When Yang Wang first moved to Halifax from Beijing, China, back in 2007 to attend Saint Mary’s University, the ambitious teenager stopped by the TD Canada Trust branch on Spring Garden Road to open up a brand new Canadian bank account.

Now, 31-year-old Wang is branch manager of that very same bank.

“Actually, I opened my bank account here,” Wang recalls with a laugh while chatting in his window-walled office, which gives him an open view of tellers and customers interacting in the bright and welcoming white-and-green themed downtown space.

“This branch was like a block away in an older, smaller building, so I opened an account over there,” says Wang, who also goes by Danny, his chosen English name.

“At 18 years old, you have to figure out how to open a bank account … pay all the bills, pay rent. Being grown up; that was actually pretty tough.”

Add to that being in a completely new country, barely speaking any English and not knowing anyone. Like many international students, Wang, whose first name means Ocean in Chinese, knew he would have a tough mountain to climb in order to build a successful career and create a new life in Canada.

Yang Wang on the bank floor of the TD Canada Trust branch he manages on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.

But Wang is nothing if not determined, always focusing on the next big step to reach the top, and now, he says with a big laugh, “there is actually a rumour in TD in Halifax that I have a van, like a minivan, (and am) driving students to a branch and just opening accounts and doing all their banking.”

After attending the Language Centre at Saint Mary’s for six months to learn English, he became a full-time accounting and finance student, always working a minimum of two part-time jobs at any given time, ranging from calling SMU alumni to ask for donations, working as a teaching assistant for an accounting course, as well as a stint at iconic Canadian franchise Tim Hortons, where he especially enjoyed “the free donuts at the end of the night.”

“I feel like, especially for international students, they need to be … working while in school, especially work for a local company,” Wang says. “It helps you with your work, with your experience, with your English.”

“That’s all part of the training for real life.”

One job was working as a sushi chef at a downtown Halifax restaurant, where he met his wife Juan Zheng, who is from Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, in South China, and worked there as a server. In 2013, he got his very first job at TD Canada Trust as a teller at the Bedford branch during his fourth year of university.

“I think I was one of the few Chinese students that was in school and worked for a bank at the time, so that was pretty cool,” says Wang, who has since “worked all the roles in retail banking.”

Yang Wang is the manager of the TD Canada Trust branch on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.

“When I first got into TD, even though I was a teller, I told myself that I want to be branch manager one day,” says Wang, who quickly moved up the bank ranks. He was first promoted to financial services representative, then financial advisor, and after that up to manager of customer service, assistant branch manager and his current role as branch manager, which has included leading teams in both Charlottetown and Halifax.

“That’s one thing that I always worked for,” Wang says of setting that bank manager goal while working as teller just seven years ago—always setting his sights on the next position by learning from mentors and doing “things not necessarily for the role that you’re already in, but (for) what the next role requires you do.”

For example, Wang explains, while working as a financial advisor, he didn’t “need to coach the front lines, but I did that.”

In fact, one of the aspects of being branch manager that Wang enjoys most is coaching his team.

“I have a mentor at (the) Quinpool (branch). She’s a senior advisor and one thing she says is she wants to be the path forward for others’ successes,” Wang says. “That’s really what I want to do. I want to help my team … achieve their career goals and really coach them to be do whatever they want to do.”

“I enjoy that more than just making sales, making appointments and meeting clients.”

He’s clearly passionate about leading his team and has a social aptitude that helps him connect with clients and employees alike, but interestingly, considers himself to actually be “quite shy.”

In addition to learning how to speak the language that now allows him to communicate effectively at work, Wang also pushed himself to be social and make contacts within the Halifax community.

“You need to know your surroundings and let your surroundings know you,” Wang says, explaining that the minivan rumour is a result of the fact that he is well-regarded by peers for bringing in “more business from my own connections.”

“If you want to stay, you have to get into the culture,” he says. “You have to be able to talk to people.”

Yang Wang and Juan Zheng on the back deck of their Hammonds Plains home.

And Wang certainly intends on staying. He and Juan, who has a Master of Design from NSCAD University and works as a graphic designer for food distribution company Sysco Canada, purchased a house in Hammonds Plains and intend to start a family. He’s also sponsoring his mother’s permanent residency in Canada. The plan is for her to move from Beijing later this year and perhaps buy her a house as well.

“It’s a good place to be,” Wang says of Nova Scotia.

“I remember when I first got here, I couldn’t speak that much English, (but) when I walked down the street people just started smiling at me, (they were) being so friendly—that really made me feel welcome,” Wang says of why he chose to make Halifax his permanent home.

“Even though I’m from a big city … I don’t like that crowded feeling,” he says. “Here is more chill; people want to talk to you. That’s really one thing I love here.”

He also loves that Halifax is “not too big and not too small and is still in the developing phase,” which means plenty of future opportunity not just for his family but for other international students and newcomers who are looking for an ideal place in Canada to call their own.

“When you first get here, I know it’s tough, but start working,” Wang advises. “Start working. Find a part-time job; that’s how you’ll build up your confidence.”

It will also help you learn about how the Canadian workforce may differ from your own country.

“And don’t be afraid to talk to … people,” Wang adds. “Just go out and make conversation.”

“You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and just talk to people,” he says. “Break your own bubble.”

But his most important piece of advice for those considering making Halifax their new home: “Definitely, come!”

Juan Zheng and Yang Wang show off a painting of Peggy’s Cove at their Hammonds Plains home.