By Ryan Connell
It’s not easy for many to develop friendships across different cultures. Especially when there are different traditions, customs, and language barriers, it can be a challenge to forge meaningful connections with others.
This wasn’t the case for three friends who came together over their love of Canada and food.
The story began with two students, Reika Goto and Jihye Ko, who each came to Canada with the goal to improve their language skills in Renison’s English For Academic Success (EFAS) program. Reika participated in a study abroad experience with her home university, Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, taking a break from her Languages and Global Business program. Jihye also came to study abroad in Canada as part of her English Language and Literature program with Jeju National University in Jeju City, South Korea.
During their studies at Renison, they met their Peer Leader, Crystal (Yaoyu) Liu. Crystal was an international student from Fuzhou, China, who began her studies at Waterloo in 2015 as a Bridge to Academic Success in English (BASE) student. In Fall 2016, she took on the role as a BASE Peer Leader for several terms before becoming an ELI Peer Leader in 2018 to support Renison’s EFAS and General English at Renison (GEAR) programs. It was at this time when she met Reika and Jihye.
“Another Peer Leader and I brought a handful of students to some Chinese restaurants in Waterloo. They were interested in trying new foods in Canada, especially Chinese food,” Crystal shared. “I remember that Reika was the first student from our group of Japanese students who came to me and tried to use English to communicate with me. She was very willing to help me translate between Japanese and English with other students who had trouble communicating in their new environment.”
It was a unique relationship between the three students given that none of them could speak each other’s first language. They had to rely on their use of English in order to communicate.
During their time in EFAS, the trio explored popular sights in Canada, including Toronto and Niagara Falls. For Jihye, she described her experience in Canada as a place where various cultures blend well.
“Coming to Canada meant a lot to me,” Jihye shared. “Personally, I feel like I am a shy person. But the atmosphere and all of the events Renison hosted helped me to break down my walls. I was able to hang out with people from all different cultures and have a chance to meet my precious friends.”
At the end of December, unfortunately, it was time for Reika and Jihye to return home to Japan and South Korea, respectively.
The friends stayed in contact online over the next several months, while Crystal remained in Canada to complete her final terms in the Actuarial Science program in the Faculty of Mathematics. At the end of August, Crystal returned home to China after completing her final term of studies at Waterloo and earning recognition as an Honourary Peer Leader at Renison.
“We spent a lot of time together in Canada, so we missed each other so much when we went back to our own countries,” Reika said.
That is what sprung the idea for Reika and Jihye to surprise Crystal in her hometown of Fuzhou, located in the province of Fujian.
“They told me they were planning to come, but it felt unreal when I actually saw them in person,” Crystal recalled.
When they reunited, the trio went to do something they enjoyed most together: eat.
“We joke that we are happy and hungry 24 hours a day,” Crystal shared. “Summers in China, especially in the southern part of China, are very hot. They hadn’t seen heat like that before. But, we spent time together with the most delicious bubble tea and remembering our most unforgettable memories in Canada.”
Crystal reflected on her experience at Waterloo overall, sharing, “I would say that it was that term (with Reika and Jihye) that was one of the most brightest moments in my university life.”
Crystal returns to Canada in October to attend the University of Waterloo’s Convocation ceremonies.