Li Song: Being the change she wants to see | UNB
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Spring/Summer 2021

Alumni Changemaker

Li Song: Being the change she wants to see

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | Spring/Summer 2021

When Li Song (C-TEL’07, BA’08, BEd’08) arrived at the UNB Saint John campus 20 years ago, she could not imagine that not only would it change her, but that she would become a changemaker in the community.

Born and raised in Zhangzhou in southeastern China, Song was just 20 years old when she arrived in Saint John on a cold day in January 2001, with little money, hardly any English and no idea of the customs and culture in this place called New Brunswick. She remembers with a laugh, that when the airplane was descending over the dark forests and icy landscape surrounding the port city, she thought they were about to land in a snowy wilderness.

“The Saint John airport was so tiny — even smaller than a bus station in my hometown,” she says. “So, when we landed, I felt we were landing on trees or just plain snow. Then we drove into town and someone said ‘This is the city centre’ and I thought, ‘Wow. What have I gotten myself into?’ I had a pretty good life, a good family in China, and now I was in a place where I didn’t know anyone and everything was so bare and plain. No one was out on the street on a Sunday. I thought, ‘How could that be possible’?”

Like many other international students who come to UNB, Song did not think she would stay in Saint John. Her plan was to study English, do a few years of university, then perhaps return to China and find a job in Beijing.

But Song stayed. She graduated from UNB’s Saint John campus in 2008 with bachelor’s degrees in arts and education, and a certificate in teaching English as a second language. She is now a licensed realtor attracting international buyers to the city and she is a force for diversity and inclusion. Song is also the managing director at PRUDE Inc., Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education, which has been promoting diversity and cultural inclusiveness in the Saint John region since 1981.

Song has never forgotten those early days in Saint John and the profound effects of culture shock. She rose above it through determination and her eagerness to learn and become part of UNB and the wider community.

“I felt I had to get through this,” she says. “My parents said, ‘Just come back.’ I said no. I needed to handle this. I had to stay and get through this and I will get English. I put up a little piece of paper on my wall that said, ‘A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.’ I don’t know where I copied that from but I had it on my wall for years. So, my journey started from there.”

Song says her salvation from the start was UNB and the way it opened doors for her to enter this strange new world.

“If not for UNB, it would have been hard for me to adapt. UNB opened that door for me.”

I became hugely involved in everything going on at UNB. So that’s where I learned that participation in social activities is so important.”

Song worked at UNB Saint John’s International Recruitment Centre as a student assistant, a job that not only helped her understand Saint John, but allowed her to help other students struggling with the same sense of bewilderment and culture shock she experienced. She also volunteered in numerous capacities and, over time, she came to love Saint John and   New Brunswick.

“This is a magical place,” she says. “I now help people come here and settle. I love nature to begin with, especially the trees and water. We are so lucky, almost anywhere in Saint John,   New Brunswick, you are within a five-minute drive of reaching the water — lakes, rivers and the ocean. What more could you want?”

Song has always remembered advice given to her by Dr. Elizabeth McGahan (PhD’79) at UNB Saint John who told her to “be the change you want to see.”

“If I can help to influence people, that would be great. If I can’t, I will still do the work I believe in and make positive changes.”

“My dad told me, ‘You have to be a good human being first before you do anything else. Build a good character for yourself and then you will do well’.”