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Part of a special feature coinciding with the beginning of a new academic year at Memorial University.

By Jennifer Batten

Dandan Lu’s life in China was always busy and full.

The Faculty of Education doctoral student is an accomplished high school educator and was well-known back home among her peers, students and school administrators for her drive and commitment to student success. But, she says she felt “stuck” and a bit off balance.

She felt there was something else out there for her. So, after a lot of consideration, in 2012 she made the decision to move to Canada to further her education.

Chose Memorial

Ms. Lu was accepted to graduate programs at three Canadian universities. After conducting her research, she ultimately made the choice to make Newfoundland and Labrador her new home, at least for a little while.

While preparing to uproot her life and move across the globe, Ms. Lu discovered that there were numerous other students from China either interested in pursuing an education at Memorial, or already planning to enrol in a specific program here. She also came to realize that some of the future students knew very little about Canada or life on the East Coast. They had conducted their own research, visiting Memorial’s website and other relevant online sites, but there was a real appetite to share their respective application experiences informally and chat among themselves about their options.

Online support

Ms. Lu took it upon herself to create a QQ group — an online social group, popular among young people in China — for Chinese students interested in or already attending Memorial. It was in this group that she met and conversed with students from all over China who were interested in learning more about Memorial and in sharing their experiences with others.

Dandan Lu connects with her fellow international students online.
Dandan Lu connects with her fellow international students online.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Ms. Lu started the QQ group a couple of years ago, before she left her hometown of Xi’an City, in Shaanxi Province in Central China. At the beginning, it was just a few members; today it boasts membership of more than 650 Chinese students and potential students talking and connecting about all things Memorial.

‘Glad to help’

“When I created this group I had no idea it would become so helpful for so many Chinese students at Memorial,” said Ms. Lu. “More and more Chinese students are sharing information and getting help from it. I’m glad that I was able to help share my own experience and I encourage others to do the same. It really helps to hear from people from your home country when you’re thinking about travelling far to pursue something new.”

Ms. Lu is currently completing a PhD, focusing on student leadership. She credits the welcoming, friendly people in the Faculty of Education, both on the faculty and staff side, for helping her get started when she arrived as a master’s student four years ago.

She also says that over the past few years, she has benefited tremendously from getting out and about on campus and, most importantly, getting involved. She notes that there’s so much more to the Memorial experience than studying and taking exams, and it’s important that all students — not just those individuals here from other countries — find a way to connect with the community, whether that’s by joining a club or society, trying out for a varsity sport or volunteering.

“I see the importance of getting out of your comfort zone, meeting others, both those familiar to you and those who you don’t know as well or who don’t share your culture and background.” –Dandan Lu

Ms. Lu herself started an international student group in the Faculty of Education in 2013 and founded the Chinese Graduate Students Association at Memorial in 2014. She says the graduate students’ group is especially active, positive, and helpful for Chinese students and other Chinese young people living here.

“We create connections and have events that enrich the lives of members and help build their commitment to this campus and to the local society” Ms. Lu said. “I see the importance of getting out of your comfort zone, meeting others, both those familiar to you and those who you don’t know as well or who don’t share your culture and background. Being part of student groups, whether online or in person, is also a practical way to educate ourselves, and I believe it is very important for personal and professional development.”

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