Before she even opens the door I can smell the scent of cooking wafting through the hallways. It tickles my nose and makes my stomach grumble. Set on the table before me is a four course meal and behind me two very shy girls emerging from their respective rooms. Once again food is the thing that brings people together.
Kiyo Wang, Rebeta Li and I sit around a very low table almost resembling a Japanese kotatsu (which is a small table with a heating element under it and quilt that goes over the table). You can hear the popping of oil and the rise of steam as Ariel Li – their other roommate – puts the final touches on the meal. I can tell they’re a little a nervous and honestly so am I. There are a lot of firsts happening in this moment. This is my first time interviewing someone for a school publication, likewise, this is most likely their first time being interviewed. To break the awkward silence I ask them what they do for fun. “I like back home [China] there is a lot of activities to have fun. We go out to sing together.” Kiyo tells me. “Oh you mean karaoke?” I ask with excitement. I swap stories with the two of them of how my friends and I back home would go out into the city of Toronto and sing karaoke or just sing awfully together in the car, or wherever. They laugh along with me, at a common experience shared among all of us. It’s not too long before it’s time to eat. I ask them to tell me what’s laid out before me. There’s a dark brown chicken, soup with shrimp and steamed lettuce, and a reddish mix of sausage and peppers. Ariel sets down the final dish – bacon and mushroom rolls – and hands me a bowl of rice, and we dig in.
Not many students here know what the initiative is behind the LEAF Program. The LEAF program is for students who meet Laurier’s academic requirements but not their English proficiency requirements. It gives these students a chance to improve their English skills and make them proficient enough to meet the requirements and move on to an undergraduate program of their choice. Rebeta and Kiyo are two of many international students taking part in the program this year. “We want our English to be more authentic,” says Kiyo. It is their mission to pass their International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Rebeta wants to pursue financial mathematics and Kiyo, business and economy. I ask them what they plan to do when they get their degree. I automatically feel like the grown up grilling a little child: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The most feared and hated question of any university student still trying to find their way, and Rebeta and Kiyo are no different. Both tell me that they’re still trying to figure things out, as many of us still are, myself included.
“Does Laurier feel like home yet?” I ask them. I know it didn’t take that long for Laurier to feel like home to me but not every student’s transition into university is so smooth. For Rebeta it’s starting to feel a little more like home, but for Kiyo China is still home in her heart. She gestured to the meal around her, “staying with my family and having dinner together were my nicest moments,” she says. “But the pollution in China was not good.” Rebeta agreed with her statement. “Canadians are more friendly than Chinese,” she adds. I laughed at that; it was a stereotype that we carried into every country and that we continue to prove true.
When it comes time to having their photo taken they giggle with excitement, posing and throwing up peace signs to the camera. It’s starting to rain outside but the atmosphere is really warm in here. After sharing a home cooked meal, we end off the night with a round of karaoke to John Legend’s “All of Me”.