Meet Hanlu Li, a proud Chinese-Canadian. Hanlu is the Co-Founder of Ani & Fabi, a monthly baking subscription box that makes your kitchen a sweeter place for you to spend fun quality time with the ones you love! She is bilingual, has an MBA from the Odette School of Business, and is a part-time instructor at St. Clair College. She is a community advocate, entrepreneur, and inspiration to our #YQG community. When reflecting on her immigration story this is what she had to say:
On January 1st 2008, at the age of 18, my parents said goodbye to me as they sent me off on a plane from China to Canada. As an only child, it is always a sacrifice to be so far apart, but with my parents wanting the best for me, like all parents do, they have supported me and respected my decision of being here. We all see the distance for space and time, but we also see how close our hearts can remain. I still share every bit of my life with my parents; we are best friends and distance does little to stop us.
During my first year at University of Windsor, I went through some of the most dramatic and emotional moments in my life. As an international student experiencing a completely new cultural environment, nothing seemed to be simple. I started my first semester, 4 days after I arrived in Windsor, loaded with 5 courses. I didn’t have to complete any English language training, and everything in class was very new to me. I didn’t even know what APA format was!! I was too shy and afraid to ask anyone for help. This resulted in me ending my first semester in Windsor on Academic Probation, which just made this new environment much more scary.
Then, to add even more frustration to my situation, on May 12th of that year, a 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit my home province in China. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reach my parents. I was devastated. I kept thinking “why am I here instead of at home with my family?” Fortunately, once the communication was restored, I found out that my family was safe. This moment drove me to go into my next semester as a wiser individual. As a result, my grades started to pick up. I also realized that associating only with students from my own culture would not be beneficial to my learning or in developing my Canadian cultural and language skills.
At first, it was difficult for me to change my natural habit of only interacting with those who spoke my language, as this was the comfortable choice for me. But slowly, I learned to change this mentality. I started to actively communicate with English speaking students and make friends outside of my circle. This helped me to better manage my time and participate in volunteering events. Surprisingly to me, no one was judging my English ability and everyone was very friendly.
Once I gained some confidence in my abilities, I entered into my third year and selected a concentration in Marketing (which not many international students usually choose). This gave me an opportunity to work in teams with local students, learn from them, and participate in various presentations. As my skills were improving, I wanted to share my experiences with other international students, this way they would hopefully avoid some of the mistakes that I made. I joined some of the University's consulting and mentoring programs, which paired me with first year students. While with my mentees, I was never afraid of sharing the embarrassing moments that I had endured, as this helped the students and myself. During this time, I reflected on my journey and how anyone, regardless of where they are from, how they talk, or what they look like, can make a positive difference. With that in my mind, I wanted to become one of those people who made positive community differences, especially for others like me.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I moved back to China to work. However, I loved living in Canada so much that I decided to return to Windsor for an MBA in 2015. After I graduated, I then decided to stay here permanently. Canada is an amazing place to pursue my dreams. Being in Canada, allowed me to own my own business, which is something that I would have never imagined doing. But, here I am today, running Ani & Fabi, a business which I launched with my partner Dominik in September of 2017. Dominik is a proud first generation Canadian with parents who immigrated to Canada from Poland. We work hard every day to turn our dreams into reality, and we have been fortunate enough to have started our business in such a wonderful community. Our community is very important to us, and we are always open to assisting international students and helping others. After all, it is always inspiring to talk to someone who has experienced a similar journey as your own.