Because of my immigration experience I can establish a deeper connection with newcomer students.
October 10, 2017

Edith Chiu, academic advisor in the Faculty of Academic and Career Advancement at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, was born in Hong Kong; her family immigrated to Brisbane, Australia, when she was young, and she arrived in Canada on a study permit in 2012 to pursue a Master’s of Education in counseling psychology at SFU.

As a newcomer, Edith found both small and large challenges in adapting to Canada. For one thing, she didn’t know that she had to pay for TV channels. When she asked a friend why her TV didn’t work, he asked, “Do you have cable?”

She replied, “Of course!” thinking he meant the cables connecting the TV to the outlet.

Other challenges included ordering take-out food. Asked whether she wanted something “to go,” Edith had no idea what the person meant because her ears were waiting for the phrase “take away.”

Starting a new life in a new country was also challenging because while people were friendly, there was a gap in shared experience. The friends who had gone through important experiences with her were back in Australia, and her new Canadian friends shared experiences she did not have. She found it difficult to form connections with people who already had established social groups.

Edith navigated the immigration process by herself.

“I know the Immigration Canada website inside out,” she says.

Once she finished her education, she applied for a three-year work permit which took seven months to come through. During that time she could not earn income and she was not eligible for MSP. She lost two job offers because her work permit had not yet been approved. More recently, Immigration approved her Permanent Resident application in only five months, and she received it at the end of September. Two years from now, she plans to apply for Canadian citizenship, which she can add to those she already holds from Britain and Australia, as well as her Permanent Residence status in Hong Kong.

Edith is the perfect fit as an academic advisor for KPU’s Faculty of Academic and Career Advancement. Her journey has helped her develop resilience as well as compassion for the students she sees. She can relate to the many international students who come to her for advising, having been one herself.

She also understands how challenging the university processes can be for newcomers. These systems are daunting for native English-speaking Canadians, so for International students, refugees or new immigrants, the processes involved in admissions, registration and providing educational records can feel overwhelming. Edith helps students navigate the system, but she does more than that.

She says that although students come to her for academic advising, what they are really seeking is someone to care about and be interested in them. Because of her experience as a newcomer (as well as her background and skills in social work and counseling), she can establish a different, more compassionate connection with students, help them feel valued and give them permission to follow their own interests and passions. 

This story was shared by Edith Chiu, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in support of Surrey NEW.