12-year-old studying honours physics at University of Waterloo
Published Wednesday, August 31, 2016 6:33PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, August 31, 2016 6:57PM EDT
For many people, teaching themselves English and getting accepted into a university on another continent would be unthinkable achievements.
For Diki Suryaatmadja, it’s just the beginning.
When classes start at the University of Waterloo in September, the 12-year-old Suryaatmadja will be the youngest student on campus. As far as anyone at the school can tell, he’s the youngest person ever enrolled there.
“I feel excited, but a bit nervous about the transition in culture,” Suryaatmadja, who was fast-tracked through elementary and high schools in his home country of Indonesia, said Wednesday.
Suryaatmadja was accepted to Waterloo this year as an honours physics student. He’ll also be taking classes in chemistry, math and economics.
Even though the 12-year-old only arrived in Canada earlier this week, he’s already forming some first impressions of his new home.
“This country has very nice people,” he said.
“They are very kind, reliable and polite.”
Winter worries him a little bit. While he’s excited to learn to skate, he worries that the cold weather means he won’t be able to spend as much time jogging and doing other outdoor activities he enjoys.
Suryaatmadja will be living off-campus with his family, which means he won’t be part of the student residence experience.
University officials say they’ll be working with him to ensure he adjusts to the social aspects of university life, in ways they might not be so quick to with older students.
“A 17-year-old is aware of what we have, but it’s up to them to take advantage of that,” said Andre Jardin, the school’s associate registrar of admissions.
“Given that he’s 12, we felt he probably could use some more guidance.”
For example, Jardin said, Suryaatmadja might be connected directly with his academic advisor, instead of simply being given information about them. Finding an upper-year student to serve as a mentor is another possibility. University workers will also be in regular contact with his family.
“We just want to make sure that he integrates socially and has a great experience and is successful, like any other student,” Jardin said.
“He’s fully prepared academically. What we have to address is the fact that he is a 12-year-old boy.”
Since the program Suryaatmadja is enrolled in typically takes four years to complete, he could be a university graduate before he’s old enough to drive a car on his own in Ontario.
He’s already making plans for what he wants to accomplish through his studies. One idea is to invent a cheaper, renewable source of energy.
“I want to change the world,” he said.
“I’m still young, and I still have a lot of time in this world.”
Jardin says the school’s admission staff make their decisions without taking into account information like age and gender, and Suryaatmadja’s application was approved before anyone realized his age.
“He had phenomenal grades,” he says, adding that Suryaatmadja had some of the highest marks of anyone being accepted into Waterloo this year.
For his part, Suryaatmadja says he heard from friends that Waterloo was a “great university,” and came to the same conclusion when he researched it himself – so he applied.
With reporting by Alexandra Pinto