To begin with, let me introduce myself. My name is Amgad Zaky, I’m originally from Upper Egypt (Southern Egypt) where I have spent the majority of my life. I finished most of my education in Egyptian schools, however, I completed my undergraduate university studies in Lebanon between 2008 and 2013. Upon the completion of my undergrad in 2013, I returned to Egypt and worked there for 3 years. During that time I worked for humanitarian and non-profit organizations, where I was able to make many connections, one of them being the reason why I am here. I got acquainted with my Canadian best friend and sponsor, Dr. Barry Wecker, who encouraged me to pursue my graduate studies in Canada. Following his idea to complete my studies here was one of the biggest decisions I have made in my life. I submitted my application and was accepted into the Master of Development Practice at the University of Waterloo – Canada’s most innovative university!
Prior to the trip, I was a bit scared. Yes, I was very happy to have been accepted into one of Canada’s best universities, but I also felt somewhat overwhelmed. The program I enrolled in was course-based and would require a lot of work. It also was a new field for me, but one that was really exciting and challenging. So I decided to take up the challenge, do my best, learn as much as I could, and develop myself and my character as much as I possibly could.
When I first arrived in Canada in August 2016, I was received by my Canadian family. We met in Boston and drove to New Brunswick where they lived. As we drove, they were making comments about the Canadian wilderness, but I was unable to understand what they meant by “wilderness.” Growing up, my version of wilderness was the desert but apparently, that wasn’t the case here; as for them, the wilderness they referred to was the forest and the trees that were everywhere!
I spent the first month of my Canadian experience in New Brunswick. I got to explore the province, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my host family who took great care of me and welcomed me wholeheartedly. I experienced autumn for the first time there, and I was able to witness the spectacular colours and scenery of Canada’s fall season. I also had my first kayaking and camping experience on the Tobique, a river in northwestern New Brunswick rising from Nictau Lake in Mount Carleton Provincial Park. Some friends that I had made there invited me to this trip, and we visited the Miller Canoe Factory; where they specialise in building hand-made canoes. During this trip, I got the chance to meet Bill Miller, the extremely skilled owner of this factory. He shared some of his stories of canoe building and took me on a tour around the factory and showed me some pretty amazing hand-made canoes.
I really had a good time in New Brunswick and I fell in love with this province. I also got to visit Quebec City and Montreal before I headed off to the University of Waterloo to begin my fall term. I definitely had the best introduction to Canada.
After I arrived in Waterloo, I quickly made new friends. I met my new classmates and attended orientation week. I learned a lot of things about the university and its system and that was really helpful. It was the first time for me to use the internet to register for classes, pay tuition and check out my grades. Quest and LEARN were two new systems for me through which I enrolled in my classes, paid tuition, and had access to learning materials and syllabi.
I quickly adjusted to the university and to the system. At first, I was totally confused and lost. For instance, I had no idea how the bus system worked and was unsure how to go around the city. But I quickly figured it all out, and now I can go around and explore very easily. It is actually starting to feel like home! My first term was a tough one, but I did my best, and I am very grateful that I was able to learn so many new ideas and concepts.
Winter was slowly approaching, and I had been told to just wait for it. I had never experienced a temperature that was below zero in my whole life. I knew it could go down to -20 or -30, and I was really concerned. I was wondering if I would ever survive that kind of weather! Well, so far it has not turned out to be a bad winter after all, and I decided that I would enjoy it and make the most out of it. During the Winter break, I went back to New Brunswick and spent the Christmas holidays with my host family. We did all sorts of winter activities there, from shovelling snow to skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and even swimming in the snow!! I discovered that winter wasn’t really that bad after all, and I learned the secrets to enjoying it and making the most out of it.
I’m currently in the second term of my MDP program and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m learning many new things and I think that I’m growing and developing as a person. I had studied about online learning when I was in middle school back in Egypt, but I never had the opportunity to take an online course or really experience online learning. This term I’m taking my first online course on global health, and it is really exciting.
Lastly, I would like to say that I have had an amazing and enriching experience so far in Canada. I have learned so much about this country and its culture. I have made many new friends. As a matter of fact, some of my Canadian friends tell me that I’m more Canadian than they are because I have done and experienced more Canadian things than they have in their whole life! This makes me happy and excited. I look forward to many more experiences. I look forward to the completion of my degree and finding a good job. I look forward to falling more in love with CANADA!
Amgad is a student in the 5th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice Program. His research interests are in urban development, local food systems, women empowerment, project development, green economy, minority rights, conflict resolution and peace building.