Overcoming personal and physical challenges has given me a new life in Halifax
A beautiful baby carrier bag made by my friend’s step-sister might have summoned me to Nova Scotia. On the soft blue woolen clothes, yellow birds and little flowers were quilted and it had a pattern of Mi’kmaq symbols. I remember my daughter and I made stories using the pictures on it many nights.
Going back to 13 years ago, I was inspired by my friend Kimberly, a homestay teacher, when she showed me the pictures of her solo travel on the East Coast of Canada. Since I had lived in the big city of Seoul, South Korea for almost all of my life, I dreamt about living on the seashore and canoeing in the river quietly, and listening to untouched wild nature.
Thus, I came to Nova Scotia to see Kimberly and her sister and to experience Atlantic Canada. However, living in Lunenburg and being a graduate student was not my original plan. Like many other international students, COVID-19 totally changed my plan to study English and French in Montreal. Having cancelled a language program at McGill University, I applied for the graduate program at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Halifax. Even though moving from Montreal to Nova Scotia meant starting over again, I was rewarded with a deep connection to nature, fresh perspectives in diversity, and new skills taught by new friends.
Owing to my blurred and dim vision, my 12-year-old daughter had to lead me and her younger sister as we navigated all the way from South Korea to Canada. Having taken laser eye surgery a couple of years ago, I have difficulty seeing at night and in low light, either indoors or outdoors. To make matters worse, since COVID outbreaks started, my double vision has been getting worse because of excessive screen time. I even cannot read the buttons on a microwave.
Without my first daughter’s help, we could have been lost while we were moving from Montreal to Lunenburg. However, I appreciate I can see the soaring trees, dancing flowers, and fluffy clouds during the daytime. We could see so much beautiful scenery when moving across provinces.
If someone goes through a difficult time coming to Nova Scotia like me, I can say they should go camping and hiking at untouched national parks and experience the wide crystalline Atlantic Ocean. After a long quarantine and studying journey in language courses, I and my girls went hiking at Kejimkujik National Park on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.
It was the time when the trees beautifully changed their colours and was surprisingly quiet and peaceful. I might go camping and canoeing next time to see the various views of the lakeside and the night sky.
Another unforgettable moment was on Brier Island. I felt the massive movements of humpback whales under the water rather than see them. There were several moments to see them diving into the water and popping water out through their blowholes with baby whales. Their mysterious sounds made me more intrigued to watch them. I was forgetting the stressors in my graduate program and the difficult times of moving to the new place. It reminds me of the words from the novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851): “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
At the end of last summer, I felt more relieved because I received an acceptance letter from MSVU graduate administration. I could finally laugh because of the opportunity to come to the East Coast, and for the gratitude of being a part of this environment.
Since I started the Graduate Preparatory Program (GPP) at the Mount, I have studied hard so I can get a good score. I appreciate the dedicated teacher, Lisa, who read aloud the passages for me during the online classes because she knew about my vision problems. I remember I made many mistakes in communicating with professors and instructors because I didn’t know Canadian academic cultures well before I took the GPP course.
Moreover, I had seen many international students who were frustrated by adjusting to the new academic culture and writing styles. I and my peers made a virtual study group and helped out one another inside and outside of the classroom. Sooner or later, big challenges gave the best reward to me. I could achieve not only outstanding marks but also developed heartfelt friendships via the positive peer interactions.
The biggest achievement of studying in higher education in Canada could be getting new perspectives and open-mindedness to a new academic culture. I remember for my first academic course, Philosophy of Education, I had actual anxiety attacks because I have never read philosophical theories in English. I experienced Socratic dialogues with my peers for the first time. When I ask for some advice on my feelings of hesitation and anxiety, my previous teachers and the manager of MSVU International Education Centre helped me a lot. I had been preparing each class two or three weeks ahead.
Eventually, I got used to speaking my ideas in front of many English speakers. Through the group discussions and individual online meeting with professors, I achieved not only improving my English but thinking in other perspectives.
I also have positive peer relationships with students from many other countries through virtual meetings and classes. For example, in the GPP program, we introduced the New Year’s celebration and ritual ceremonies in our home countries, which are Turkey, Kuwait, China, Sri Lanka, and South Korea.
In one of my academic classes, my classmates and I discussed many current issues and educational topics actively in online forums over the weeks. I and my peers could learn from each other and discuss the subject matter actively through group assignments and presentations.
In particular, I was really interested in evaluating many different types of resources about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). I could share new perspectives with my peers, instructors, and professors. If I were not in Canada, I could not think deeply about EDI problems with people from many different cultural backgrounds. I also contributed to the class with critical and philosophical inquiries while my peers and I touched on many different topics during the winter term.
When I and my daughters arrived in Lunenburg, we had to stay in a motel for two months before moving into our current residence. Last summer, settling down in the new place was not easy because people in the small town seemed to not like people from COVID-19 hot zones such as Montreal. After two weeks of quarantine, I and my daughters finally could go outside, but everything was new to us.
I know living in a new country is an adventurous experience and means having new relationships in new communities. Living here might require more street smarts than book smarts. I developed skills I have not used in my home country. I learned from not only blogs and websites but from my new friends in the town of Lunenburg.
Since I love to have authentic experiences on the East Coast, I joined the newcomer’s club. I share food and celebrate holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas with my neighbors and friends. Of course, I was very intimidated because I could not speak English well and did not know anybody in the new community.
However, people’s hospitality and relationships can be depended upon if I react to them. I replied to my neighbors’ warm welcome and bravely asked if I had questions or needed help. Now, I know how to prepare for the heavy snow, cut the lawn, take wasps away, and paint old furniture. For instance, finding a residence or a house in this new country might be difficult for every international student.
Since I asked so many questions to my neighbors and teachers, I have learned more about Canadian culture and their real life. My friends love to talk about beautiful beaches to swim at, the best season for raspberry picking, how to boil maple sap, and the best place for canoeing.
The writer Patrick Lindsay says, “Every new friend is a new adventure… the start of more memories.” I have learned many practical skills in everyday life from my new friends and have more memories in Canada.
I love having a chat with the old couple who live across from my house. They shared stories from throughout their lives and thrilling experiences when they went traveling. They said they always spend their time on what they want to.
Since I left my home country, I have been thinking about what makes me happy. I used to trudge when I went to work and be exhausted all day long because of excessive working hours. That is no longer the case. I am better able to handle the responsibilities of being a parent without worrying about a position in a company. Finally, I can reflect on myself and go traveling to as many places as possible. I am pleased to share my experiences and feelings about places on the East Coast with many people.
I am so excited to start a new academic experience in my graduate program and appreciate embracing the new culture and developing new skills, as well as traveling the East Coast of Canada. I look forward to going on an exhilarating journey to discover more about the wild nature and peaceful coastal views with my new friends.