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International students victims of verbal attack in Sydney

Xin Li, a Chinese national taking the pre-MBA course at ICEAP, stands outside her residence on the CBU campus. Li and two of her classmates were told to speak English and go back to China by a young man outside of the Irving gas station on George Street the first week of September.
Xin Li, a Chinese national taking the pre-MBA course at ICEAP, stands outside her residence on the CBU campus. Li and two of her classmates were told to speak English and go back to China by a young man outside of the Irving gas station on George Street the first week of September.

SYDNEY, N.S. — They came to improve their English, to enjoy Cape Breton’s fresh air and to study at Cape Breton University (CBU).

They didn’t come here to be yelled at or told to go back to their home country.

But that is what happened to Xin Li and two of her classmates at the International Centre for English Academy Preparation (ICEAP,) where they are studying before attending CBU.

It was the first week of September and the three women, all from China, were leaving the Irving gas station on George Street in Sydney when a man verbally accosted them.

“We wanted to find out about the bus that goes to Halifax twice a day,” explained Li, who is from Beijing.

While inside asking about the bus, they saw a heavy-set blonde man, in his early 20s, behind them in line. They didn’t pay much attention to him until outside the store.

“He just started yelling at us, I don’t know why,” said Li, who is registered in the pre-MBA program at ICEAP.

The man was so aggressive the women feared he might hit or punch them.

“The young guy, he yelled at us and said, ‘Do you know we speak English here? We speak English here.’ Several times, he repeated that. Then, ‘Go home. Go home.’”

The man’s yelling continued and Li, 40, felt his anger in the words.

“At that time I was a little bit angry but I don’t think we could fight back because he’s a man with such a big figure,” explained Li, who worked as a public servant in Beijing.

“I wanted to say, ‘I speak English, too.’ But I could say nothing at that time. I just wanted to neglect that (comment) and keep going.”

The two women with Li were quite frightened and all of them talked about going back to China later that night. Since classes were starting in a few days, they decided against it.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to an international student studying at ICEAP or CBU.

Liam Han, from China’s Hunan Province, graduated with his MBA from CBU in May, after doing the pre-MBA course at ICEAP. The 26-year old, who spent three years in Cape Breton, said he encountered negative comments from people almost immediately after arriving.

“I remember in my first month, I went to Sobeys … some guys drove by me and started yelling at me really, really loud and I knew it was something not very nice,” Han, who now lives in Halifax, explained.  

“Another time I was walking down Charlotte Street, it was about 10 p.m. and a van full of young adults were driving by, really, really fast. They were yelling, ‘F—king Chink’… I couldn’t see their faces. They had no guts to let me see their faces.”

Han never reported the incidents to officials at CBU or ICEAP because he knew there was little that could be done and he refused to let the comments bother him.

“It is a very small portion of people who do this. If you go to China, you will come across people who do this, too. It is a small portion, it is not normal.”

Kerrianne MacKenzie, chief operating officer for ICEAP, said some students have come to them about instances like this but it is very rare.

“In Cape Breton, we have been incredibly blessed by a welcoming and accommodating community, who’ve been nothing but wonderful to students,” she said.

“If the students bring it to us, we would be able to speak to them about the realities of living in a new community and the fact that this individual does not represent the majority of the community.”

Overall, she is glad Li reached out to the Cape Breton Post to talk about the incident and is glad it didn’t dissuade the women from continuing their studies.

For Li, it left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Why I came to Canada is because Canada is a country of immigrants. Unfortunately, I was disappointed at the very beginning,” she said.

“Before that I was very confident (when) talking with people on the street. I like making friends with others. But after that, I don’t ask questions to others.”

 

nicole.sullivan@cbpost.com

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