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Huge opportunity

Noor Ahmed (’21): from refugee camp to the computer lab

October 1, 2018

Growing up in a refugee camp is not ordinarily a good start for a computer scientist, but for Noor Ahmed, it was a gateway to Canada and studying at Acadia. Originally from Mogadishu in Somalia, Africa’s easternmost country, Ahmed’s family fled west to Kenya to escape years of civil unrest. He grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp and attended high school there.

“The first time I stepped on the Acadia campus, it was a great change for me,” he says. “It was bigger than I thought the campuses in Canada would be. My high school in Kenya was ten times smaller. I could not imagine this huge university with many people from different parts of the world.”

International scholarship

Ahmed is at Acadia thanks to a scholarship from the Student Refugee Program of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), a program that supports more than 130 students every year through active partnerships with over 80 campuses. Students at his high school are introduced to the scholarship program in their first year, and they work hard to achieve high marks. The competition is stiff, and Ahmed went through several tests and interviews before learning he was a successful candidate.

My hope for the future is to introduce new ideas to the world.”

“When you see your friends, those people who are your seniors in high school, getting this opportunity to study in Canada, it inspires you to work hard too, so that you get the same chance,” he says. “I was the student chosen by Acadia that year. My parents could not support me to go to university to study in Canada, so this scholarship is kind of a financial saviour.” He underlines that his parents are proud of him and support him in a lot in other ways.

His first few days at Acadia were hard, but his family encouraged him to stay. “I was telling them I don’t like this place because it’s too cold and everything is new,” he says. “They told me to stay, that I would adjust. And now that I’ve adjusted, I would say Acadia is a home for me.”

He was warmly welcomed by the WUSC local community and WUSC club members. “The professors are equally nice,” he adds. “They are approachable. I never thought the professors would be so friendly like this in Canada. You just ask them any question, even if it’s not related to what the professor is teaching, and they will still answer.”

He is grateful to the WUSC donors who made his dream possible. These include Acadia University, the Acadia Student Union (ASU), and the Rotary Club of Wolfville. “To help someone from a refugee camp, give them the chance to come to one of the best universities in Canada, I could not thank them enough.”

Passionate about computers

Although Ahmed had limited access to computers in the refugee camp, he chose computer science because he is passionate about working with computers. His classes at Acadia are mainly mathematics and computer programming, and so far his favourite classes are programming.

He dreams of becoming a software developer and bringing his skills and knowledge back to Somalia. “I’m a guy who comes from a country that’s torn apart by war,” he says. “It’s still behind, so I’m studying a lot to bring technological changes in my country.”

Ahmed has grown during his time at Acadia. “I have gained a lot since I came here,” he says. “I did not know what computer science entails at first because I just wanted to be a software developer. But now I know you have to study a lot and be a good programmer. With the help of my professors, this is something I’ll be able to do. My hope for the future is to introduce new ideas to the world.”

Read the CBC feature story on Noor here.

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