Book shines light on culture gaps for Chinese newcomers to Vancouver

Longtime English teacher Kari Karlsbjerg noticed many of her Chinese students were having trouble adjusting to life in Vancouver so she decided to address some of the cultural gaps in a book, My New Life in Vancouver.

My New Life in Vancouver is written in both Mandarin and English to help Chinese immigrants adjust

Yi Zheng and Kari Karlsbjerg wanted to bridge the cultural gap between newcomers and students who came to Vancouver from China. (Bruce Wang)

When Yi Zheng first moved to Canada from China in 2010, his biggest challenge was the language barrier. But even once his English improved, he still struggled with the cultural differences between Canada and his home country.

Now, Zheng has collaborated with his former English instructor, Kari Karlsbjerg, to translate her new book, My New Life in Vancouver, from English to Mandarin. The bilingual book acts as a practical and cultural guide to everyday life for Chinese immigrants and students.

Karlsbjerg, who has been teaching English in the learning centre at Vancouver Community College for 10 years, says she often saw students struggling with culture shock when they arrived to the city.

Culture gap

"We'd get students to the level where they could speak English but then they were missing something," said Karlsbjerg.

"There was sort of a cultural gap."

Karlsbjerg says that she started seeing patterns in the challenges students were facing.

Kari Karlsjberg and Yi Zheng produced My New Life in Vancouver 6:24

For example, students wondered why Canadians say sorry all the time, were curious about our lineup culture and didn't understand why restaurants serve ice water with meals.

"The idea of getting a glass of ice water with food is very foreign to their culture," said Karlsbjerg.

"Many students I've met have lived here for years and have never been in a western restaurant because the idea of even the menu or the customs or the etiquette was very intimidating."

Don't be afraid

For the book, the pair interviewed many newcomers and former students about the challenges they faced.

"Some immigrants like me are afraid to talk to local people or afraid to make friends," Zheng explained.

Many of the interviewees said that immigrants should not be afraid of getting involved in their new communities.

"The number one advice I would say is to be brave, to take chances, to not be afraid to make mistakes," Karlsbjerg said.

Longtime English teacher, Kari Karlsbjerg noticed that many of her Chinese students were having trouble adjusting to life in Vancouver, so she decided to address some of the cultural gaps in a book, My New Life in Vancouver. 6:23

With files from On the Coast.