Josiah Afriyie’s days followed a stark pattern when he began his studies at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus.
“It was a simple triangular routine,” he recalls. “From my residence room to classes to the library and back to my room. I wasn’t even going to the cafeteria. I knew nobody and wasn’t talking to anybody.”
The Ghanaian resident, already shy by nature, worried about the influences fellow students from a different culture might have on the decisions he now had to make for himself, far from his childhood home.
Adding to his reticence was discovering that he wouldn’t be joining his classmates from home at the U of A’s much larger North Campus in Edmonton, as he’d assumed.
“I thought that the U of A had the Edmonton campus only. I didn’t even read my admission letter in detail, maybe because I was super happy,” he says now.
It was a shock to realize he’d be studying 100 km away on the much smaller Augustana Campus in the rural city of Camrose.
So he kept to himself.
“I was trying to find a balance to settle in without losing myself. I took a step back to analyze what was in front of me before I put myself out there.”
But loneliness also set in, and at the end of his first semester, he recalls, “I had no friends.” He thought he should transfer his studies to Edmonton.
But he hadn’t counted on the spirit of the close-knit Augustana Campus, whose community ultimately coaxed Afriyie from his shell as a shy first-year student and turned him into one of its busiest volunteers.
Four years on, he graduated on June 5 this year not just with a bachelor of arts degree in economics but also with a determination to keep giving as much of himself as he can to others.
“Augustana Campus worked its magic around me,” Afriyie says now. “I’ve learned that it’s always important to go the extra mile; this is a lifelong dream I am going to fulfil everywhere that I find myself, to make sure I am doing things to the best of my abilities.”
His journey started one day late in that first dreary semester when a fellow student approached Afriyie after class to ask how his studies were going. “He asked me what I do for fun, and I told him I’m always in my room.”
That reply resulted in invitations to various club meetings where he met other international students and started to feel more connected.
“At those meetings, I felt I could relate to an experience someone was sharing. It was a safe space for me. It bridged the gap to a group of students I could hang out with and have conversations with.”
A second gentle nudge towards a wider social life came from another student who noticed that Afriyie lived in residence on campus but never ate in the dining hall. Instead, he’d eat alone in his room.
“She started inviting me to eat lunch and supper with her.” Seated at a table with several people, he was soon involved in lively conversations about classes and campus life. “I started making friends and opening up to people.”
By the end of the first semester, instead of transferring to Edmonton, he decided to stay right where he was, bolstered by a growing circle of friends willing to help with everything from emotional support to class assignments.
“By then, I wanted to make as many friends as I could, to get out of my comfort zone. I put myself out there and things came together.”
Afriyie finished his time on campus leaving a legacy of volunteerism behind, recognized through several Student Life Awards.
Raised by Christian parents in Ghana, Afriyie joined the Augustana Chaplaincy, wanting to offer faith-based support to other students with religious backgrounds. Keeping his own early experience in mind, he also worked as a residence assistant for two years and tried to make sure no student felt alone.
“Josiah was that person who wanted to make everyone feel happy and welcome,” says residence co-ordinator Daniel Damile, Afriyie’s supervisor.
Afriyie embodied the campus’s caring spirit, not hesitating to drive other students to Edmonton to shop for their favourite ethnic foods to ease their homesickness, and organizing potlucks to help build a sense of community, Damile adds.
“He was always thinking of how he could make an impact. That’s the legacy he wants to leave behind so those who are watching him can do the same for the students who come after him.”
Over the years, Afriyie also served as treasurer of the campus Afri-Youth club, with the Augustana Students’ Association and as a research and teaching assistant.
Underpinning all of his efforts was a desire to smooth the way for other students. “I wanted to better their experiences on campus.”
In return, he says he leaves Augustana Campus gifted with lifelong friendships.
“I now have people I can call brothers that I can have deep discussions with. That, to me, is a win for someone who came to this campus and was finding it difficult to start a normal conversation.”
Faculty and staff have also befriended him, providing a professional support network for his eventual career working as an economist in Ghana.
“I can call them for expert advice when I face dilemmas. I don’t have to sit by myself to make tough decisions.”
His next step is to earn a master’s degree in agriculture, hopefully at the U of A – this time at North Campus, where he plans to keep reaching out, to help out.
“I will be volunteering and I’m going to encourage others to do the same. I think sometimes we underestimate the impacts we can make in life if we just make that little extra effort.”
Afriyie was supported in his student career with a University of Alberta Undergraduate Leadership Award, the Rob Ford Residence Life Leadership Award and the Reverend Palmer Olson and Reverend Ivar Saugen Chaplaincy Award.
| By Bev Betkowski
Bev is a reporter with the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.
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