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UOIT’s first refugee student prepares for Convocation

Jean Nsanzeryaka reflects on how ‘the impossible became possible’ at UOIT

Jean Nsanzeryaka will become the University of Ontario Institute of Technology's first graduating refugee student at Convocation on Friday, June 10.
Jean Nsanzeryaka will become the University of Ontario Institute of Technology's first graduating refugee student at Convocation on Friday, June 10.

More than two thousand students will cross the stage at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s (UOIT) 2016 Convocation ceremonies. Each graduate will celebrate a very personal academic journey, reflect upon how far they’ve come, and ponder what lies ahead in the next chapter of their lives.

When his name is called out in June, Jean Bertrand Alestide Nsanzeryaka will receive his Bachelor of Science (Biological Sciences, specializing in Life Sciences) and become the university’s first refugee student to complete a degree. It will be a milestone in UOIT history, and a huge moment of pride and emotion in the life of a young man who thought such a day might never come.

“My program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology has been a dream come true,” says Jean. “Four years ago I could never have imagined the opportunity that would come my way, thanks to the efforts of the people at the university who are connected to World University Service of Canada (WUSC).”

Jean was born in Burundi, a small country in East Central Africa troubled for decades by poverty, weak infrastructure and political strife, including civil wars that displaced thousands of people. He spent his entire life in refugee camps, including the Mtabila Refugee Camp in Tanzania and Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi.

“My mother passed away in 2004. And though I managed to maintain good grades in high school, I was not allowed to continue my education in Malawi after 2010. I wanted to become a medical doctor and I thought my dream was over. But in 2012, I was one of about 20 students who qualified to write an exam to enter a student refugee program sponsored by universities across Canada, where young displaced students like myself and many of my friends are given an opportunity to continue our education and live free of fear.”

World University Service of Canada seeks to change the world through education. The organization has local committees at post-secondary institutions across Canada, including one shared by UOIT and Durham College (DC). Among its many initiatives, WUSC facilitates the sponsorship of youth from war-torn nations by local sponsorship committees.

“I made it to UOIT because the university and the Student Association decided to take part in the student refugee program and chose me as their first sponsored student. They welcomed me and helped me to settle and adjust to life here in Canada. It was a game changer – they invited me to spend time with their families and meet new people.”

Coming to Canada without any knowledge of computers and other services that required technology was a huge transition – especially at UOIT, where technology is engrained in classes, lectures and labs. 

“The local WUSC committee was there to support me, and the professors were amazing. When I needed them to slow down for me, they did. They truly cared.”

Jean’s choice to study Life Sciences at UOIT has deep inspiration.

“My mother’s passing from AIDS was heartbreaking. I want to help find answers to the many serious health problems in Africa. My late stepfather was a physician, and I saw the impact he was able to have on the community. I have always hoped to do something to help children in third-world nations and those who are struggling. This dream could not be achieved if I had not come to UOIT.”

Jean has been exceptionally active on campus, as a Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Science, a Peer Tutor with the Student Learning Centre and a volunteer in the spring at Science Rendezvous to introduce local youngsters to the world of science.

“In addition to intramural soccer and involvement with student groups, I have been fortunate to work as a summer camp sports instructor for several summers where I had the pleasure of teaching children soccer, dance and other summertime sports. I have made lifelong friends through these amazing experiences.”

Throughout his UOIT journey, Jean has taken careful notes and documented his experiences. His goal is to summarize everything into a book – already about half-complete.

“I have learned things can happen in life that you never thought possible. The university’s sponsorship of me has helped me achieve the impossible: a university education. I cannot thank enough the WUSC committee, the Student Association, my Biology professors (Annette Tavares, Mary Olaveson and thesis supervisor Janice Strap), colleagues and classmates and all of the amazing friends I have made. UOIT will forever be in my heart for this act of love and kindness.” 

Quotes:

“Four years ago the Student Refugee Program at UOIT was established through a levy on student fees and institutional support. Jean Nsanzeryaka has demonstrated academic excellence and dedication throughout his program and in his transition to living in Canada. We are inspired by his success and share deep pride as he receives his university degree.”
-Emma Blackwood and Lidya Salim, Co-Presidents, WUSC at UOIT/DC

“Jean personifies all that parents want their children to be. He is hardworking, brilliant, respectful and kind. He has met and conquered many challenges, excels academically and has built meaningful relationships within the UOIT community and the local community as well. He has done all this without the parental support many students take for granted. I couldn't be prouder to have been a part of Jean's journey, and I know he will now go on to make a difference in the world.”
-Susan Allward, Associate Registrar, Student Awards and Financial Aid, UOIT


Media contact
Bryan Oliver
Communications and Marketing
University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)
905.721.8668 ext. 6709
289.928.3653
bryan.oliver@uoit.ca

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