Oct. 2, 2023

Refugee students grateful for sense of belonging they feel at UCalgary

Faculty and peer support key to Schulich students’ 1st-year success
Malith Daniel Jimmy
Schulich student Malith Daniel Jimmy experiments with virtual reality technology. Joe McFarland

It’s been nearly a year since Malith Daniel Jimmy first stepped foot on Canadian soil and, looking back, he believes it was meant to be.

Life has certainly changed for the Schulich School of Engineering (SSE) student, who finished his first year of studies this spring, after fleeing his home country of South Sudan, which has been embroiled in civil war.

Thanks to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), which sponsors refugee students hoping to head to Canada, Jimmy has adapted well in what he feels is his new home.

“It has been a nice opportunity,” says the electrical engineering student. “There have been a lot of challenges along the way, but those challenges are starting to pay off.”

Jimmy is one of two students supported by Schulich and the University of Calgary over the past year.

A sense of belonging

Born in Pakistan, Rizwan (who requested his surname not be printed) says he never truly felt like he belonged.

His parents originally came to that country as refugees from Afghanistan, so he was considered an Afghan citizen in the eyes of law in Pakistan.

Always having to carry around a temporary resident card, Rizwan dreamed of being accepted somewhere else, which led him to UCalgary.

Rizwan Schulich

Schulich student Rizwan smiles outside Zetta.

Joe McFarland

“Destiny pulled me towards this opportunity and I’m really grateful for it,” he says. “I’ve been able to learn so much and express myself with concepts and knowledge every day here at the university.”

Rizwan says he is energized by what he’s learned and the support he has received in pursuing his dream of getting into software engineering.

Providing much-needed resources

Since 1986, the University of Calgary Students’ Union has worked with the WUSC to help students from several countries including Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda and Thailand through its Refugee Student Program.

Following the Afghanistan crisis in the summer of 2021, UCalgary believed more needed to be done to help students in conflict zones.

Dr. Cheryl Dueck, PhD, senior academic director (international), says she spoke with all faculties and the SSE was able to work with UCalgary International on finding a path forward for the two students.

“The support from the faculty and the peer support that happens with the Engineering Students Society has been fantastic,” she says. “We have also been working with a core group of dedicated people from units across campus to ensure these students have a good landing and positive experience here.

“It’s not just a place to study for them; it’s life in a new place.”

Dueck says it can be a tough transition for any international student, especially refugees and students from war-torn nations, so providing them with financial and personal resources is paramount in giving them an avenue for success.

She gives credit to several people for helping make that transition easier for the students, including Benazir Rahman, global development and sustainable development goals (SDGs) specialist, and Allison Barrett, community and social impact manager at SSE, as well as Schulich Dean Bill Rosehart.

'Everything clicked'

When it comes to the future, both Jimmy and Rizwan are taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to them. After working in the Dean’s Office at Schulich during the summer, both are now back in class and ready to excel in their studies.

“When I came here, everything clicked naturally and I didn’t have to force anything,” Jimmy says. “I just get to go with the flow, and I have loved it so much.”

They have both enjoyed making new friends in what they say is a very welcoming community and school, which also contributed to their sense of belonging.

“Getting to meet these amazing people, it makes you feel accepted in society,” Rizwan says. “It’s an important aspect of life being accepted and feeling like you’re welcome.”

The Schulich School of Engineering is welcoming two more students from South Sudan this fall.

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