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What it's like being sponsored as a refugee student

Ahmad Alkosani tells us about his experience of being sponsored as a refugee student to Canada, how the World University Service of Canada changed his life and why he is now volunteering so he can have the same transformational impact.

When I arrived in Sault Ste Marie, a Canadian town in northern Ontario, my first thought was, ‘This is going to be hard.’ It’s a new language, a new culture.  I was supposed to start college in just 6 days. ‘How am I going to adjust?’ I asked myself.

But then students from Sault College — my new college — turned up. They were volunteers on their local World University Service of Canada (WUSC) committee and they had sponsored me to come to Canada.They showed me how to do everything from using public transport to doing the laundry. (Of course I’d done laundry before, but everything’s different halfway across the world!)

Right from the start, they treated me not simply as a refugee they were sponsoring, but as their friend. I was so impressed by how much easier they made my transition to life as a Canadian student that I immediately decided that I wanted to join the committee myself to sponsor other refugees. Flash forwards a year and I’m the leader of the WUSC local committee at Sault College.

What is WUSC and how did I come to Canada?

WUSC is the World University Service of Canada. One of the things it does is manage Canada’s Student Refugee Program. The Student Refugee Program resettles young refugees and offers them places in Canada’s higher education institutions. In each institution, there is a WUSC local committee and this committee is made up of volunteers who sponsor refugees to their institutions. They’re responsible for making sure that refugees who come to study at their institution are well-supported.

I applied for a WUSC scholarship in 2017. By this time I’d already spent a year as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon where I had no access to education or work. My life had been put on hold.

I was accepted onto the Student Refugee Program and attained a place at Sault College to study Business. My brother had been sponsored to Sault a couple of years earlier and WUSC helped to ensure that I could be in the same city as my brother. I travelled to Canada with 30 other young refugees who had been living in Lebanon and then we each went off to our different colleges.

The importance of WUSC’s local committees

Having the support of the WUSC local committee speeds up the time it takes to get to the point where you’re able to live your life the way you actually want to live it. And this is so valuable when a war has already forced you to put your life on hold!

Had I not had the support of a WUSC committee, I would still have got to where I am now, but it would have been a struggle. It would have taken years rather than months. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to start college 6 days after arriving!

What’s special about the WUSC local committees, and what sets this program apart from other sponsorship schemes, is that it’s young people sponsoring other young people. Everyone in the committee is a similar age to me, which made it easy to make friends and develop a social life.

Why I’m leading the Sault College local WUSC committee

I decided that I wanted to work with WUSC because I know how transformational the Student Refugee Program is for people. WUSC believes that education changes lives. That’s why they run the program. And I don’t just believe that’s true, I know it’s true because it changed my life.

I came from Lebanon with no work and no education, and now I’m studying and working for a cause I truly care about. I’m proud of myself, but I’m also proud of Canada. Canadians brought me here. They gave me this opportunity.