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Happy to be here - by Xiaoyuan XU
Edit:shenmin Date:2010-10-28 09:54

Happy to be here:
My personal experience about culture and language

As the first cohort student of Dual Degree Program, I have been with this unique program for almost three years. After going through the exhausting visa problem, finally I came to Canada. Time flies. It has been 6 months since my arrival. About my experience of living and studying in Vancouver, I have so much to share that it is impossible to jam into one essay. Yet I think culture and language are two topics that cannot be avoid when talking about studying abroad.

Culture Exposure

Vancouver is characterized by its culture diversity. My accommodation is a proof. I rent a room in a semi-basement suite down Burnaby Mountain, shared with other four girls. One of them is local Canadian, while other three are from Japan, Indonesia and India respectively. This is very interesting that five tenants from different places around the world live under one roof. We sometime make dinner together and talk about different cultures back home and our own experiences in Canada. In the first month of my arrival, I bought dumpling skins and made Chinese dumplings at home with them. That was so much fun and my innovation of "vegetarian dumpling" impressed the vegetarian girl from India a lot.

Hanging out with my roommates is a very good approach for me to learn about different cultures. I went to the Car Free Festival in Commercial Drive with my roommate (picture on left) and felt so impressed by the crazy dancing. People gathered, performed and dressed up, as a way to convey ideas and to arouse public concern, which is something not commonly seen in China.

Culture exposure is exciting and valuable as one major motivation for me to come here. On the other hand, I used to feel nervous for being in a new country by myself. Yet one benefit of joining this Dual Degree Program is that I was able to learn a lot about situation here. Before coming to SFU, I got to know the Canadian students in China. We took same classes and become good friends. Through them, I knew it rains a lot in winter; I knew SFU campus is located on Burnaby Mountain with white clouds drifting by; I knew there are places where I can get authentic Chinese food. Although the feeling of excitement and surprising might be diluted, advance knowledge of the situation here definitely helped me to adapt to this new country.

Acquiring a Second Language

Beside different cultural experience, to master a second language is another driver for me to join this unique program, but then language might be a big obstacle for most international students. However, in Vancouver, where tons of Chinese congregate and the ubiquitous Mandarin speakers pass in malls or on street, this is a different story. Sometime I would end up with speaking zero English for the whole day and even totally forget the fact that I am in North America. Nevertheless, I realized from my half a year experience in SFU that many opportunities should be exploited to improve English ability.

Live with non-Chinese

As mentioned above, I share a semi-basement with four girls. One thing I like about this place is that besides me there is no Chinese living here, which forces me into daily English conversation. Especially, one of my roommates, a four year student majored in communication in SFU, helps me a lot with my English. She used to study in China for two years and have a Chinese boyfriend, which leads to many common topics among us. Gradually, we become close friends and have so much to talk about, China, Canada, politics, economics, schoolwork, family member, and even personal relationship. She makes me traditional Canadian cuisine, shows me around Vancouver and introduces me good magazines and café. More nicely, she tends to correct mistakes I make during daily conversation and would proof read my essay if she has time.

As I know, many Chinese students here tend to stay in their own social circles and complain about the difficulties to get involved in local community. I believe it takes some effort to be completed integrated. However, if possible, moving to a place where you are the only Chinese is a good approach to expose yourself in an English environment and enhance your language ability.

Join clubs and volunteer

It may not be easy to find a place nice, cheap and has native speaker as roommate as well. Another easy approach is to join clubs and do volunteer work. I am currently a commitment volunteer in Women Centre. They have weekly meetings, where collective members get together, discuss women related topics and sometime organize events for the centre. Attending these meeting enables me to practice higher level vocabularies and improve my ability to express ideas in English. In addition to this commitment position, I also volunteered for many events in school, such like Open House (picture below), Orientation, Scholarship Reward Social Event and etc. Through these volunteering experiences, I met people and talked with them. To me, it is always a fun and easy way to practice spoken English. There are also many clubs in SFU, most of which hold weekly or bi-weekly meeting. I am currently in Women In Computer Science and Origami Club. I made many friends through events organized by these clubs. Sometime, I help them out with organizing and advertising events, which requires communicating with other students or faculty members in English and sometime writing in English. Progresses in English ability are made imperceptibly through these activities.

Take English courses

One traditional and efficient way to improve language ability is taking English courses. Many students might feel it boring and even painful. However, my experience of taking ENG199 (Introduction to Academic Writing), a W course offered by English department, is not too bad. Admittedly, this course requires a lot of homework, at least two articles for reading and one writing assignment every week, plus having quiz before every lecture. Yet, I can feel that heavy workload results in a great improvement. For each assignment, professor would give detailed comments and specific suggestions. Impressively, she is always approachable and helpful outside class hours. She gave me tips for taking quiz, arranged extra office hour in Burnaby for me (this course is offered in Surrey) and even discuss about her own experience of learning a second language with me. As a low level English writing course, none of other students in this class are Chinese or in Computing Science. In a classroom with rose-colored walls where 17 students sit in a circle, some occasional joke would make the whole class burst into spontaneous laughter. It seems not that horrible to take an English course.

All in all, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be here. I believe it would be the most rewarding experience of my life.