January 6, 2006
Should I stay or should I go?
For one international student, Canada is the obvious choice
by Caitlin Crawshaw
When Dennis Uvbiama arrived at the University of Alberta two years ago, he quickly realized he wasn't in Kansas – or rather, Nigeria – anymore.
Everything about Edmonton was vastly different from his hometown of Warri, and even Benin City, where he'd gone to university. And the Hollywood depictions of North America hardly provided a working knowledge of Canada.
"I'd seen the New York movies and the Chicago movies, and when I got to Edmonton, I expected something close. I didn't really understand what Canada or much of the Western world looked like. We see them on the movies and think everything's the same – but it's not," said Uvbiama, who completes his master's degree in civil engineering at the U of A this year. "I knew that I had to be flexible in what I'd known before now, and what I would be seeing in the coming years."
Edmonton was a lot colder than he anticipated. Only a week into the fall semester, he realized the jacket he'd bought in Nigeria would offer little warmth. He bought a proper winter coat before the city faced its first dump of snow – in October. He'd been warned that the snow and cold would be hard to bear, but nothing prepared him for his first Edmonton winter.
"One morning I was supposed to go to class and everywhere was just white. My roommate said it had snowed in the night. I said, 'Oh, OK. Here we go!'"
Since then, he's learned to cope with the snow. And Uvbiama has decided the weather is a small price to pay for the life here.
"Even though Canada is cold, different from Nigeria, one aspect that comes to my mind every time is the fact that the system really works. You want something, you know where to go, if you have the information. You get there, and if you're supposed to get it, you get it. I know there are bureaucracies, but it doesn't prevent the average person from getting what they want done," he said.
Things aren't so simple in Nigeria, Uvbiama explains. "Sometimes you can go for days without power. Here, you turn on the taps and the water runs, and the lights never go out. Somehow people think it's natural, but it's not."
A lot of engineering goes into our utilities, says Uvbiama, and it's a reliable political and economic system that keeps this engineering in place.
Now Uvbiama is completing his degree and looking forward to a new phase in his life. While he hasn't quite graduated yet, he's already been hired by a Calgary engineering firm, and has decided to stay in Alberta rather than move back to Nigeria.
"Alberta for me should be the leading province in Canada in terms of development and economic growth. And even education-wise, the province is putting a lot of effort into getting to the top," he said.
"And you see that here, in how much money they're putting forward to getting things going. So the rankings might not really reflect that right now, but I'm sure this province is going to be the best in the next 10, 15 years. And that's why I want to stay in Alberta."