Having been in Montreal for exact four months, now I feel no much difference from the day I landed at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport. Since I don’t speak French at all and my English is limited as well, the awkwardness I felt at the beginning still haunts me. I live in the community but I doubt if I belong to it.
In the evening of August 12th, I arrived at Montreal. I got a number, waiting to be called by the customs officer. Beyond my expectation, they don’t use any bilingual broadcasting machine to announce numbers. Instead, they shouted out numbers themselves in French, and in the hundred-digit-omitted form (e.g. 230 is read as “trente”). It is only after learning some basic French that I got to understand their omission by that time. As you would have guessed it right, I didn’t know the officer was announcing my number until she called several times and asked my number in English. I heard people in the room snickering. At last, the officer kindly offered me a tip – “If you plan to find a job and stay here, you must learn French.” After passing numerous “ARRET” road signs, I got to the apartment, posted “Welcome to the world of being blind and deaf” on Facebook.
During the four months living in Montreal, I took courses at school, shopped at supermarkets and malls, ordered at restaurants, visited scenic spots, tutored youths, accompanied elders, negotiated over the phone and read books in English on the bed. All above mentioned evidenced that I have been living in the community for real. Efforts has been made to engage myself with social activities to make up me not being outgoing enough to initiate conversations with foreigners. Even though people I’ve met here, either at volunteer organizations or schools, are mostly quite friendly, it is still difficult for me to take many turns in a conversation. Being worried about making grammar mistakes and being laughed at confined me to listening without much talking. I deduct that is also part of the reasons for most Chinese students being inactive in group discussions too.
Upon reading Norton and McKinney’s chapter about identity (2011, p.73), I started wondering what my identity is and which community I belong to. The student group at McGill used to be my imagined community. They used to be “the group of people, not immediately tangible and accessible, with whom I connect through the power of imagination”( Norton & McKinney, 2011). Now I am one of the “McGillers”, but I cannot feel that I have integrated into the community. Let alone the Montreal community, with which I certainly have had engagement with. According to Wenger (1998), engagement refers to direct involvement in community practices and concrete relationships. Does engagement ensure belonging? I don’t think so. Perhaps when my language skills are good enough to understand the French supervisor’s words at the meeting and to avoid making mistakes like mixing leeks and green onions, I would have a stronger sense of belonging with the help of communities of practice including networks (Valerie et al., 2016). Hopefully my completion of building a sense of belonging to McGill and Montreal comes soon in the near future.
Norton, B. & McKinney, C. An Identity Approach to Second Language Acquisition. In Atkinson, D. (2011). Alternative approaches to second language acquisition. London: Routledge.
Valerie, F., Irene, K., & Etienne, W.-T. (April 02, 2016). Communities of Practice as a Social Theory of Learning: a Conversation with Etienne Wenger. British Journal of Educational Studies, 64, 2, 139-160.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.