The Bull
A photo essay documenting an international student in Belleville, Ont. navigating loneliness. Captured in fall 2021 for a documentary photography course at Loyalist College.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, hugs a goal post at Mary-Anne Sills Field on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 during a practice for the Quinte Skyhawks. A defensive linebacker, Ekpenyong is playing football for the first time but comes from a rugby background. “I get beat up in football but not as bad as rugby,” he said, comparing the two sports.

London, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, smiles during halftime at a football game against the London Beefeaters at City Wide Sports Park on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. A defensive linebacker for the Quinte Skyhawks and new to the sport, Ekpenyong had little playing time during this game. The Beefeaters, one of the top teams in the Ontario conference of the Canadian Junior Football League, beat the Skyhawks 49-0.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, works out at the Loyalist College Fitness Centre on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Sometimes booking multiple sessions in a day, Ekpenyong said he’s lonely. “I go to the gym to cope,” he said.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, takes a break during a workout at Loyalist College on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. A defensive lineman for the Quinte Skyhawks, Ekpenyong will spend five times a week at the school’s fitness centre. As part of his five-year contract with the Skyhawks, a team of the Canadian Junior Football League, Ekpenyong said he is expected to train and attend practices throughout the year.

Belleville, Ont.—A family photo is shown on Efio-Ita Ekpenyong’s phone from his home on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Ekpenyong grew up with his parents and three siblings in Calabar, Nigeria. He is the youngest of his siblings and the last to leave home, he said. His older sisters live in the United States and his brother lives in Toronto.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, smiles while watching football from his home on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. He said he used to watch soccer on the television growing up but now watches football as a player of the Quinte Skyhawks. Marked beneath his knee is a bubbled scar from a gunshot wound he received while growing up in Nigeria.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong speaks with a relative on the phone while preparing dinner at home on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. During the call, he pretended to just get home, slamming a cupboard drawer for effect.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, shares a laugh with Pat Thompson at Jack Cooks Wee Sports Pub on Wednesday, Dec. 1. Thompson’s husband, Rick, is one of Ekpenyong’s coaches on the Quinte Skyhawks football team. Both teachers, Pat and Rick said spending time with Ekpenyong is an opportunity to learn about a new culture. Ekpenyong refers to the couple as “mom and dad.”

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, stands outside of the Robert E. Ladoucier transit centre on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Three months earlier, he was standing in the same spot when a bus driver approached him about joining the Quinte Skyhawks football team. The bus driver, who was on break at the time, briefly mentioned the Canadian Junior Football League (CFJL), then promptly asked for Ekpenyong’s address. “He said, ‘You know what? I'm just going to pick you up today,’” Ekpenyong said of the brief, five-minute conversation. That same day, Ekpenyong was driven to his first Quinte Skyhawks practice and not long after, he signed a five-year contract with the team despite having never touched a football before.

Belleville, Ont.—Efio-Ita Ekpenyong, 18, helps himself to jello at Buffet Garden’s dessert bar on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, also his fifth plate at the Chinese restaurant. He describes himself as a "garbage can" and said he comes to the buffet to get his money's worth for the $25 all-you-can-eat meal.

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