Twenty-three-year-old Deng Daniel Thel came to Ryerson from a refugee camp in Kenya

Photo: Jess Tsang

Deng Daniel Thel: A refugee story

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By Olivia McLeod 

Sitting in the Pitman Hall cafeteria with Deng Daniel Thel, you would never know he found it challenging to make friends at Ryerson only a year earlier. The 23-year-old financial mathematics student is all smiles, giving a friendly nod to greet friends walking by.

Coming all the way from a refugee camp in Kenya with World University Service Canada’s Student Refugee Program was not an easy task for Thel. After a rigorous examination and interview process, only 15 of 116 qualified applicants from his high school were chosen.  Although he had earned such a great opportunity, his beginnings at Ryerson were anything but joyful.

“From the move-in day I had no one, I was just all alone. I did not know any names, did not know how to communicate well in English, and [because of my] accent I kept to myself,” he said. “Basically from the first few weeks…I isolated myself and wanted to be alone, but then I realized … this is not going to work.”

He owes his rise in comfort level to the support of his floor mates and, more importantly, from his residence advisor.

Thel said he thought he could pay it forward and make a difference for someone too and is now a Pitman hall residence advisor himself.

Being the eldest in a family of seven children, Thel said he was used to being a responsible leader to others. School was always a place for him to excel in this area, having been a student leader from primary school all the way to high school.

However, juggling academia, leadership responsibilities and friends has proven to be more difficult in Canada.

“There is a lot more schoolwork right now and a lot more responsibilities and I still want to have a social life,” he said. “But here right now, it’s like you are living like it’s home, study, and all the roles.”

Thel said he is like every other student — he finds it hard to wake up for an early class and cracks under the pressure at exam time. But throughout his life, there has never been a doubt that education is the ladder to reach his aspirations.

“[Education is] the way I achieve something that I want to do,” said Thel. “I don’t see myself trying to achieve them in a different way apart from going to school.”

As his graduation date draws near, Thel said his plans post-university are unknown. So far, staying in Canada and building a new life is an exciting option — not only for him but for his siblings to possibly come and study too.

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