How do friendships start? You might as well ask, as the Brits do, “How long is a piece of string?” The possibilities are as boundless and varied as every friendship is from another. Sometimes friendships start in childhood, while others are forged much later in life. Some start with the next door neighbour, while others are made with someone half a world away. This story is an example of the latter, and it tells us how the shared experiences of two former Renison English Language Institute (ELI) students, Yifei Gu and Daniela Conforme, can form the foundation of a strong, shared bond that spans across those seemingly enormous gulfs of language and culture.
Yifei Gu came to Canada from China as part of the University of Waterloo’s 2+2 Program. As part of their studies in Waterloo, 2+2 students are required to enrol in our intensive summer session of Renison ELI’s English for Academic Success (EFAS) program prior to beginning their fall studies at UWaterloo. It was during an EFAS student trip to Toronto’s CN Tower that Yifei met Daniela Conforme. Daniela had travelled from her native Ecuador to Canada to study academic English in the EFAS program. It was in the line-up at the base of the CN Tower that these two young women struck up a conversation about why they were studying in Canada, the differences between their respective homelands, and their families. The two decided to get lunch together in Toronto’s Chinatown district, marking the beginnings of a lasting friendship.
When we asked Yifei and Daniela what they thought brought them together as friends, Daniela remarked that they both have a “traveller spirit”. Yifei agreed, saying that Daniela is a “very friendly and outgoing person. It is nice to talk with her.” They soon started signing up for more EFAS student trips together to places like Niagara Falls and Kitchener’s SkyZone Trampoline Park.
The latter also tied into their shared love of physical fitness. Yifei noted that they “always talk about how to do workouts and how to get fit,” and also shared healthy recipes with one another. Daniela’s love for Asian cuisine was further enhanced when her and Yifei went to a sushi restaurant together, and Yifei taught her how to use chopsticks.
Given that Yifei and Daniela’s purpose for studying in EFAS was to improve their English language skills, we asked how their friendship affected their English language learning. Daniela remarked that their friendship helped them improve their English.
“We were from different countries,” said Daniela, “and Yifei doesn’t speak Spanish and I don’t speak Chinese, so the only way to communicate was in English”.
Yifei added that because they were both English language learners, they both held the same perspective and were more patient when listening to each other speaking. They would actively try to help and correct each other’s pronunciation and grammar. Yifei also noted that they had the chance to learn many new words from each other.
“Our vocabularies were like two different sets,” said Yifei, “and now these two different sets sum up to become a bigger set.”
During their many conversations, Daniela and Yifei had lots of chances to learn about each other’s cultures. Daniela said she learned to admire Chinese culture, especially their dedication in each activity they do.
“I could see that Yifei was a girl that gives everything when she has a task or she’s doing a project,” Daniela said.
Yifei said that before she met Daniela, she knew almost nothing about South America.
“What (Daniela) told me about the people in Ecuador was surprising,” Yifei shared. “For instance, they have many Chinese immigrants (in Ecuador), and how Ecuadorians love Chinese food.”
Yifei was also fascinated to learn about the great variety of “original American (aboriginal) residents and their cultures.”
Yifei soon experienced Daniela’s home country first-hand when she travelled to Ecuador in the spring of 2018--an experience that Yifei described as “amazing”. She noted the incredible hospitality shown to her by Daniela and Daniela’s parents.
“(Daniela’s) mom cooked us traditional breakfast every morning, which made me feel like I am at home,” Yifei said.
During Yifei’s trip, Daniela and her family went to many different places in Ecuador, including forests, islands, volcanoes, and beaches. Yifei also had the chance to sample many different types of food and tropical fruits she had never tasted before.
We asked both Daniela and Yifei about their favourite memory of their times spent together, and they both told me about a story from Yifei’s recent trip to Ecuador. Daniela talked about how they decided to have a girls-night out together in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. Daniela said she was feeling “a bit down” at the time, and that Yifei was able to give her some valuable advice as they talked over drinks and snacks. Yifei added that she too loved their “long, deep chat about our life” that night, and that it would be “forever in her mind”.
On the subject of advice, we asked both Daniela and Yifei what advice they had for future students at Renison ELI who are eager to make new friends. Daniela said, “Don’t be afraid to make new friends from different cultures; there’s a lot of things you will learn.” She also encouraged students to “go to the events that EFAS organizes for students, because it helps you to meet new people.”
Yifei agreed, and added that it was important not to be “shy” when speaking English.
“Even though your English is not perfect, always be proud of being a multi-linguist, because when you can speak a different language, you can open the door of a new world.”
With those words of wisdom, we can perhaps make one final observation. Namely, that while each friendship is special and unique, they all share a unifying thread: a willingness to open ourselves up, share unique experiences, and develop a common bond of trust with someone new.
We wish Yifei and Daniela many more years of wonderful friendship.
By A.J. Dixon, Student Advisor