Welcoming wisdom

- March 30, 2016

Xiaoqi Cai, meeting with some of her fellow Howe Hall students. (Nick Pearce photos)
Xiaoqi Cai, meeting with some of her fellow Howe Hall students. (Nick Pearce photos)

Xiaoqi Cai remembers the challenges of coming to a new school, a new country and a new life all at once. That’s why she’s dedicated herself to helping fellow international students from China adapt to life in Canada and thrive at Dalhousie.

Xiaoqi, a fourth-year Sociology student who came to Dal from the city of Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, in 2012, received a Residence Life Impact Award last week for her work as a residence assistant (RA) at Howe Hall and ambassador to new Chinese students across the university.

“I was so surprised,” says Xiaoqi of the Impact Award. “I work with other RAs and residence life managers and they’re all so amazing. I’m so glad to work with them and I could not have won without their support.”

Forging connections

In addition to the usual duties of an RA, Xiaoqi helps new arrivals navigate the city, make academic choices and find their place in the Dal community.

“I feel like a big sister,” Xiaoqi says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to help students engage with university life.

“In September, the questions could be as simple as how to get on the bus, how to buy bus tickets, how to get phone plans. After the first week, the questions were about how to choose courses and go to different campuses.”

Xiaoqi knows first-hand how challenging it can be for students who are new to Canada and aren’t native English-speakers to adjust.

“I had a huge culture shock,” she says of her own early days at Dal. “Everything is different. It’s easy to feel upset and homesick.

“I was living in Shirreff Hall. We had an RA on my floor but I wanted someone who could speak Chinese, because I was really shy and didn’t have much interaction with native English-speakers.”

Xiaoqi went on to do work for the website ChineseHalifax.com, editing and translating local news content for Chinese audiences. This role helped her to realize how she could assist incoming students from China.

Supporting her fellow students

At the beginning of the school year, she established an online discussion group on the Wechat app for Chinese students, which now has 61 members. In addition to answering questions online, Xiaoqi conducts one-on-one meetings each semester with Chinese students in Howe Hall, checking up on everything from academic performance to mental health and wellbeing.

“Basically I’ll talk to them once or twice a semester so I know they’re doing well,” says Xiaoqi, who has received training in mental health-related First Aid.

Xiaoqi says that the time spent helping her fellow students has given her direction for her own future.

“Before I was an RA I was unsure about my future, but now I know I can help international students and new immigrants,” says Xiaoqi.  

“I think by helping with these different problems, it’s also a way for me to think about my future.”


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