For this second interview in our series, I spoke with Marie. Marie is in her sixties and has always lived in the same city in Canada. During the past few years, she has built a good friendship with Lee, a forty-something Taiwanese neighbour. I asked Marie to share her story because it illustrates that anyone can cross cultures and share love—no special training or plane tickets needed. Marie met Lee as she was going about her regular life, and in befriending her, Marie found out that ordinary acts of kindness can make a big difference to a newcomer. —Julie
(Please note that we've changed the names in this story for privacy reasons.)
I have heard you talk a bit about your friend from Taiwan. Could you explain how you met and became friends?
I met Lee at the elementary school where I have been working as a lunch aid for several years. Lee started working at the school as a lunch aid as well, in the classroom right next to mine. After talking to Lee, I found out that she lived close to us. Lee wanted to learn conversational English better. She asked if I would help her, and I said I would. I talked a lot to Lee at the school, and also invited her to our home for tea so we could talk more. She is an eager, quick learner, and very outgoing and friendly.
I think it always helps a lot when a person lives or works near you! It’s so much harder to maintain regular contact if you don't see each other often. Have you gotten to know Lee's family as well?
Yes, we've spent time with her whole family. I got my husband Ron involved, which made it easier for us to connect with both Lee and her husband Jack. We have had Lee and Jack and their two daughters (ages 11 and 13) over many times, and we've also taken them out for meals. They have adopted Ron and I as their grandparents! Jack and Lee like to try our Canadian food and learn about Canadian customs.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand Taiwanese immigrants' English, and Jack has been extra challenging to get to know and understand because he has a severe stuttering problem. However, because my oldest brother had a stuttering problem, I was familiar with his situation. I didn't feel uncomfortable with his stuttering.
How have you been able to help Lee and her family in practical ways?
From time to time, they ask for help with something. Maybe a plumber needs to be let into their house while they are both at work. We have a key to their house, and Ron will go over and let the plumber in. Often Lee will phone with questions about Canadian culture.
Was it hard for you to find things in common with a friend from such a different culture?
I have never lived in another country, but I found Lee easy to get to know because she was so friendly. Lee is very happy to teach us about her culture. She has us over for meals and even invites us to join them in their Chinese New Year celebrations. We have had endless Taiwanese dishes delivered to our house for us to try. (Admittedly, in some instances we were glad Lee was not present to see our reaction to the taste and unusual texture!)
How long had Lee been living in Canada when you met her? Has she ever talked to you about her impression of Canadians or mentioned any difficulties with transition?
"Most Canadians give up on befriending Taiwanese immigrants because of the language barrier."
When I first met Lee, I think she had been living in our city for about one year. She and other friends of hers from Taiwan have found it very difficult to make Canadian friends. She said that most Canadians give up on befriending them because of the language barrier—as I mentioned before, their English can be difficult to understand! Lee said that most of her Taiwanese friends no longer make an effort to make Canadian friends; they just spend time with other Taiwanese friends. The hardest things about her transition have been the loneliness, having no caring Canadian friends, the cold weather, and learning both the language and culture.
Have you gone deeper with her, and gotten to talk about values, life, or God?
Lee is not a Christian and does not talk about spiritual things. However, we've been able to invite her and her daughters along to some things we were doing. For example, when our church has ladies’ events, I have sometimes taken Lee along and she always seems to enjoy that. We have driven her daughters out to a Christian day camp for one week in the summer for a couple of years. Recently Lee and Jack have been going through some serious marriage problems. Lee has felt comfortable enough to talk with us about her problems. She has spent many hours at our home crying and talking to us, and we've prayed with her.
What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about reaching out to an international neighbour?
You always take a chance when you reach out to someone from a different country and culture—there's a risk you'll be misunderstood. But I would encourage people to reach out to international neighbours and coworkers, you never know what good friends you will make!
Do you have anything else you want to add?
"This past Christmas Lee said, "Winter here is very cold, but without you both it would be a lot colder."
This past Christmas, Lee said, "Winter here is very cold but without you both it would be a lot colder." We pray for Lee and we ask the Lord to be in this! Lee has become a very good friend!