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Refugee student Janvier Biziyaremye looks back on his first year at the U of C

By Saima Asad, June 5 2017 —

Janvier Biziyaremye is a refugee student who recently finished his first year of nursing at the University of Calgary. He is one of two students to come to Calgary last year through sponsorship from the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). Originally from Rwanda, Biziyaremye lived in a refugee camp in Malawi since he was five. He sat down with the Gauntlet to talk about adapting to school, the weather and life in Canada.

Gauntlet: How was your first year at the U of C?

Janvier Biziyaremye: It’s been quite an experience. When I first arrived here, I was so excited coming to a new place, to meet new people. But when I moved into my brother’s place, he left me in the morning and went to work. So we didn’t see each other from 7:00 a.m. 8:00 p.m., and I was so surprised. I thought we would have time to hang out since it’s been two years since we saw each other. [I was] stressed a little bit since I was alone. Those were my first days. After a couple days, some members of WUSC started helping me out with registration and things like that.

In my first semester, I really struggled with some of the courses, but I went on YouTube [for help]. WUSC helped find some tutors which helped improve my grades a little bit. Overall, I did OK.

G: What was it like in the refugee camp in Malawi?

Biziyaremye: Malawi is a nice country of course, but the opportunity for refugee students to go further with their education is limited. As soon as we finish high school, we are not allowed to go further with our education in university. I didn’t have a chance to go to Malawian universities.

Apart from that, it’s economical. My parents are refugees. In Malawi, we are not allowed to work. We are just allowed to stay in the camp. Even if I got the chance to go to university, my parents could not afford to pay for my tuition. WUSC was my only hope that I had.

G: What was the application process like for you to get here?

Biziyaremye: When we are done with high school, normally every year in November or December, [WUSC] posts a notice calling for applicants and they put a specific list [of qualifications] that they want. If you are qualified, you apply and you write a written application. You need to have a refugee status and you need to have stayed in Malawi for three years. There are several requirements that are put there. If you meet those requirements, you write and submit your application letter with some other documents they ask you for. Later, they go through the applications from different students, screen them and release a short list. After that you go for an English exam to test the competence and fluency of your English. From there, when you pass the written exam, you go through interviews.

G: What have been some challenges that you faced this year?

Biziyaremye: I’ve had a couple of challenges. I should say I’ve really struggled with the weather. In residence I had a hard time falling asleep because the heater was on top of my head. During classes my memory was not that sharp like it used to be because I noticed I didn’t have enough sleep. I struggled with that for a while until I moved off residence.

I’ve struggled in some other courses, like statistics. I went in class and the professor the way he was teaching was so fast. And I tried to write to him to explain my situation that English is not my first language and that he should try and slow down so I could follow him. Of course, I failed my first midterm, which I’m not ashamed of admitting because whenever you fail you learn your mistakes and then you improve. After I failed my first midterm, I talked to our coordinator and he helped me find a tutor.

G: What are your plans after you graduate?

Biziyaremye: In life they say you need to have Plan A and Plan B. If I get the chance, I would like to go to medical school. If that doesn’t work out as Plan A, then I’m planning to be a nurse practitioner. Maybe if I get enough money, and I work, I might open my own clinic. I had this plan with my brother, whenever we finish we can open our own clinic.

G: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Biziyaremye: I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my experience, so other people might have a glimpse of what being a refugee is. It’s quite an experience. It’s not an easy thing. I’m honoured to have shared my experience and I hope some people who didn’t know now have a glimpse of how a refugee’s life is.

Edited for clarity and brevity.

For more information about the refugee student program, click here.

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