We caught up with Yuan Shi, who works as the Engagement Facilitator at the Undergraduate Research Initiative at the University of Alberta, to ask about her transition from a former international student into the workplace. As well as her recent experience attending a youth forum in Barcelona, Spain.
When you decided to move to Canada to pursue your education abroad, what were some of the difficulties that you had to overcome?
I am a female, born and raised in a small Chinese village with severe pollution and overwhelming gender discrimination. I used to be painfully shy. At 18, I dropped out of my local university to pursue my dream of studying abroad. The hurdles of the application process were countless—I lacked formal English language training, financial support and social networks. When you are the first person in your entire family to attend college, you don’t know what your potentials are, until someone told you that “you can do it.” The inspiration within my career has always been the idea of community. For the past five years, I was highly involved with community development via diverse initiatives and delivered community engagements in Cuba, Mexico, Canada, Spain and the mountain ranges of China.
You recently participated in a prestigious youth forum in Spain, what was your experience at the conference and how did it effect your future career path?
In October 2015, I attended a youth forum called "The New Era of Employment and Education: Solutions for Change" in Barcelona, Spain. The conference gathered 75 young professionals and senior experts throughout the world to exchange ideas, share experience and build a global network to contribute to tackling the issue of youth education and unemployment. What I found unique about the forum was that 16 youth-led community projects, initiated by over 30 young leaders, were selected to compete for financial and technical support. The projects ranged from social media information sharing platforms and professional development programs to education models and collaborations with businesses. I was impressed that 73 out of 75 program participants were from developing nations, with only two people from North America. I was equally impressed that 70% of the presenters were female. The youth presenting their projects have been leading small but powerful social programs in their local communities and making genuine contributions.
Four days’ inspirational experience with young leaders reminded me of a term I had heard a few times—soft power. This term was initially coined by political scientist Joseph Nye as the ability to attract and persuade. Shashi Tharoor, in his TED talk, called it, “the ability of a culture to tell a compelling story and influence others to fall in love with them”. This experience in Spain offered me valuable first-hand experience on the importance of soft power to career development. I found that having the awareness of improving my soft power really push me and challenge me to expand my horizons. In this way, you always keep your mind open about what you see before you get to the destination. Because your destination may not be important, it’s about the experiences along the way and how those experiences enrich you as a critical and thoughtful citizen.