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From South Sudan to U of T: “I’m glad I came here — my story would never have been the same.”

Photo of: Bol Maluach Kuot

Bol Maluach Kuot. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Bol Maluach Kuot, a fourth-year University of Toronto student from South Sudan, is also a poster child for Tim Horton’s.

Kuot first arrived in Toronto in 2011 two weeks before orientation began, and the dining halls were not yet open. His mentor from World University Services Canada took him to Tim’s for lunch, and it became his mainstay; since it was close to his residence hall, he didn’t get lost en route.

“I went to Tim’s every day,” said Kuot, a University College student majoring in anthropology and African studies. “It became my friend. It was the only place I knew.”

In the intervening four years, Kuot has become much more comfortable with Toronto and the U of T campus. He no longer gets lost finding buildings and cycles to campus from an apartment in the east end that he shares with his brother, a student at Victoria College.

“It helped to have him here,” Kuot said. “The first year was tough. International students need more support than others. It’s an overwhelming university. In school in Kenya, the professors used chalk, not slides, and I was introduced to a computer mouse for the first time.”

He also found that university was much different than high school.

“In high school, teachers announced the assignments. Here, we were given a syllabus with due dates and problem sets, but I threw it away, because I thought the teacher would be making announcements,” Kuot said. “By the time I found out that all the assignments were online, some of the problem sets were already due.”

Since that time, Kuot has made it his mission to mentor other African students and help them to feel at home at U of T, first through a MasterCard Foundation mentorship program and then as an Arts & Science student ambassador. He is also involved in the African Students Association and the Catholic Students Association.

“Ninety per cent of the African students know me, since I’ve been mentoring African students,” Kuot said. “A lot of them have the same issues I had.”

It took Kuot some time to get his bearings at U of T, and he offers other international students the benefit of his experience.

“The first year, I concentrated on my studies,” Kuot said. “The second year, I took a different approach. I joined clubs and finally went to the gym and discovered that my grade-point average was better, because I was happier and having a well-balanced life.

“I tell my mentees to take advantage of these resources. They should make use of the clubs, the First-year Learning Communities and supports like the Math Aid Centres. They are really helpful.

“The university is coming up with more mentorship programs and they are a good thing. I could imagine that if I didn’t have my brother here and there was no one to talk to, it would have been very stressful.”

His U of T experiences have also given him a new focus: the eventual goal of helping his native village in South Sudan by establishing a school there. Participation in an International Course Module a sponsored research trip abroad during Reading Week  to Ethiopia made him realize his potential.

“That trip changed my life,” he said. “It is the reason I chose to major in African studies. Prior to that, I thought, ‘Why would I? I’m African already.’

“I was inspired, and I’m aiming toward a master’s degree in education or international development. I want to come and work for the African Union.”

Kuot, who fled the conscription of child soldiers in South Sudan as a youngster, said the opportunity to attend university has altered his path in life.

“I’m glad I came here,” Kuot said. “My story would never have been the same.”