Going global for university

Packing a world’s worth of experience into a Waterloo degree

Ola loves many things about Waterloo.

Her friends. The combination of coursework and co-op. Campus clubs, including the Black Association for Student Expression, of which she’s president. But the winter? Not so much.

“I’m not going to lie, I hate the cold from the bottom of my heart,” admits Ola. And yet, this is exactly where I want to be.

The flexibility to explore

Growing up in the tropical climate of Kampala, Uganda, Ola first heard of Waterloo while in high school. Deeply interested in human rights and the political systems behind communities and countries, she saw something in Waterloo’s flexible approach to education—one that would allow her to bend her degree according to her interests, while simultaneously gaining real-world experience through the co-op program.

Ola getting out of a car.

Finding her place

“I didn’t think I’d get in, and then it happened, and suddenly I was moving to Canada.” After spending a gap year getting accustomed to her new country—especially the weather—she arrived on campus to an unexpected feeling of warmth. “I didn’t expect to be welcomed so quickly. I immediately felt at home.” 

There’s a misconception that Waterloo isn’t an arts school. By combining arts with business, I’m learning to think on a much larger scale.

Now in her second year, the Honours Arts and Business student is majoring in political science with minors in economics and international trade, and a specialization in international relations. “There’s a misconception that Waterloo isn’t an arts school. By combining arts with business, I’m learning to think on a much larger scale. Not only do I have a business foundation, I have a political and economic foundation. It really opens up opportunities.”

Getting involved

But classes and co-op are just part of her undergrad. “I am extremely involved,” says Ola, who just took over as president of the Black Association for Student Expression (BASE). Formed 11 years ago, BASE celebrates the black experience and advocates for racial inclusion through campus events and forums, ranging from discussions on homophobia in marginalized communities to talent shows featuring black artists. “We work with the larger community, including high schools, to bring awareness to black issues.”

Ola talking in front of a group.

Ola’s insights into racial advocacy also led her to present a guest lecture in an ARTS 130 class on Black history, where she spoke to students about colourism, a form of racism where people are treated differently based purely on the colour of their skin. “I’m well versed in social justice, especially as it relates to black history,” says Ola.

Thinking ahead

For her next co-op term, Ola hopes to put her passion for equal rights into play working for a law firm or through political commentary. “My goal is to create a better life for people in Uganda and Sudan, and the best way to do this is through political activism—by making laws that help African countries become more self-reliant.”

My goal is to create a better life for people in Uganda and Sudan.

It’s a big goal, and another reason she chose Arts as her foundation. “Ask an engineer for a solution, and they’ll build you a robot. With the arts, the solution is much more long term; you can’t see it. It requires a change in systems, approach, ideas. It’s about working today for tomorrow.”

#BeyondIdeas #RaiseYourVoice #BeTheChange