Waterloo campus a world away from Kenyan refugee camp

Meet Yueu Majok

Yueu Majok (BES ’13, Geography & Environment) is one of the University of Waterloo’s first graduates of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) program, which helps refugees from Kenya, Malawi and Syria settle in Canada and get an education at a Canadian university.

Majok lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for 14 years after being displaced from his home by the second Sudanese civil war. Following a rigorous interview process, he came to Waterloo in 2008 and lived at St. Paul’s University College until 2010.

Can you tell us about your journey from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to the University of Waterloo?

It was the most exciting journey of my life. After 14 years of living in a refugee camp, I knew no other way of life. I was eight years old when I left my home with my parents and siblings. When I learned I was coming to Canada, it filled me with hope because it gave me a new direction, a way out of a refugee camp and out of a refugee’s life, which was a rare opportunity. It filled me with fear because everything about this journey was unknown and new. Many questions raced in my mind. How would I talk to people when my English was poor? How would I make a living? What if I am unsuccessful at school? Would I ever see my family? Even though these questions were on my mind, the excitement that came with such an adventure was undeniable.

Can you tell us about the interview process you went through to be offered the scholarship to come to Waterloo?

Since the very first time I went into a Grade 1 class, I had no idea that education could bring so much change in my life. It was like that until I went to high school, where I learned that if I got good grades, I could get a scholarship to a Canadian university and resettlement to Canada. This was the best offer any refugee could ever dream of. Like every other kid going through high school at the time, I had a goal. It was to get good grades and get that scholarship.

I applied in March 2006 and passed the English examination to make it among the best 40. But I did not pass the interview for the final 25. I came back in 2007 and went through the processagain. This time, I barely made it, but I did.

What did you find the most challenging during your transition to Canada?

The most challenging thing I experienced was my poor communication. People had difficulty understanding me, but above all I had the most difficulty understanding them. It affected me in group meetings, class presentations and conversing with friends.

Making friends in Canada was also challenging for me. When I was in Africa, I never had to make friends. In South Sudan, your closest neighbour is more related to you than someone far away.

St. Paul’s University College was a perfect place to start living in Canada. Living there gave me all the exposure and experience I needed in the very beginning. The support from friends I met there and the staff helped me through university.

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