February 22, 2024

International student leaves young daughter to study abroad


PHOTO BY NICOLE JOBES International student, Monica Chen, left her four-year-old daughter Jenny and her husband in China to study at Conestoga College.

“Where are the scissors mommy, can you help me find them?” Jenny asked her mom.
“Can you go get daddy to help you find them baby?” answered her mother. “Mommy can’t find them for you right now.”
With a solemn look on her face, Monica Chen watches her daughter via the computer screen in search for a pair of scissors to cut her craft with. Chen sees her daughter struggle to grip the pair of scissors once she’s found them, and begins to think maybe coming to Canada was not the right choice.
“Look it’s done mommy!” exclaimed Jenny with great pride as she held her picture up to the webcam for her mother to see.
“That is so beautiful Jenny! Can you hand it to mommy?”
“No silly, you are in the computer! You can’t have it until you come home.”
Chen’s ear-to-ear smile turned into a heart-wrenching grin.
“You’re right I am silly, I love you Jenny.”
A 13-hour flight separates Monica Chen from her husband and four-year-old daughter, Jenny, who remain in China.  As if being a student isn’t difficult enough, toss in being a parent and having the responsibility of a family. Now add in the fact that 11,439 kilometres separate you and your family, and you will begin to understand what Chen deals with on a daily basis.
It is no secret that she misses her family constantly; she was homesick during her first two weeks in Canada. Now Skype and long-distance phone calls are the only contact she has with her loved ones.
Making the decision to come to Canada was not an easy one. However, when it came to choosing a school and program, there was really only one obvious choice: Conestoga College’s post-graduate new media program.
Studying abroad was always something Chen and her husband had both wanted to do, but never got the chance after attending university in China.
“There are too many Asians in Vancouver,” joked Chen. “When I thought of Canada all I knew was Vancouver and Ontario, and so I chose Ontario to be different … I heard about Conestoga College from friends who lived in Canada, and they only had good things to say.”
So Chen kissed her husband goodbye and gave her daughter one last hug and hopped on a plane to Kitchener.  As exciting as all of the changes in her life were, Chen still wasn’t sure about leaving her family.
Already a journalist in China, Chen thought she had the upper hand with all of her real-work experience. She would soon come to find out that there would be some major obstacles in her way before she successfully got a handle on the new media program at the college.
“It’s hard to be a journalist in a different language,” said Chen. “I worked so hard on my first news story and I did so bad I almost cried.”
“It is hard because I can sometimes understand what people are saying, but I do not understand the context,” said Chen. For example, the Chinese political system is set up completely different than Canada’s, and while her classmates were talking about an election and certain candidates, Chen had very little understanding of what her classmates were referring to.
It was journalism at Conestoga that helped bring Chen out of her shell, even though it was very difficult for her to grasp the language at first.
“It forced me to talk to people and become more social,” said Chen of interviewing people for school projects and stories. “I fell in love with  meeting new people and finding out what special stories they have to tell.”
Even though Chen has faced huge challenges, she remains positive and has injected herself directly into the bloodline of the college, becoming involved with the Respect Campaign. Chen became a Respect leader in hopes of meeting new people and making friends; she never realized her story could be influential and inspirational to other international students.
Life in Kitchener is a lot different than it is in China. The 29-year-old lived with her family in Shenzhen, which is just beside Hong Kong (she equates it to the Waterloo to our Kitchener). While the lower levels of pollution in Kitchener are a huge bonus, according to Chen the main reason she loves it in Canada is that she can actually see the stars at night.
“I have not seen them in years,” said Chen. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
Soon the semester will be over and her family will be able to visit her in Canada. Chen hopes to get a job here which would mean the family would move here permanently.
Until then when Chen is feeling homesick and she can’t call her family, she looks to those in the community around her at school to fill the void.
After all, Conestoga College is her home away from home.