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Opinion: ‘Troublesome‘ child in China now Richmond journalist

Nono Shen is a reporter with the Richmond News.
Pursuing my journalism degree in Canada has been a life-changing experience for me.
I took my friend's daughter on a tour of the UBC campus over the Labour Day long weekend.

The approaching school year meant a mixture of nervousness and excitement for this first-year student. She was both worried about whether she would make friends and was thrilled to be starting a new life chapter in a foreign country.

I was once an international student myself, so her bundle of emotions were all too familiar.

On our tour, I tried to pass on some of the survival skills I had learned at UBC, such as where to find the cheapest burgers on campus, what club on campus would be good to join, and what a typical day is like.

But in the end, I told her, “You know what, forget about it. Just go with the flow and embrace what life throws at you…you’ll love it.”

Moving from China to Canada to pursue my journalism dream was a life-changing experience for me. Canada taught me a lot, including how to express myself.

I had always been viewed as a “problem” student in China. Teachers complained to my parents that I talked too much in class.

"Could you please keep your mouth shut when I am teaching!" a teacher once yelled at me. His words still ring in my ears. I also remember the look on his face – the look of someone giving up on a student doomed to fail.

"We Chinese, our emotions run deep inside us, and that’s where they belong," said the teacher.

That wasn't an isolated incident. I was kicked out of another class also for talking too much.

As a "troublemaker" who couldn’t keep quiet or get particularly good grades, my parents were constantly being called into the principal's office.

My parents were open-minded and accepting and never blamed me for the reprimands. In fact, they encouraged me to be who I was, but I could see the pain and suffering on their faces every time they came home from one of those school visits.

They would tell me, "The teacher said you are not well-behaved and you are never going to be successful, but it doesn't matter. No matter what, mom and dad still love you.”

As much as I hated to disappoint my parents, and the teachers, I couldn’t seem to help it. I had a voice inside me that just wouldn’t be silenced. It told me to speak up, express my opinions, my emotions and my inspirations. It was how I connected with the world around me.

When I came to study journalism in Canada, I was in for a shock. Suddenly, I was the quietest student in class. In my first journalism class, I tried to jump into the discussion but couldn’t because everyone else was busy sharing their fantastic stories.

Although I didn’t say much on that first day of school, I was so happy because I knew I had come to the right place.

Why should I be ashamed of expressing myself? Why do I need to keep my emotions bottled up? If I’m not expressing how I feel, how can I be myself and connect with others?

I am so grateful that today I can express myself and not just tell my stories, but, as a reporter, tell the stories of others - people who don’t have a platform or don’t speak the language but still want to share and connect.

Meanwhile, I’ll dream about buying an airline ticket for that former teacher, and principal, who tried to keep me quiet. I’d like them to see how that problematic child on one side of the world is now using her voice.