When Rahaf Geisa arrived in Cape Breton in September of 2017, what surprised her most was the people.
Geisa, 19, of Egypt, is in her second year of studies for a bachelor of science (chemistry) degree at Cape Breton University.
“People say Canadians are friendly, but I didn’t expect that friendly,” she says. “A stranger will smile and say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ They treat me the same, not like a different person.
“I like that very much.”
It all began when Geisa was searching for a university. She wanted to explore her love of travel but also wanted to improve her English so began looking for an English-speaking country in which to attend school.
“Canada was one of the first options and especially CBU, as it is known in Egypt better than any other universities in Canada.”
The Canadian International College in Cairo has an international partnership with CBU.
Geisa took a virtual tour of CBU online and liked what she saw.
“I looked at the Great Hall with all the flags and imagined how it was going to be.”
She also searched Cape Breton in general and was most excited to see it was an island.
“I thought living on an island would be incredible. It seemed peaceful and quiet and not very busy.”
Geisa had come from Danta, Egypt, with a population of five million.
“Life is hectic there, it’s very busy and very crowded.”
She also liked the idea of CBU being a small university where the professors can communicate directly with their students.
But she was surprised by just how quiet Cape Breton actually is.
“Here, you don’t see people out walking on the street on a Sunday,” she said.
“Also, everything closes at 6 or 7 p.m. and I wonder, ‘How is that possible?’ Where I’m from night life starts at 5 p.m.”
The cold weather was also a surprise, but it was exciting for her to see snow for the first time.
It happened during a chemistry lecture two years ago when a girl in her class — who was seeing snow for the first time as well — suddenly shouted “there’s the snow!”
“It was my first time ever (seeing snow) and I was really excited.”
Despite her excitement, she reluctantly waited until after class to go out and see it.
“I’m a nerdy person who doesn’t skip lectures,” she said, laughing.
Geisa said she is religious and does miss the spiritual connection with Islam that she feels in Egypt.
“(But) there is a community of Egyptians here, so I do have somewhat of a connection.”
After CBU, Geisa plans to apply for medical school with hopes of becoming a neurosurgeon. Where she’ll land afterwards, she doesn’t know.
“That’s seven years away, it’s too early to make those plans.”
Geia’s parents came in the summer for a visit that turned into something completely different.
“We went kayaking, we went canoeing, hiking, and swimming in the ocean was the best part — it was wonderful.”
And now she doesn’t have to worry about missing her family anymore.
“My parents liked it here so much they stayed and opened Khufu Bakery and Restaurant in Sydney.”
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