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Looking back: Honoline's experience at Ontario Tech

Honoline Francis, Bachelor of Health Sciences in Kinesiology (Class of 2019)

We interviewed a recent WUSC graduate from Ontario Tech University, Honoline Francis, to ask her some questions about her experience in Canada and at the university. Honoline was sponsored from Malawi, where she and her parents were seeking asylum, but she is originally from Rwanda.

The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) is a program that supports refugee students (students who have been displaced from their country of origin due to war, politics, religion and tribal issues) through an ongoing partnership with over 80 Canadian campuses. Upon graduation, WUSC helps students gain permanent residency status.

What was it like visiting Canada for the first time?

It was different. I can tell you I was very anxious when I was leaving my country. The warmth that my community and people gave to me and the things I was taught are different.

Contrary to popular opinion, I did not have culture shock. I studied about the place, so I knew what to expect from the new environment. I think the most shock I got from the country was food. When it came to food, everyone ate different things, but in my country, we had certain types of meals that everyone enjoyed collectively.

Do you have a favourite thing about Canada?

I like the fact that in Canada, when you are open-minded, you can grow, gain knowledge and experience. My favourite thing about this country is that whatever you learn connects you with the rest of your community, and in turn, takes you on a journey with a destination. The few people you meet here will always be there for you. Canadians are caring in that way.

What is something that surprised you here?

The education system surprised me because in Malawi, you read your books and that’s all you do. But when I got here, they read from PowerPoints, and I was so surprised. Due to colonialism in Malawi, we follow the British syllabus where we have to understand the material through reading - we knew all the context back to back. But in Canada, you just have to read the slides and pass the exams.  If you ask me to write something down, I would immediately forget, so that was pretty shocking. Ultimately, the education system success is a personal thing, and I think everyone will have a different view.

What has been the most challenging part of your time here?

Um, I don’t know if I would say it’s a challenge, but when a lot of refugee students arrive in Canada, they are still facing the traumas of their struggles back in their home country.

In my program, I was the only black person, and in my faculty, there were two black people so that was a new challenge for me. However, my friends didn’t make me feel weird about it, and I am thankful for it, but that was one of the challenges I faced in this country and this school.

Also, I am strong enough not to lose myself, but I think many WUSC students and refugees from another country face that when they arrive. We feel the need to fit in and assimilate so we don’t stand out. We have to change the way we talk and just our whole persona just to fit in and be a part of the culture, and in some cases, people lose themselves and their heritage. When you lose that, you’ve lost yourself. And when you’ve lost yourself, I don’t care how much education you’ve acquired, you will be lost.

What has been the highlight of studying at Ontario Tech University?

The ability to actually have conversations with your professor. I think that’s what makes the school very unique was the fact that professors are interested in teaching and ultimately helping students succeed. When you interact with your professors, you gain more, and I think that was the highlight of going to Ontario Tech University.

I also did a research practicum in my fourth year with one of the best research professors in the university, Dr. Pierre Côté. It was a fantastic opportunity, and that was, in fact, one of the best things that happened to me at the university.

For my personal life, the few people I encountered in the university have been stepping stones in my life. They have held me down since I stepped into this country. You know, you feel so special when someone who has their own life and problems takes time out of their day to care for you, a person that they hardly know. I appreciate the time, and I appreciate the people who took time out of their jam-packed days to care for me and check up on me.

What does it mean to you to be graduating this week, and do have plans after graduation?

It means everything. Words cannot begin to describe the excitement that I feel; I am exceedingly happy.

I have many wants and wishes for more education. Being a physiotherapist has always been my goal, and I am getting there step by step. However, I am very open-minded and ready to face the future.

Any advice or final thoughts?

Be as authentic as you can be. Be honest, and do everything with love.

Seek advice, and when you seek advice, listen to your heart and teach others. Don’t learn and keep it to yourself. When you share the knowledge you learn, you help people learn.

Maya Angelou said,

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Having that power to change a negative narrative to a positive story for someone is a great feeling.