CHINESE STUDENTS BLOSSOMING IN CANADA
For Canadian universities, research is central to their mission. A full 25 percent of Canada’s research capacity is found in its universities, a higher proportion than most others countries, and the country’s universities employ about one-third of the nation’s PhDs. Many Chinese students have benefited from Canada’s robust educational system and research resources, before and after graduation.
“We have a very open system here in Canada with lots of support from the government which promotes research and encourages researchers to work closely with industry partners,” said Shi Wei, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at Laval University in Quebec. “With the strong research programs we do get grants.”
Originally from China, Shi said Canada is an accommodating multi-cultural society and as a Chinese, he has felt very comfortable first studying and later working at Canadian universities.
“I don’t feel any difference with people from other countries. I don’t see any difference in nationality or race,” said Shi, who graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2012 and did a year of research at Guelph University in Ontario.
Shi is now looking into high-speed fibre designs and applications at Laval. The 35-year-old professor has received more than $5 million in research funding in collaboration with other professors.
Liu Fengjie, a post doctoral fellow at INRS’s Eau Terre Environment Research Centre under Professor Peter GC Campbell, a leading authority on water and environmental studies, said Canada offers many opportunities in scientific research.
Liu came to Canada in 2014 and said over past three years he has been able to focus on lab research almost 100 percent.
“This is a perfect place for doing science and the professors give me lots of freedom to develop my own ideas and they help me develop my career,” Liu said. “My work here is recognized by British academia and I have got a new job offer from there.”
Liu also hopes to go back to China and work, as the Chinese government is committed to improving the environment. “This is a great opportunity for me to develop my career back home,” he said.
Jiang Jinglu, a PhD candidate in the IT department of HEC Montreal Business School and a fourth year student in a joint program with McGill and Concordia universities, is also benefitting from the abundant resources in her field.
“I am doing information technology studies,” she said. “My supervisor has only a few students and so has more time for us with regards to training and research skills. Here there’s a more condensed way of training with a very good knowledge foundation in what we can do academically.”
She said lots of financial support from schools and the government is available here, even for international students.
Qi Mengjiao, a fourth year biomedical engineering PhD student at Polytechnique Montreal, described the French-speaking city as a friendly and welcoming place for people all over the world.
“Maybe people are concerned about French but from my experience, French is not a real problem. If people realize you can’t speak French, they offer to translate into English automatically. One benefit here is that we can switch between the two languages. I really like it here,” said Qi.
Qi has big plans for the future. One is to graduate as soon as possible and return to China and help out in development and act as a bridge between the homeland and Canada.
Jin Feifei is an international student who benefited from the Stay in Nova Scotia Program, which connects final year international students directly to the labour market and helps them build valuable employment skills, workplace knowledge and professional connections.
For Jin, who is from the western part of China and has the English name of Victoria, the program gives her the chance to stay Nova Scotia during her final year of earning an MBA from Quebec University.
“It is a wonderful program that connects mentor and mentee. We match together those professionals already working in the industry,” said Jin, who is now running a restaurant with her partner.
Charles Xu, a PhD student in biology at McGill University, studied in the US, Sweden, Netherlands and France before coming to Canada. He said Montreal is a diverse city and a blend of Francophone and Anglophone culture. “No one takes complete ownership, thus leaving some room for other cultures.”
“We get amazing students from China,” said Matin Bressani, director of McGill’s school of architecture. “They have the capacity to work very hard and being hardworking is part of Chinese discipline.”
He said Chinese students who have strong academic backgrounds, but typically seem not outspoken, have become extremely sophisticated academically.
“Chinese students have demonstrated incredible works and they already have subtle and substantial understanding of designs and concepts and develop ideas,” said Bressani.
For cities like Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, the multi-cultural and bilingual universities are seen as an advantage and asset to international students, according to Jacques Freemont, president of the University of Ottawa, a bilingual school.
“It is like the image Canada has abroad,” he said. “We are able to be comfortable with Continental Europeans, Americans and Chinese. This is a special and peaceful place.”
Despite the safe and supportive environment, Chinese students still face a lot of challenges in Canada, including language barriers, culture shock and differences in the educational system.
Yang Xinyu, minister counsellor for education at China’s embassy in Canada, said with the increase in the number of Chinese students across Canada, the Embassy’s education bureaus have provided assistances to enhance their academic pursuits and safe living.
The assistance includes a 24-hour hotline for safety questions and to help to students in trouble. Chinese students associations across the country also help students adapt and prevent them from being isolated.
Yang said that English is the major challenge, even though the students passed an English-language exam before coming to Canada. Some students end up choosing the wrong major and subjects because they don’t quite understand the system. “They need to know what they are allowed and not allowed,” Yang said.
Geng Tan, a liberal member of Parliament with a Chinese background, came to Canada as a foreign student 20 years ago and got a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto.
He said apart from China being the biggest source of international students constituting almost one-third of all foreign students in Canada (more than 132,000 Chinese nationals held permits to study in Canada at the end of 2016), the trend shows Chinese students are younger, some are even enrolled in elementary schools.
“These young students who come to Canada might not know much about country and culture and the education system. This proves to be challenging and difficult for them in the first five-to-six months, especially when they have few friends,” he said.
Shi Wei, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Laval University, discusses his research project on high-speed fibre designs at his lab in Quebec City.
Chinese students and their parents visit the campus of University of Ottawa.
Yang Xinyu (centre), minister counsellor for education at the China Embassy in Canada, said the embassy’s education bureau has provided assistance to enhance Chinese students’ academic pursuits and safety.
Chinese students studying at HEC Montreal Business School share their experiences with Canadian education.