Living the Canadian dream

With enthusiasm and optimism, a Chinese immigrant builds a new life in Halifax 

As Alice Xu* was growing up in a small village in China, she often wondered about the outside world and what it would be like to live in another country. 

“Canada seemed to be a good place to come to,” says Xu. “So, after finishing high school, I decided to do my higher studies in Canada.” 

Xu landed in Toronto in July 2016, and enrolled to study tourism and hospitality in Halifax. In those days, it was easy to secure accommodation at the university residence in a spot reserved for international students. 

She needed to learn English before starting the three-year course. 

“The university was offering English-language training for the international students,” she recalls. “I made up my mind to master the language. But it was not easy. I started to speak only English to everyone despite the fact that my grammar and pronunciation were not correct. Talking to people helped me to build up my confidence.” 

Her first few weeks in Canada were the toughest. 

“All that I read about Canada while I was in China did not help me in any way,” she says. “Being here was a totally new experience. I was terribly lonely, and I found it difficult to make friends. I missed home and my parents. Then slowly I made a few friends among my classmates and the other students in the residence.” 

After a year, Xu found a part-time job in a restaurant, which introduced her to a Canadian workplace for the first time and let her use some of the skills she was learning in school. 

“I graduated in 2019 and was determined to find a full-time job,” she says. “I soon found a job with a government institution in Halifax. The next challenge was finding an apartment to move into. It took a lot of searching, but finally I did find a suitable one-bedroom apartment.” 

After that, adapting to life in Canada seemed to come easily, particularly without the financial burdens many newcomers face. “I think I am very fortunate,” she says. “My parents supported me through university and paid for some of the other expenses.” 

While she’s largely happy with her new life, she’s seen racism in Halifax. 

“Some of the Canadians resent Asians and people of colour,” she says. “Immigrants are not well accepted or encouraged to settle down here … I recall an incident that happened in a liquor store. I went in there to pick up a couple bottles of beer. As I was looking around, I heard an attendant talking loudly to her colleague. ‘These Asians, they buy up all the rum and sell it in the black market. So, when an Asian comes looking for rum, I tell him we are out of it.’” 

Xu still finds the incident shocking, and believes she was intended to overhear it. She adds that she feels strongly about the way immigrants are treated, and wants everyone to get their due respect and freedom. 

These days, she’s working on obtaining her permanent resident status. “I will be happy when that happens,” she says. “My parents will retire in seven or eight years. After that, they plan to come over to Canada to live with me.” 

She bubbles with enthusiasm when thinking about building her new life here. “Coming to Canada was good for me,” she says. “I have a happy life here, and I have made some very good friends. Things are really going well for me.” 

And to all those young people planning to make Canada their home, Xu says, “Any amount of preparation before coming here will not help. After you reach here, immerse yourself in the Canadian way of life, and take up part-time jobs. If you are willing to adapt easily, you will have a happy life here.” 

*Fearing backlash, many newcomers are unwilling to talk candidly about their experiences immigrating to Canada. To help interviewees feel more comfortable sharing frank impressions of their new lives, we allow them to use assumed names in this section.

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