In 2002 Bernard Burgesson and his family trekked 7,500 kilometers from Ghana to Nova Scotia in pursuit of a better life and increased opportunity. The transition from West Africa to Canada was not an easy one, but Bernard refers to it as ‘a blessing’ - one that included a university basketball career and, now, studies in Medicine. Bernard is writing his own story while encouraging other young athletes to follow his lead into university and what he calls "not improbable" careers in the sciences.
Here is the first installment of the UP interview with Bernard...
Q. Please describe yourself.
A. My name is Bernard Burgesson. I am a 26-year-old, 4th-year student at Dalhousie University Medical School. My family immigrated to Canada in 2002 [from Ghana, West Africa] in pursuit of better educational opportunities. We were fortunate to settle down in the close-knit community of Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. My family now resides in Halifax.
Q. Where did you/do you study? What you do now? And where do you plan to be, professionally speaking, in the near future?
A. I completed by undergraduate education at Queen’s University in Ontario in 2013 with a major in Biology. Queen’s was one of a few schools to offer me the opportunity to play basketball at the university level. Currently I am in the 4th year of my medical education at Dalhousie University and will be graduating in the spring of 2018. I am planning on pursuing a career in Orthopaedic surgery which will mean an additional five years of medical training as a resident physician.
Q. Opportunity was the motivator to move to Canada. How specifically has that decision benefited you?
A. The decision to move to Canada was a difficult one, especially for my parents who had spent most of their lives in Ghana and were well rooted there. Canada, specifically Nova Scotia, was, and continues to be, a blessing to me. Our move afforded us better educational opportunities and easy access to key resources for pursuing these opportunities. Over the years, ready access to government resources/grants/scholarships has allowed me to focus on maximizing my potential in the classroom without much financial strain.
Q. What were some of the challenges that came with a trans-Atlantic move?
A. The weather was the most immediate challenge we faced as a family (we made the move in March 2002 following a number of successive winter storms). Assimilation into Canadian culture and society also came with many challenging experiences, some due to cultural differences and racial biases. However, the lessons learned from these experiences did, and continue to, play a key role in my development as a well-rounded individual. Over the years I have learned to be consistent with my core values, yet maintain enough flexibility and awareness to adjust these core beliefs where necessary.
Q. You have accomplished a lot in both sport and academia. What are some of the keys to your progression?
A. Goal setting and self-motivation are keys parts of my daily routine. I struggled in my first two years at Queen’s trying to strike a balance between academics and basketball. The change came in my third year when I made the decision to re-adjust the course of my academic career in pursuit of a career in medicine. Goal setting to me has two tiers: short and long-term. I began by re-establishing my long-term goal of a career in Medicine; my short-term goals were mostly daily/weekly/monthly academic targets which I adopted to help lead me towards my long-term goal. Along the way I have also come to learn the value of discipline in working towards one’s goals. I have by no means mastered this process, and may never do so, but I believe that persistently working at them offers me the best chance at maximizing my full potential. It has worked so far!