Journey through three continents: An OLBI graduate’s quest for bilingualism

Posted on Thursday, November 26, 2020

Yiran Ding

Yiran Ding is a 2020 graduate of the Master of Arts in Bilingualism Studies offered by the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute. She was born and raised in China, with Mandarin as her mother tongue. Learning English in school, she quickly realized that speaking another language introduced her not only to new words, but also to a new culture and a different way of seeing things. This sparked her interest in learning languages.

Yiran pursued her love of language and went on to learn French as part of her major at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. To further immerse herself in the French language and culture, she spent a term at the University of Strasbourg in France as an exchange student as an undergrad. By then, she had found her passion.

Choosing the MA in Bilingualism Studies

The University of Ottawa’s unique status as a bilingual institution caught Yiran’s attention, specifically the Master of Arts in Bilingualism Studies, a bilingual program that focuses on critical issues in the field of applied linguistics, including methodological and technological innovation in second language instruction, language assessment and language policy and planning. It was the program for her!

Seeing the world through a different lens

It became clear to Yiran that her ability to communicate in more languages broadened her understanding of the world and allowed her to make new, meaningful connections. She saw that it was easier to search for scholarly work in fields related to linguistics. She could find more articles on any given topic, with a broader range of perspectives. At the same time, the bilingual environment changed her way of thinking and solving problems. For instance, Yiran observed that Chinese academics tend to express their ideas implicitly, whereas anglophone and francophone authors present their viewpoints more explicitly.

Adapting to a new country

When she first came to Canada, Yiran felt lonely and was not used to the local food, customs and weather. She gradually adapted to the pace of life, which was much slower than that in China. She learned to cook and to assemble furniture by herself, and she managed to enjoy winter! She even fell in love with poutine the first time she tasted it!

Yiran’s integration at uOttawa went relatively smoothly. She attended sessions held by the International Office, which provided her with a lot of useful information about university life. She fondly remembers last year’s holiday gathering in Hamelin Hall. Bilingualism studies professors and students shared a festive meal and great conversation. She felt a strong sense of belonging to her new, close-knit community. “Looking back on these moments, I find them meaningful and invaluable,” she says.

Graduate studies and COVID-19: Embracing challenges with grit

Graduate studies presented their share of challenges for Yiran. For one thing, she had to adapt to the seminar format. When she was an undergraduate student, most of her courses were lectures, and she had been more of a listener than a participant.

“At first, I felt rather nervous when participating in seminars because I was not used to giving my opinion in public. I would like to express my gratitude to all my professors who encouraged me to share my ideas and my experiences,” she says.

Due to COVID-19, Yiran had to finish her master’s research paper remotely from her home in Ottawa and acclimatize to distance work. Moreover, the quarantine had a negative impact on her mental health. She had trouble focusing on her work when she felt stressed, so she would leave her room and go jogging or do yoga to take her mind off things. “I noticed that reading about the pandemic on social media made me anxious and dispirited. So I chose to concentrate on my real life rather than news on the internet,” she says. ILOB professor Marie-Josée Hamel was supportive during that difficult period.

What’s next?

Yiran is now preparing for a test to do the Teacher Qualification Certificate in China, and she plans to be a foreign language teacher in her country. Down the road, she hopes to do a PhD in language education at uOttawa. What a journey she continues to have!

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