, a non-governmental organization that fosters human development in 13 countries by educating and advocating students.
The organization has a mandate of helping refugee students who have been displaced in civil wars obtain post-secondary education.