A new challenge from across the world

On Sunday, January 17, 2016, I met the most charming 25-year-old. I will call her Ci-Ci.

CiCi in the car

CiCi in the car

She came to Calgary to visit her aunt and improve her English in the hopes she’ll be admitted to a University in Canada. She has a degree in Economics but has always dreamed of becoming a industrial designer.

Her interest in Art started as a young child and her portfolio of drawings and oil paintings are proof positives that her talents are in that area.

I know her Aunt: she’s my landlady at the condo I’m living in here in Calgary. One day, she and her Aunt came to visit me to check on a recent modification to the condo, and her Aunt asked me if I would be interested in helping her niece with her English and I said “yes”. Here we are!

This is something I have never done before but just as in golf, I love a challenge. I found a few sites on the internet that were helpful but mostly I thought back to my school days and how we tackled language: spelling grammar, sentence structure etc.

For an International student applying for admittance to a Canadian University you must take an English test. There are four parts to this test: listening, reading, writing and speaking. CiCi and I are working mostly on her writing and speaking as they were the areas that needed improvement the most.

Nursery Rhymes

I introduced her to Nursery Rhymes which of course she had never heard of before. It is quite amazing that these simple rhymes have such a variety of words with a combination of vowels and consonants that really has helped her speech. I would say it was the best idea I had in helping her pronounce English well.

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a Corner
Eating his Christmas Pie…

CiCi studying

CiCi studying

On one of her first evenings after I’d met her, she went out for dinner to a pub and the next day, I had her write the details of her experience. I checked her grammar and she gave me an oral report. She has rewritten it and presented it to me several times.

I thought at the beginning that CiCi was quite shy but now I see it was more just getting comfortable with the day to day life in a strange city. It is now February 6 and we have spent over 30 hours together in the quest for improvements in speaking and writing English. Her writing has improved so much since I introduced the three “C’s”: Clear, Concise and Complete. I ask her to read a sentence she has written and ask if it makes sense!

Remote Controls as Pretend Phones

One of the biggest challenges of English is in tense: future, present and past. e.g. I will, I am, I have.
To be comfortable on the phone was something we had to work on as well. We started out using two TV remotes as pretend phones and talked this way for half an hour at a time.

The next day she called the Industrial Design Department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for an interview. And they gave her an appointment!

This is was a major accomplishment. The main point of her trip to Alberta was to present her portfolio to the University before she actually sent in her application! I think it helped get an interview when she told them she has a degree in Economics. Anyway, she was off to Edmonton for the interview on Monday afternoon.

The U of A is her first choice as the university she wants to attend. Not only is it one of the few that offers Industrial Design but it is just down the Queen Elizabeth Two highway to Calgary, where her Aunt lives.

Now I will fast forward to February 9th. CiCi arrived at my place in the afternoon with a smile from ear to ear. She said her interview was with a Professor and they talked for over an hour. She said he was so interested in her portfolio and removed three pages that he said were too “artsy” for industrial design. He was very impressed with the quality of her portfolio and said it was “very strong.” He asked her to send her newly reprinted portfolio to admissions.

The professor then took CiCi on a tour of both floors of the Industrial Design area and showed her all the computerized equipment that she would be using to take a project from the first drawing to a finished product if she was able to make it into the program.

CiCi kept saying what an experience it had been as the Professor was so kind and talked and talked and talked about design which seemed to portray a man who was happy with his job! He also said that out of about 80 applications there will be only 20 that will be admitted to the program in the fall. However the Arts Program and the Industrial Design Program are the same in the first year so, he told her to not be disappointed if she doesn’t get into Industrial Design right from the start. She can take the Arts Program in the first year and transfer to Design if her marks are high enough. I am pretty confident that she will be going to the University of Alberta in the fall.

We didn’t get much work done yesterday with all the interesting news from the interview so now it is back to work! CiCi has come a long way in all aspects of English and we are both up for the challenge to get even better.

Chinese New Year

China celebrates the start of their new year with what is called the Spring Festival. One day when CiCi went with her Aunt to the Chinese Market here in Calgary she watched some actors and actresses practising for the festival. I asked her to write about the celebration in her home.

“Spring Festival is on the first day of the new year in the Chinese calendar. It is the most important festival in China. People would prepare several things to welcome the festival. Firstly we would buy some vegetables and meat for making dumplings. Since most family members will come home to celebrate the festival each member will help in the different parts of making the dumplings. For example, someone will wash the ingredients, others will make the flour and water mixture flat. It is teamwork.

More importantly we often made paper cuttings in the past. We cut red papers to different shapes such as animals and flowers. Then we put the paper cuttings on the windows and doors.

The story goes from the beginning of time that a monster called “Xi” would come to people’s houses in the evening before the Spring Festival arrived. It will destroy food and hurt the children. But Xi is afraid of red things so people use red papers to protect themselves. Nowadays the beautiful paper cuttings can be bought ready-made from the supermarket. Besides Xi is afraid of noise so we set off firecrackers to frighten the monster away.”

Mo and CiCi

Mo and CiCi

Soon CiCi will be returning home and hopefully she will be back in the summer.  I am so proud of her hard work in trying to become fluent in English.  She has improved by leaps and bounds in writing, reading, speaking and listening since we started this journey back in January.  Good job CiCi.

February 23.  She visited the Glenbow Museum this morning and was impressed with everything from history to art.  Then she came to my place for her last visit before going back home.


This is CiCi’s recap of her time with me:

“On January 16, 2016 I came to Canada to visit my aunt.  She introduced a special lady to me.  Her name is Maureen.  I went to her home four times a week, from Tuesday to Friday.  She helped me to practise my English.

The first week Maureen taught me several nursery rhymes.  They were very simple and interesting.  Sometimes I was a shy girl but those rhymes helped me put more feelings into my talking.  I felt very comfortable to stay with Maureen.  She also taught me how to make orange muffins.  She is a good cook.  Once she gave me some Chilli and I brought some home for dinner: it was delicious.  The most important thing I learned about Maureen is her optimistic attitude.  I cannot believe she’s already 81.  She even wears red nail polish!

Maureen says, “Looking good makes you feel good.”  And that’s true.  Maureen has a good sense of humour.  We often talked and laughed.  She loves to golf and showed me pictures of her favourite places.  I enjoyed the time we talked and we always said lots of words.  We both love dogs and dislike cats.

Time goes fast.  I will leave Calgary tomorrow but I believe I will be back and see her again soon.  She is a good friend. Bye for now. CiCi.”

Thanks, CiCi. You kept my afternoons busy and kept me company. I believe it was a win-win for both of us and I always looked forward to the afternoons when she was coming. Now that she’s gone, I can get back to blogging more often, and getting ready for my next road trip to go down south and see my friend Ruth!


You probably noticed that I’ve blurred out CiCi’s face in the pictures for this post: she asked that I not use her picture and I tried to respect her request by making her blurry. It’s a reminder to me of the freedoms we have in Canada that are not necessarily enjoyed by people in other countries.

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