From an interview with Jinrun Wen, University of Toronto student
Jinrun was born and raised in China and, in 2015, he travelled with his parents to Canada and the United States with a goal in mind: to determine where he should move for his high school studies. After the trip, Jinrun decided he preferred Canada, and in 2016 he moved to the Toronto area to live in a homestay and attend an international school for grades 11 and 12. He quickly made friends and settled into his new home, and is now a University of Toronto student. Here, he shares his experience of moving to Canada alone at 16, living with a host family, and why he thinks Canada is a great place to live and learn.
I was born and raised in Chengdu, China which is in the southwest region of China. When I was 16 years old and entering grade 11, I moved to Canada on my own. It was partly my parents’ decision and partly my own thinking to do this. My parents’ friends had told them Canada is a great place to live and study but I had a choice between moving to Canada or the United States to attend high school.
In 2015, the year before I moved here, I traveled with my parents to Canada and the United States to help me decide. During the trip, we visited Toronto where my family’s friends live. While there, I met my future host family, as well as the school I would attend. After returning home, I decided that Canada is probably more fitting for me. I was attracted to Canada’s environment and the people. The host family was also very kind and friendly. An immigration agent helped us organize my move to Canada and we knew, by this time, that I would also stay for university.
Staying connected to home
Before I left China, I had never been away from my home for a long period of time. So my parents and I thought I would probably face a lot of problems when I arrived in Toronto. But the day I arrived here, and even one week later, I found I rarely missed home or my parents. I quickly became involved in my environment and, even months later, I still didn’t miss home. I have my host family and my classmates to thank for that.
I also kept in touch with my parents and grandparents through video calls. Before I left China, I set up video settings, cameras, and microphones so they could do the video calls. But today, they can just make calls with their phones. Things have changed a lot since then.
Getting used to new life in Canada
My host family was a dad and mom, their five-year-old child, and a grandmother. They also hosted another student, so there were two of us staying in the homestay. They were all really nice and made us feel like part of the family.
I didn’t have any major culture shock moving here, though the winter really surprised me because where I grew up in China, we got very little snow. I’d never experienced anything like the snow and cold in Canada before. I liked the winter my first few years—but not as much now that I live downtown.
Making friends was not hard because everyone was new at the international school I attended. The class was made up of students from other countries and I met a few of my best friends there.
I found high school fairly easy, but I had to spend time studying and practicing English. From my experience, and my classmates’ experience, grade 11 and grade 12 mathematics was not difficult for us. We put more effort in other high school subjects like history. Coming here as an international student, our extra effort went into learning English, and passing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) so we could apply to university.
Preparing for university in Canada
Choosing my university major was challenging. My parents wanted me to step into the field of business or finance. But I was not very interested in that field, so I chose a lot of majors when I applied for university, such as filmmaking, visual arts, finance, and even religious studies. Lots of them. I don’t know why I chose so many, but when I got the offers, I had to choose one.
Finally, I decided on visual studies at the University of Toronto (U of T) because I wanted to learn something that I would probably not have the opportunity to learn again. I thought this was my one chance in life to learn visual studies or art. I also thought, at the time, that finance and business would teach soft skills rather than hard skills and technical knowledge must be learned in university. My parents supported my decision.
Getting out of my comfort zone
I found the university environment very different in Canada compared to what it’s like in China. In China, students start university as one class and they do all their activities together – study, eat lunch, socialize—for all four years. Whereas in Canada, we each go to different classes for our studies so it’s more of an individual experience. Although we meet people in class, outside of class, we don’t know each other, so it’s harder to make connections.
I joined the University of Toronto RMB Filmmaking Club (UTRMB) in my first year where I built new friendships. I was president of the club for two years, raising funds for the club’s short film and developing the club’s advertising plans. I also expanded the club to become the largest special interest club in U of T. When I joined the club, most of the members were Chinese, but the club is now expanding to include students from all cultures. Joining the filmmaking club took me out of my comfort zone to help me grow, and is where I made most of the friends I have today.
This past March, I started a business called VisionZero Inc. We create user generated content (UGC) channels about Virtual Reality Filmmaking. We just launched our first video about innovative VR Filmmaking on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website, and it hit 1 million views! I opened it because I see potential in virtual reality (VR) and VR filmmaking and I believed it was the right time to enter the industry.
After graduation, I plan to do a master’s degree. When that’s done, I’m not sure whether I’ll stay and work in Canada, or return to China. Ideally, my preference will be to live in Canada and work in China, commuting between the two countries.
An inclusive environment
I really love the environment in Canada. Here, most people will not judge you for what you want to do. The environment is inclusive, and people are open-minded. I can choose to do something, like a hobby or whatever I want, in my spare time. I can choose to live my own lifestyle.
I also like the fresh air here. Nature is nearby even in the city of Toronto. I can visit a place in the wilderness just one or two hours away, or go for a one- or two-day trip somewhere. I met my parents in Vancouver for a family trip and we visited national parks in Banff and Jasper. I like that you can be in nature very easily here in Canada.
Canadians are kind and friendly
If I were to give advice to newcomers, I’d say don’t be afraid of the people here or the environment. You don’t need to worry about not being able to make friends even in a new country. Canadian people are friendly and inclusive. From my experience, I’ve found that if I’m nice to people, like my classmates, host family, and neighbours, they are kind to me. So, if you’re coming here from another country and you feel afraid, there’s no need to be.