When I received the acceptance letter from UNB telling me that I had been admitted for an exchange term, I was so excited.
I am not a “plan-ahead” type person—especially academically—but exchanging to a foreign country during my third year of university has been my dream since Grade 12. With excitement, I landed at YFC on Sept. 2, 2017 after an unforgettable two-day visit in Toronto. Please forgive me, but seriously? The airport in Fredericton is definitely the smallest airport I have ever been to!
Being new to a country and new to a city can be pretty frustrating at the beginning. I had no friends and knew no one here, and everything was just new to me. My fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, which could “jump out my mouth even without thinking,” were no longer applicable when I met someone interesting or who I felt like talking to and knowing more about. However, I kept telling myself “you got this! Nothing can stop you from making progress!”
Many services offered by UNB helped me settle into Canadian life. Thanks to the International Students Advisor’s Office (ISAO), I began to feel the warmth of Fredericton and UNB as soon as I landed. After being picked up at the airport, I got to the campus without difficulty. I received a warm welcome from a lot of schoolmates who stood on the sidewalks, playing music out loud and cheering excitedly when I walked by. To be honest, though these kinds of cheers may seem a bit silly, they stopped me from feeling nervous for my new life at UNB. By volunteering later on with the International Welcoming Party and the ISAO Halloween Party, I made quite a few friends from all over the world—and they proved to be my best supports during the term both academically and psychologically.
The orientation week was the most meaningful and unforgettable thing for me during the whole term. I had no idea I would be excited about this kind of “freshman activity” before I actually took part in it. Indeed, while I am a freshman at UNB, back in China, technically speaking, I am already a junior student! Still, all these activities were just so amazing and new for me. Students at my home university—or to be more specific most college students in China—will not have much fun during orientation. Comparing the O-Weeks between my home university, Xiamen University (XMU), and UNB, it is reasonable to draw a conclusion that what Chinese universities want to teach their students at the start of their college lives is “toughness and responsibility”—somewhat like military training!— while the Western universities tend to focus more on the students themselves and try to help them better adjust to the new environments through having fun.
Before my exchange term at UNB, I had never heard of school associations like a “Writing Centre” or an “Accessibility Centre.” Having said that, I do not mean my home university “sucks,” and most of the teachers I had worked with in the past two years at XMU are highly dedicated both to their students and the academic research projects they have. They are always willing to help if their students meet any difficulty in their studies. The Writing Centre at UNB, however, is definitely something that was very helpful when I was working on papers and essays. As a matter of fact, the Writing Centre became one of my favorite places on campus (second only to the Harriet Irving Library) during my exchange. Frankly speaking, I was not at all confident about my English proficiency when I first came to Fredericton. Since I was taking a lot of courses from the English department, I felt that my school life here was doomed to be very difficult.
When I got a dozen essay assignments from my professors (and I mean it, there were 12 in total!), I was totally stressed out. I started to ask myself, “How am I going to do this? I can barely understand modern English perfectly; how is that possible for me to analyze old English texts in well-organized paragraphs!?” It was the Writing Centre that assured me my writing was not that terrible after all, and that it was realistic for me to understand those complex texts and express my opinions if I worked hard enough. Such kind support is more than helpful for international students like me.
Coming from a prosperous city (Guangzhou, if you have ever heard of it) in China, I felt huge distinctions between the lifestyle in my hometown and Fredericton. People here live their lives at such a slow pace, while in Guangzhou people tend to be in a hurry all the time. In Fredericton, more people seem to “enjoy” their lives instead of just “living” through every single day. It might sound weird, but personally, I still prefer the more stressful—or to be exact, the faster—daily life in my hometown—because in this, the best age of my life, I would like to learn more, explore more and conquer more. I expect my life to be challenging and brand-new every day.
The biggest cultural shock I felt in Fredericton, however, would definitely be something that I would like to call “the Western type of excitement.” It was the crazy blast-offs during the first few days in UNB that gave me an understanding of these kinds of “excitement.” To be honest, even today, after having studied in UNB for four months, I still feel pretty awkward and sometimes even silly when people suddenly go wild and start cheering for no obvious reason.
The party culture here at UNB reflects another dominant cultural difference between Chinese universities and Canadian (or western) ones. In China, hanging out in the malls, having nice meals outside of campus or perhaps watching some art performances at school are what college students usually do to entertain themselves. At UNB, however, I found that people love parties so much! Living in the biggest residence on campus, I never failed to bump into various social events on Friday or Saturday nights if I walked out of my room. Seeing how all of my fellow students were having great times, I just couldn’t help asking myself if I had been living an overly-boring and dull life for the past 20 years. The answer is no doubt unclear, but I do believe that the rather optimistic living attitude—revealed by how students here are often easily excited or satisfied by parties and other events—should be advocated and absorbed by more people.
In the past four months, I not only finished all those essay assignments I mentioned previously, but also did something I am proud of and will always be proud of. During weekends and after-class time, I explored as many new things here in New Brunswick as possible. I have been to Killarney Lake, where I took a really nice walk in the forest, enjoyed the warm and beautiful autumn sunshine, and spent a cozy and relaxing afternoon. I have been to the walking bridge a few times, where I witnessed both the way that the St John River glitters under the sun in the bright Sunday morning and the breathtaking pink twilight sky turning dark bit-by-bit at dusk. I have been to the farmers market a couple times, where I found the best cheesecakes and delicious macarons.
I have been downtown several times, where I had a great time visiting the Art Gallery, library—and of course, the terribly small mall in town—King’s Place. I have also been to the Regent Mall an unknown number of times, where I did most of my shopping, hung out with friends I made at UNB and watched an awesome movie or two. I have been to many different restaurants in Fredericton, which include cuisines from all over the world. Finally, I have been to Saint John for a short but meaningful one-day trip on a Saturday, during which I explored the New Brunswick Museum, three malls and had a delicious dinner at the Saint John Ale House. I am proud of myself for doing all these because I made full use of my exchange opportunity, and proved that “life is all about adventures and explorations.”
Yes, I did make it through the whole term safe and happy! I was more than surprised to hear quite a few Canadian locals saying that I was doing pretty well with my English—and in fact, some of them even said they totally had no clue that I am not a native speaker! When I now think back on all these memories, I just feel so grateful for all those who have encouraged or praised me during my early “struggles” at UNB. It is the unconscious encouragement of my schoolmates that broke down the barriers in my heart and enabled me to go further in this small but nice place.
Editor’s note: This was submitted as a personal reflection by the author and as such was only lightly edited for clarity.