In the summer of 2013, I moved to Canada to start a BA&BSc (combined) degree with a full scholarship from the Nigerian Government. I got this scholarship after failing 3 times, rewriting the exam 3 times and interviewing 3 times. I wait for 3 years. I persisted because I knew that I needed a more practical education and that the Canadian experience will provide opportunities that will enable me to have a wider impact.
This week, I ceremonially graduated from the UofS as the first kid in my family with an overseas degree. This is a happy yet solemn occasion for me and family. My Canadian experience hasn’t only given more multiple options but it has also opened my eyes to the things that I can accomplish. It has made me see the options that I have. More importantly, It has allowed me to grow as a person and taught about different cultures and people.
No tuition. No school
My time in Canada has not been all rosy. I remember almost dropping out of school because the scholarship program I was part of was canceled. A change in Government and the crash in oil prices were the cause. The UofS accommodated me and allowed me to pay in instalments for almost 2 years until I finally got a letter with a deadline to pay more than $20,000 in full in less than 30 days or leave school. As an International student on a student visa, this is a big deal. I am ineligible to apply for student loans and banks will not extend lines of credit to international students. No paying the money meant that I will have to leave Canada without a degree and lose everything I worked for 6 years: 3 years waiting to get the scholarship and 3 years as a student here with only 4 classes left to graduate. I was almost done yet I saw myself losing everything. The day I got this mail, I was an Intern at IBM.
I went back home and that night I cried and cried and cried until I was literally unable to cry anymore. I lost the ability to shed tears and my sobbing transformed to silent mumbling and gasping for breath. My pillows were drenched with my tears. I was confused, lost, and shattered. The way I felt cannot be fully described with Words in any language and I hope no one ever goes through what I went through on that day. In the midst of these feelings, I mustered up courage and at 2 am, still sobbing, I opened my laptop and wrote a very long email to my University’s registrar.
To this day, the email I wrote on that night is the most powerful one I have ever written. I poured my soul into it and finished by setting out a payment plan ($1,200 biweekly over a couple of months) and an assurance about my willingness and ability to pay. The request was approved after consultation with and sign-offs from both University Finance and the Faculty of Arts and Science. In the months that followed, I paid back all I owed the University from my Internship pay.
I graduate today with zero debt and I am grateful that the University was willing to work with me. Many international students run into situations like mine but most of them will not be Computer Science students who can be in internships programs that pay them enough money to foot huge payment plans like mine. Most of them will not be in a school like the UofS: one that prioritizes student’s wellness and mental health and provides resources to rapidly handle individual student cases. For these opportunities, I am grateful and it is my desire to give back wholeheartedly as I am able.
Despite the challenges that I faced while I was a student and the uncertainties that I had to live with, I worked hard each day to become a better person. I did not graduate as the best student, academically, in my program nor did I win academic prizes. No. Something I did well was to pursue activities that, today, enable me, to choose from an array of opportunities. Today, I am able to compete with anyone anywhere in the world. I have been able to attend, compete and win some Hackathons at Harvard, Stanford, UPenn, Waterloo and many more. I have participated in some competitive student programs like RBC Amplify and I have been able to start Lush Plans, a new Nigeria-focused Event management platform (lushplans.com) and worked on projects that will live on even when I am no more. I have worked in and got offers from some of the best companies in the world I have also been able to volunteer and assist people who need the skills that I have. My experience, challenges, and small accomplishments make me who I am today. I am resilient and I reach for the top. I can take a beating yet rise up and dust myself and soar. I have built up grit and self-confidence. Most of these I acquired or enhanced as a student in Canada.
Accomplishment and prizes are good but I believe that true satisfaction or fulfillment does not come from the things that we are able to do voluntarily for people. It comes from those that care about us and the people and things we truly care about and willfully dedicate our time to. I believe that we need each other to stand strong and grow tall. This is why I am starting Humans and Leaders, humansandleaders.com. Humans and Leaders is a social enterprise focused on helping to build and enhance the self-confidence of young boys of African descent, primarily, and other boys, additionally. I am starting Humans and Leaders because I struggled with confidence when I moved here. This was not only because of culture shock but because of the way I speak and my lack of understanding of the society. I felt different and it affected my mental health and academic performance.
Over the years, however, I have grown stronger and more confident and I have learned about things that work and those that do not work here. Now that I know better and have built confidence, I want to provide a platform to support young boys of African descent who might be in similar situation. I want to support them to grow because I know that we are all in this together. Specifically, I want to use technology to enhance the activities of agencies that are focused on enriching the lives and experiences of people of African descent. I want these agencies to do their work more efficiently and reach more people through a medium that the people can relate to.
To achieve this, we will combine our personal experiences with the things that we learn from interacting with the youths and then enhance that with insights that we gather from analyzing millions of online interactions. We will then use the holistic insight to infuse fun into activities that the agencies we work with already do. Additionally, we will be making versions of popular media that feature people that look like the kids we are working with. The first project will be an educational app.
How you can support
I cannot do this alone and I won’t pretend to be an expert at educating people. I also realize that I do not have direct experience working with the people who might benefit from what I am trying to do. This is why Humans and Leaders is a team sport. We need people and I believe that there is no better time to get involved than now. I am looking to partner with people, agencies, and companies who are passionate about the cause. People in the education space, people who are interested in supporting persons of African descent or companies that are looking to put part of CSR budget into supporting people of African descent and align their goals with that of the Federal and provincial governments (See https://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2018/01/30/prime-minister-announces-government-canada-will-officially-recognize-international and http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/youthopportunities/eoyap/obyap.aspx).