I remember when I got a sealed envelope stating that I had been granted admission to the University of Waterloo. I could not contain my happiness as I really wanted to attend the University, given its ranking as No. 1 in Canada that year.
It did not click to me how much of a change this would be until we approached the airport on the day of my trip and my two younger siblings started crying. This wasn’t made easier by the song Always On My Mind, by the Nigerian artist Lagbaja, which came on at the time.
It was a season of rapid change. I was immersed in a new climate, a new culture and even a new way of seeing myself. I remember the cleaner of my residence in Village 1 was always surprised at how high I turned up the heat in my room because of how much I hated the cold. Before, my way of life as a Nigerian had been my frame of reference and now I was considered a minority: foreign, exotic, having an accent.
And of course, I was only 14. I was still developing as a teen, still very self-conscious, which was compounded by how different I looked, acted and sounded. I missed walking down the street and running into a familiar face. Now I had to walk around campus alone — but this was a privilege.
Many of my peers would wish they could also have a quality education. Most Nigerian parents pay for their children’s university education. With international students in Canada paying about three times the fees that Canadian students pay — without access to loans and only a very few scholarships — this is not a small sacrifice. I knew I had to make the most of this sacrifice by my parents to make me globally competitive.
I look back and see how this big change was one of the most important, life-changing events for me. It gave me the courage to make bigger changes. It helped me develop independence and resilience as I learned to adapt and to take things one day at a time. It gave me some of my closest friends.
Waterloo shaped me in those formative years, with classes that spurred me to think, to question and to be aware. At Waterloo, the shy 14-year-old international student started experimenting with adulthood, speaking in public, taking on leadership positions, acting on cultural and global issues.
By the time I left Waterloo at 18, I had changed so much. Waterloo planted the seeds in me of innovation, of the spirit of “why not?” I am grateful for that little 14-year-old girl and her stubborn, sometimes awkward tenacity through the changes of her life. I am forever grateful that I chose Waterloo and that Waterloo chose me, too.
Born and raised in Nigeria, EBELE MOGO (BSc ’09) came to the University of Waterloo to pursue a science degree at age 14. She completed her undergraduate degree at 18, went on to create the Engage Africa Foundation to fight chronic diseases, and received the Science Young Alumni Award in 2013.