Topic: in such a microcosm, the capability of embracing

Topic: International Student’s Adaption/Transition Year

Ratings: Inspiring, Emotional

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Description: Living and studying in a different country, especially at a school like Appleby College, means encountering different nationalities and cultures in the community. Crystal Jiang delivers an inspiring TED Talk, revealing that Canada does not represent a utopia. On occasions, she still experiences discomfort, shame and homesickness. However, these unpleasant experiences are either temporary or unimportant, in such a microcosm, the capability of embracing diversity makes all the difference.

Teleporting back to 2016, July 20th, I was at Shanghai airport, near the security check. People were rushing into the fast-moving line surrounded by the opaque glass walls. I strolled, letting them pass by. At the entrance, I looked back. Mom and dad were standing outside with a fence blocking them. Staring at my every step, they expressed two official-fake smiles. They acted if they were happy and unconcerned to give away their baby girl to another country where they don’t even understand the language and a school that had only been seen in some photos.

When I first stepped in Appleby, I was soon amazed regarding how many different nationalities and cultures are represented in our Appleby community. I found people walking around with different skin and hair colors, and one of the things I enjoyed to do is to walk along the road of those international flags and spoke each country’s name silently.

However, living in a community that is so diverse, mutual understanding does not come easy. So, I tried to be adaptive. Soon, I adjusted to the bigger food portions, replied “good” to all the “how are you” questions even I was having a bad day. And, I felt so content with my progress that I gradually built a cozy refuge with peers of my culture, my age and who thought and acted exactly as I did. I mean, why bother talking to anyone else? The assignments and essays were already so overwhelming, and meeting people outside my circle just seemed so scary and unnecessary.

Then, on one particular day, things changed. It was a normal Wednesday, and I was walking out of the memorial building, staring at the row of flags as always. I saw the flag of China was waving nicely between the flag of Czech and Australia, and suddenly an impulse came up to me: I don’t know anyone from these nationalities! I mean, what a waste for me to ignore the diversity of experiences and perspectives that Appleby College offered? I decided again to try to join in to other cultural groups, but it was more difficult than I had thought. I experienced an awkward situation when I had to explain a joke that no one understood, the nervousness of asking questions about trendy words and cultural stories that just seemed so obvious, and the anger of defending my beliefs only to receive suspicion and aloofness in return. I became more vulnerable and more dependent on my mom every day that I texted her for hours just to tell her what a loser I was and wait for some comfort.

My mom was extremely distressed; she even thought I was moving in the direction of deep depression and she started to fly back and forth to visit me. However, with every effort on her part, I used more stories and tears to break her heart. Finally, we were both exhausted, and at this point, I realized that the solution to this dilemma was to be found only by me. My discomfort dissipated by little things such as the amusement of teaching my drama classmates to pronounce my Chinese name “Jiang Nanyi” and listening as they called out my name every day with a variety of funny accents, the excitement of doing math questions with my team members and rambling about the process to the solutions even when I couldn’t think of the English words to use. I was astonished as to how much I had survived physically and mentally so far.

For those who know how an animal tries to adapt to a new environment, they know it is tough and painful. Recently, a considerable number of caged pandas in Sichuan, China will be re-entered into their natural habitats, and this requires monitoring to ensure survival and acceptance. Their adaption too is similar to an international student’s experience when they are unleashed by their parents and sent to Appleby. According to statistics collected from Guidance, there are 232 non-Canadian students in Appleby, but 10 are living here without their parents which makes their adjustment even more lonely and isolated. During my research, I asked some of the other international students who are talented in different fields to talk about their transition year. The surprising result is that what I have experienced is the norm. David Gao, our academic prefect, had a hard time adjusting to the culture of spirit days as he hesitated to shout with others. Steven Kong, who amazed many students by his professional cello performances, endured a period when he sat alone in the dining hall every day and walked home through the snow on his own. However, soon or later, they all figured out a way to overcome the unpleasant experiences, which shaped them into the person they are today.

For you who are local students and teachers, perhaps this Ted Talk will apprise you of how you can help this adjustment. Remember to go beyond a smile or hand wave and welcome the international students into your circle of friends, your activities and your homes. Remember behind the pleasant façade lurks homesickness and fear. And last but not least, for you who are international students, if you have just started this journey to adapt into a new environment, please always have the hope that it is only a matter of time and process. The pain that you considered as an impasse will one day simply become a laughingstock that makes you stronger. One day, when you walk outside of that adaption, you will be already equipped with one of the most critical skills to succeed in the future, the ability to embrace diversity.  

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