Encouraging new immigrants to find their futures in Nova Scotia has become a full-time pursuit
Despite relocating halfway around the world to launch her professional career, one thing Christine Qin Yang made sure of is she still has a seaside view in her home-away-from-home.
“I come from Fujian, which is also an East Coast province, in China,” Yang says. “I always find it nice by the ocean. I’m still an East Coaster.”
Yang came to Nova Scotia after two years studying at the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, which has a long-term partnership with such Nova Scotian universities as Dalhousie and Mount St. Vincent.
“The reason why I chose the Mount was because I Googled it on the map, and I realized it’s was also close by the ocean,” Yang says. “It reminded me of home. Also, their business program is very special. It’s the first university in Canada to educate women, so it really attracted me.”
Yang’s university years included a double major in both business and agriculture, but it was the business side that attracted her most, especially since business, boiled down to its core, is really all about people.
“I’m a people person, and studying business provided me with a great opportunity to connect with people,” Yang says, adding “business is very practical, and I’m interested in international trade. Studying business might provide me with some great opportunities.”
Person-to-person connections weren’t always Yang’s strong suit, according to Paula Barry Mercer, associate vice president of Student Experience at the Mount, who first met Yang in China before she came to study in Nova Scotia. But her time at the Mount certainly seemed to help groom her for that role.
“I hope Christine doesn’t mind me saying this, but she really had a very transformative experience,” Barry Mercer says. “When she first arrived in Canada, she was a bit shy. Didn’t do a lot to draw attention to herself. But as time progressed, she really started to get more involved.”
After graduating from the Mount in 2015, Yang found herself at a fork in the road, and she had to decide which path to take.
“I actually faced a difficult choice; do I stay in Halifax, or should I leave for another city? Around that time, Nova Scotia had the ‘Now Or Never’ Ray Ivany report come out. The province was trying to retain more international students, so I felt there was great potential here. That’s why I decided I wanted to stay.”
Yang knew that networking was her best bet at landing a career where she could make a difference in the province. Soon, hobnobbing and pressing the flesh with Nova Scotia’s business community became a second job.
“During the day I would work at McDonald’s flipping burgers and in the evening I would change from my uniform to professional business dress to attend as many business events as possible,” Yang says. “That’s how I landed my first professional role with the Halifax Partnership Connector program. I was able to use the skills I learned by connecting with people to help other international students, recent grads and immigrants build connections in Halifax and find a meaningful career here.”
In 2017, Yang joined the Nova Scotia Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, a position that allowed her a first-hand role in building bonds between her two East Coast homesteads.
“I’ve been supporting Premier McNeil on international trade missions, to not only China but also other Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea. I was also able to help support any inbound missions, such as a visit from the Chinese ambassador or other foreign countries’ diplomats.
“It’s very special for me; Fujian is my hometown, and through my work, I actually supported Nova Scotia to find a sister agreement with Fujian last December. I was able to support the province to sign these agreements to formalize our government-to-government economic and cultural partnerships between my home and my second home.”
Yang figures that when she found herself at that fork in the road, she wound up taking the right path. She did indeed find opportunity here in Nova Scotia. Now, she’s dedicated to helping others like her (international students, young professionals, and immigrant women) find those same opportunities in her role as vice-chair of the inaugural Women’s Advisory Committee of Halifax.
“I’m very fortunate. I’ve had many great mentors and my local university and community networks supported me,” Yang says, pointing out that opportunities are ripe in the province. “Nova Scotia achieved many of the goals set out in the One Nova Scotia report. Also, either last year or this year, Nova Scotia’s population reached a new high, and Halifax is now the second-fastest-growing city in Canada. So I’m very proud I chose Halifax. I think it’s a wonderful place to live, work and play.”
Yang is currently mentoring international students through EduNova’s Study and Stay program, but she’s game for having young up-and-comers join her for less formal networking sessions.
“I’m also happy to grab coffee and have a conversation, connect with any students or young women like myself,” Yang says. “I think it’s very important. Mentoring can sometimes sound like a big commitment, but I feel like just grabbing a cup of coffee and sharing your experience, and introducing an immigrant to other connectors…you will help people so much.”
She’s also thankful for being named one of the province’s Most Inspiring Immigrants in 2021, if only because she’s just one person, and can’t have coffee with everyone, but still hopes to inspire as many young immigrants as possible to choose Nova Scotia like she did.
“I think it’s very important to share those stories,” Yang says. “It’s great for international students and immigrants to see all these success stories. And also, it’s important for the local community to see the contributions of immigrants. For me personally, it’s a great encouragement, and by telling these stories, it encourages more immigrants and young people to consider Nova Scotia.”
Meng the Mentor
During our interview with Christine Qin Yang, it unfolded she had a connection with our correspondent, Chris Muise. Early in his career, Muise wrote for Dakai Maritimes, a Nova Scotian Chinese community newspaper. Yang was a translator for the same publication.
“I remember,” she says, “I translated many of (his) articles.”
Yang came to translate for Dakai because the paper’s founder, Meng Zhao, was also a Mount student, a few years ahead of Yang.
“She’s also a Mount PR graduate, and she’s also an entrepreneur,” Yang says. “She was my role model and she offered me a lot of opportunities. I saw she published her own newspaper and had a partnership with the Chronicle Herald. I thought, ‘Wow, (I’m) a Chinese international student like Meng. If she can do it… one day I can be a success. I can make Nova Scotia my home.’”
Zhao has since moved to Ontario to be with family but clearly remembers her former colleagueand has only glowing praise for her work ethic.
“I could always trust her getting the translation assignments back to me on time,” Zhao says. “And she was very quick with short notice, as well. I could always trust her.”
When told that Yang considers her a role model, Zhaos was touched, especially since she struggled to find a role model as she began her career in the province.
“I came to Halifax in 2006,” Zhao says. “The Chinese community in the city was small at the time. There were more older generation immigrants than younger generation immigrants. When I was developing my career, I was looking for a role model to look up to. But that was very hard to find, just because there weren’t many young professionals at the time.”
Zhao says she found she and Yang both share a passion for community building and is glad Yang took inspiration from her own example and is now trying to provide that inspiration to the next generation of international students and immigrants seeking their fortunes in Nova Scotia.
“I’m just so happy she feels the same way,” Zhao says, adding, “She is inspiring. She’s inspired me back. And she’s becoming very inspiring to other international students and young professionals. She’s a great person to have as a friend, and a great resource, as well.”