New University of Waterloo student Diki Suryaatmadja is 12 years old

Diki Suryaatmadja is 12 years old, and the youngest student to attend the University of Waterloo. He'll be studying honours physics this year, as well as math, chemistry and economics.

Taught himself English by watching comedies and action movies with subtitles

Indonesian 12-year-old will be taking physics at the University of Waterloo

7 years ago
Duration 2:15
Boy from Indonesia is studying chemistry, math and economics at the University of Waterloo

Like other 12-year-olds, Cendikiawan (Diki) Suryaatmadja is getting ready for a new school year, meeting his classmates and getting his books.

But unlike other 12-year-olds, Diki is going to the University of Waterloo to study honours physics, with a few classes in math, chemistry and economics.

Little by little, through osmosis, you can learn [a] language.— Diki Suryaatmadja

"I'm very excited to meet the new students and make new friends," he said in an interview with CBC News.

As far as the school's associate registrar, Andre Jardin, is aware, Diki is the youngest student in the southern Ontario university's history.

"It is quite unusual, there are not many 12-year-olds that I'm aware of studying at university," said Jardin.

"But again it's not unheard of. I recently saw another 12-year-old starting at a top school in the United States."

Diki, who is from West Java, a province in Indonesia, will be living with his father in an apartment near the university, while he completes his schooling. 

"I think it's great. The people are very nice, and very polite. I like it so far," Diki said of his new home. 

"Obviously there will be a transition in culture, the food is also different, one of the thing[s] I miss. And the weather too, it's much colder, because my hometown is a tropical country."

Taught himself English

Diki taught himself English in about six months, by living in Singapore, reading English articles and watching English movies with subtitles, especially comedies.

"Little by little, through osmosis, you can learn [a] language," he said. 

After fast-tracking through school in his home country, he applied to the University of Waterloo because of its good reputation. 

A sign at the entrance to the University of Waterloo campus in Waterloo, Ont. (University of Waterloo )

"It attracts me because I'm particularly interested in science, and it is also one of the best … universities for science subjects in Canada," he said. "I would like to keep on exploring and finding out new things, but I dream of creating more renewable and cheaper energy."

He says he also likes jogging and swimming and would like to try ice skating in the winter.

"I'm in a four-season country, I would like to try it," he said. But he's not sure he'll get the hang of it right away. "I think I will fall. That's why I think I need to use a full-body armour." 

He's experienced winter before, in Kazakhstan, where, he said, "it feels like your skin is cracking from inside." 

Strong application

Jardin says when an admission officer reviewed Diki's application, she saw it was strong and recommended accepting him, and then realized how young he was. 

"When we assess students we're not looking at gender, ethnicity, background. What we're really looking at is the system of education if they are an international student and assessing their admissibility," said Jardin.

"And then of course, we do all of our checks from that point. So first, it was, he's admitted or admissible, and the next step is, okay, he's 12."

Diki was also awarded a scholarship.

"When I met him, obviously it was just for a short period of time, and he was very charismatic and outgoing, so it was just great to see that because I think it will help him really integrate well," said Jardin.

"We know he's capable academically, he had a great overall application as I mentioned, so now it's just a matter of helping him settle in."

with files from Greg Ross