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High-achieving refugee student heads off to top economics graduate school

June 11, 2020

Since arriving at Simon Fraser University (SFU) four years ago, economics honours student William Raphael has made the most of his undergraduate degree. He represented SFU as a varsity athlete on the men's soccer team, worked as a fund manager at the Vancouver Social Value Fund (VSVF), and led the SFU World University Services of Canada (WUSC) Local Committee to support incoming refugee students. 

"Juggling a full course load while actively participating in these roles was extremely difficult but worth it," says Raphael. His efforts have certainly paid off. After graduating from SFU this spring, he is moving to the east coast to start in the highly competitive Master of Financial Economics program at the University of Toronto

Born in the small village of Chukudum in South Sudan, Raphael has come far to where he is today. After he and 130 other students living in refugee camps around the world were selected by WUSC for Canadian residency sponsorship, SFU funded his education through the SFU WUSC Student Refugee Program (SRP).

The SFU Student Refugee Program (SRP) sponsorship meant everything to me. It meant that I could continue my dream of getting the best education in Canada.


The sponsorship not only provided Raphael access to a world-class university education, it also led him to discover his interest in economics.

"When I joined SFU, I wasn't sure what I wanted to pursue but taking ECON 103 drew me to economics," says Raphael. "My experience in the honours program stands out in my undergraduate life. The small cohort size fostered interactive learning, helped me forge long-lasting friendships, and provided opportunities to connect with my instructors."

Another highlight of Raphael's time at SFU was his involvement with VSVF, a student-led social value fund that invests in Vancouver-based impact-focused enterprises. Raphael says, "Having the opportunity as a student to make investment decisions in local companies that promote environmental, economic, and social impact was a once-in-a-lifetime experience." 

As Raphael heads off to pursue his graduate studies and eventually a career in capital markets, he is grateful to the SFU community for supporting him along the way. 

"A strong support system is paramount to success—most students, especially international students, do not have their families around and dealing with mental health can be an uphill battle," says Raphael. "I was lucky to have Wafaa Zaquot and professor Catherine D’Andrea from SRP to support me with my personal struggles, and also the economics advisor Azam Bhatti for always being there to uplift me."

On a final note, Raphael reiterates the importance of having the university's support, "With the refugee crisis around the world, I hope SFU will increase awareness and encourage more faculty to volunteer with SRP. Having faculty support makes a big difference for SRP students especially in the first year when transition is the most important factor for academic and mental well-being."

Favourite Courses

  • ECON 103: Principles of Microeconomics with Doug Allen 
    • "His captivating mode of teaching, immense emphasis on critical thinking, and applicability of economics principles to human behaviours intrigued me."
  • ECON 403: Advanced Microeconomics with Anke Kessler 
    •  "I learned a disciplined, logical, and systemic way of thinking through this course which I found powerful whenever I have a conversation with anybody."
  • ECON 410: Seminar in Monetary Theory with Dave Cox
    • "I enjoyed this course. It cemented my goal to pursue a career in the capital markets."