The first day of school can be exciting and scary for many university students. This situation was no different for Florence Dusabimana, except Florence spent the last 15 years at a refugee camp in Malawi. Originally from Rwanda, she and her family had to flee her country in 1995 because of the genocide and threats made against her family.
Through WUSC’s Student Refugee Program, Florence, now 20 years old, was able to leave the camp and attend post-secondary education in Canada. Last fall, Florence was one of the 70 refugee students that arrived in Canada to begin a new life and a promising future.
Working towards a goal
Florence came to Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi in 1996. She was 11 years old when she first heard about the SRP. She saw older students who were able to leave the camp to attend university in Canada.
“Knowing about the program really motivated me to study hard and try to apply,” she says.
With the thought of a brighter future in Canada always in the back of her mind, Florence applied to the SRP and after months of anticipation she was finally accepted into the program. Before she knew it she was on a plane bound for Halifax.
From camp to campus
Florence didn’t really know what to expect when she first arrived. She had heard a lot of great things about Canada and the university, and was very excited to be in a new country after spending most of her life in a refugee camp. But, she did have some reservations about living in Canada.
“The big fear I had was the coldness of the country,” says Florence with a laugh.
The Local Committee at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) helped Florence adjust to her new life on campus. They helped her with big things like obtaining her SIN and health card, but they also helped with day-to-day activities like grocery shopping.
Even with the support of the Local Committee, Florence still felt alone those first few weeks in Halifax. She was homesick and did not venture outside her residence. But, once school started Florence began meeting people in her class and slowly but surely friendships were formed.
During classes, Florence was surprised when students were able to debate and oftentimes disagree with the professor during class, something she had never seen or experienced before.
“In the camp we were able to talk with the teachers, but we didn’t think to disagree with them.”
A highlight of the year came during the first snowfall of the season. A teacher, who knew Florence had never seen snow before, allowed her to leave class and go outside. She spent so much time outside playing in the snow that her fingers went numb, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“I couldn’t feel how cold it was, I was just so excited.”
One year down…
With one year of Canadian university under her belt, Florence is looking forward to her second year and is already making plans for the future. She hopes to eventually go to Dalhousie University where she wants to study nursing.
The future is wide open for Florence whose hard work and determination brought her where she is today, with help from WUSC.
“WUSC has really changed my life and helped me continue with my goals,” says Florence. “Without WUSC I would not have been able to come to Saint Mary’s and pursue my education.”
Does she have any advice for new sponsored students coming this fall?
“Expect to learn a lot and be open to the change,” she says.
“And don’t buy your winter clothes in Malawi. Buy them in Canada.”