June 4, 2021

Class of 2021: Far from home, she's passionate about helping refugees find their way

International student Goundo Diarra has a big dream and an undaunted approach to adventure, hard work and determination to succeed
A woman stands in a floral dress and a graduation cap in front of some bushes

In 2017, a few weeks into her first semester at UCalgary, Goundo Diarra boarded a city bus at Brentwood Station with the expectation that she’d be back in her nearby campus dorm within a few minutes. Growing up in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya where, Diarra says, she was familiar with a generally less reliable but far more flexible transit system, she realized too late that she’d boarded the bus on the wrong side of the road.

She eventually asked, and was reassured by the driver that, yes, she would arrive back at the university. Three hours and one circuitous city tour later, she was home.

Diarra, who calls herself a “global citizen,” laughs about the experience now but, as she graduates with a combined Bachelor of Arts degree (honours) in International Relations and Anthropology, she says she’s found its inherent metaphor enduringly useful and inspiring. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there,” she says. “Just keep going and enjoy the journey — you’ll get to your destination.”   

Indeed, Diarra has approached her academic experience — thousands of miles away from her family in Mali — with remarkable curiosity, courage and passion. She left western Africa to come on her own to university in Calgary where she was determined to complete a five-year degree in four years.

“I took six courses most semesters and two each spring,” says Diarra. As well, she volunteered for the Students' Union, the Student Conduct Office and served as a student mentor with International Student Services. Along the way, she’s made lifelong friends, embraced the cold weather and added beginner Arabic to the list of languages she speaks (including French, Spanish, Swahili and Bamanankan). As well, she says, she discovered that “throughout this whole experience and in life in general, it’s the connections you make that will contribute to your success.”

This fall, Diarra will begin graduate school at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her ultimate career dream is an extraordinary and ambitious one: “I’ve known since I was very young that I wanted to work with refugees — I want to take the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.” She intends to be part of a significant increase in the number of women at that level of administration — and, most importantly, she wants to make a lasting difference in how refugees are perceived, welcomed and empowered.

No doubt, she’ll make the most of her adventure in getting there.

UCalgary convocation

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

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