Dandan (Rosa) He, 22, and Xiaofei (Sophie) Liu, 24, moved to Nanaimo from China three years ago. Liu is from the province of Shandong, and He from Beijing. The two are roommates and finishing up business degrees in finance at Vancouver Island University. While they have faced challenges adjusting to life in Canada, both aim to find work in the Nanaimo upon graduation.
What drew you to Nanaimo and when did you arrive? Dandan: I feel lucky that I got into Canada and into Nanaimo (for school). Nanaimo is a very quiet and peaceful environment, and personally I feel like people in the small town are nicer than those in the big city. I arrived in 2011.
Xiaofei: I arrived in 2011 too, but I think a little later than Rosa. I came here because a lot of my friends came to Nanaimo to study and told me it's really a good place to study because it's such a quiet island.
What challenges have you faced? Xiaofei: Probably the culture and the language. The family issues too. Here, if something happens in my family, I can't do anything to help them, to support them. It's really far away. If something ever happened to me, they're far away too.
Dandan: I agree with the culture and language. You make silly mistakes. For example, I hate people asking me 'Hey, what's up?' because I don't know how to answer.
I just repeat the question so I can copy the person's answer next time I'm asked.
How are you integrating into the community and what do you bring to Nanaimo?
Dandan: I didn't do very well my first year. Later on, I tried to open up and realize the areas that I need to improve in order to get more involved. I practiced my English more and kept an open mind.
I started making friends in class and later moved on to join clubs and the associations on campus, then I got quite active and started volunteering.
Xiaofei: I lived with my homestay mother (when I first moved here). She brought me to a lot of activities. It was a really good start for me because she taught me a lot of Canadian culture. She taught me what to do when I sat at the table, what to do when I finished eating, and what to do when I wanted more. I (had only ever used chopsticks and) couldn't use knives or forks.
What is the most underrated thing in/about Nanaimo, from your point of view? Xiaofei: It's very relaxed and all the people are very friendly. Every time I take my dog for a walk people come and talk to me.
Dandan: It's peaceful and quiet. When I went back home in the summer, it was too noisy. I couldn't go to sleep. I like Nanaimo so much, because I can just feel that if you really get involved in the community, you are part of the community and people treat you as part of a family.
If you could make one change to Nanaimo, what would it be? Dandan: One thing I really want to mention is the bus system, probably because Sophie and I got used to the ones in China (where transit comes every two minutes and the driver announces each stop). You get used to the bus system here and it's OK, but the first time it's really scary. I wish Nanaimo would provide more working opportunities for international students, as well. I know a lot of students want to stay in Nanaimo but they end up going to Victoria or Vancouver because all the opportunities are there. I think we have fresh thoughts and fresh energy.
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