The Power of Belonging: How one Alum found lasting community through shared interests at Shad2023
When Folasewa Ofurune first arrived in Canada from Nigeria two years ago, it was a big adjustment. Her new environment was very different from what she had been used to, and she and her family of five did not know many people around their new community in Sussex, New Brunswick, to help with the transition. Though there is a vibrant Nigerian population in New Brunswick, most live in the larger cities of Moncton and Fredericton.
“I was excited to be in Canada because it was a new environment and I got to explore new things, but when school started, I started to question whether I was supposed to be there. It was a little bit hard trying to figure out school and starting to make friends.”
Folasewa’s Dad works for the Multicultural Association in New Brunswick, which helped him to make connections with other newcomers to Canada, as well as the larger Nigerian community in the province. Though this helped Folasewa make friends with others in the wider community, it didn’t change her situation at school. Though she formed quality bonds with a small group of friends, she felt like she hadn’t yet made connections with many of her peers.
“At my school, me and my brother are the only Black people and there are few people from different countries. There’re no real groups of people that share a different background, and it’s like that across the whole town.”
When Folasewa heard about Shad from a friend she’d met at a French summer camp the previous year, she was excited. She had always been interested in technology and hoped to pursue a career in cyber security. She thought Shad would provide her with a great opportunity to explore her interests with a group of peers who got excited about the same things.
“I have always been interested in the technology fields, so when a friend told me about Shad, I thought I should try it out because it would help me as I move into university and start to really explore STEAM.”
Folasewa was thrilled when she got her Shad acceptance letter inviting her to the program’s University of Prince Edward island (UPEI) campus, which was a part of the East Coast she hadn’t yet explored. When she arrived at ShadUPEI, she felt a mix of nerves and excitement about what was in store for the month ahead.
“It was a little rough at the beginning, because I was away from home for the first time. But I knew I was there for a month, so I had to figure myself out. And it was so worth it.”
Folasewa quickly adjusted to the change of pace of life on a university campus and loved the experience of engaging in new ways with the STEAM subjects she loved, while also participating in fun team-building activities that helped to cultivate a close-knit community of peers. She particularly enjoyed Shad Speaks, where students have an opportunity to present on a topic that they’re passionate about. It’s meant to help the Shads share aspects of themselves with each other and build common connections.
“Shad was a lot about community and connections with other people. I loved the Shad Speaks activities, because it allowed everyone to share the parts of ourselves that make us who we are and to really get to know each other.”
She was excited to be able to explore a university campus on the East Coast, since Folasewa hopes to study Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick or Dalhousie University so that she can pursue her career goals closer to family. She was inspired by the lessons shared by the lecturers, who encouraged the Shads to always ask questions and nurture their curiosity. The emphasis on openness to new ideas really resonated with Folasewa, since she didn’t always feel like she was challenged with different perspectives in her daily life.
“At Shad, there were people from different places with different perspectives and I was able to bond with all of them over shared interests.”
Folasewa found comfort in an environment where although they all came from different backgrounds and carried different perspectives, they shared a love of learning and an openness to new experiences.
“Shad helped me to become more open to different views and ideas. It made me more excited to explore the different ways of thinking about STEM and opened my eyes to different opportunities.”
Most importantly, she felt she had found a place where she belonged, a feeling she hadn’t fully experienced in a while. Being surrounded by people who she felt understood her made her feel as though she could really open herself up to the lessons being shared.
“Learning without feeling like you belong doesn’t make you feel good, because you don’t feel connected to the people around you. It makes it difficult for the learning to stick because you can’t be as present, you feel out of place. At Shad, it was different, I felt like I could say anything and express myself without the fear of being judged because everyone was just sharing their ideas from different points of view.”
Folasewa plans to share her experience at Shad with her peers in New Brunswick and hopes that she can encourage others who are looking for a place of belonging to apply.
“It’s such a good idea to attend Shad because you experience so many things. You learn so much from the people who provide the lectures, and you learn so much from the hands-on activities that you do, and you make so many great connections with people you’d otherwise never meet…it was truly the best summer of my life.”