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Twenty years, three continents, four regions

Learning to embrace change far away from home
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At Hong Kong International Airport, 2004: I headed to Switzerland with my parents. At Hong Kong International Airport, 2013: I headed to Malaysia with my parents. At Hong Kong International Airport, 2015: I headed to Canada on my own.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve lived on three continents and four regions: Hong Kong, Switzerland, Malaysia, and Canada. I attended eight schools and met many life-long friends — so the one thing I know best is change. Growing up, my dad told me that what humans do best is change, and that every day we experience something different. Although some people prefer to live a static life, others strive to mix it up a little.

Leaving my family  

Attending eight different schools while growing up can make you feel a bit uneasy — you need to make new friends, adapt to a new school environment, and so on. It gets worse when you move across the country, and even more difficult when you have to move across the globe without your parents.

When I was 18, I left my parents in Malaysia to pursue an education abroad. It was the most difficult decision I had ever made because for the past 18 years, I had been inseparable from my mother. I first went to Hamilton, where I attended Grade 12 in an international school. My high school offered me a safe environment and allowed me to learn more about Canadian culture.

During that one year in Hamilton, I did not miss home much. I guess it was because I was still in the ‘honeymoon’ period, but as time went on, I realized how much I missed home. I missed the home-cooked meals, the celebrations, and the people. Despite loving Canada, I still cannot call it my home because my parents are not here. Home is where my parents are.

Canadian schools are very different from the education I received in Hong Kong. After spending around 13 years there, I can assure you that the Hong Kong education system is highly competitive. This explains why it was a little bit easier for me to adapt to the competitive environment at U of T.

When I got my acceptance letter in February 2016, I decided to move into Wilson Hall at New College, and that was when my U of T adventure began. This was also the time I fully got to know Toronto.

Hong Kong, 2007. Photo Courtesy of Sammi Chan.

Maintaining my history at U of T

As a Political Science and English student at U of T, I often come across texts that are written from a white male perspective. I often question why many of the articles and books I read aren’t instead from a female’s perspective. More importantly, why do we rarely learn about history from the perspective of east Asia and Southeast Asia. This Eurocentric approach at a Canadian institution is to be expected, but sometimes I still want to feel included into this multicultural community.

Growing up in Hong Kong as a Malaysian-Chinese kid meant that I knew a lot of Chinese history. I always found our history fascinating and I like to tell people about our festivals, culture, and norms. Although I am just as curious about Canada’s history, lifestyle, and culture, I feel like a part of me still clings onto Malaysian-Chinese history, food, people, and culture. I love that when I lived in Malaysia for two years, I adapted an accent that I use when I see my Malaysian and Singaporean friends.

Here at U of T, this accent only appears when I am with my friends at the Malaysian Singaporean Students’ Association. Meeting students that share the same cultural background as me often reminds me of home.

Malaysian Singaporeans’ Student Association, 2017. Photo courtesy of the MSSA.

Being in Canada has never been easy. I am thankful to my parents for offering me this opportunity, but living away from home can be exhausting. There are times when I don’t understand the slang that Canadians use, or when I feel like I will never fully fit into this community like my friends that were born and raised here.

Sometimes, I see people get really excited about national sporting events. As the Winter Olympics ended recently, I pondered the question: which team should I support — Canada, Malaysia, or Hong Kong? All three of them have had a huge influence on my life. Do I have to choose one, can I choose all, or should I fit in and choose Canada — the country I am living in right now?

I’m still figuring out my answer.

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