Family history stories

From China to Canada: a story of modern day migration

Guest post by Taryn Kildare

My name is Taryn, and I am a 4th year public relations student. I am currently doing summer intern work for Past Presence and have found a new love for genealogy!

Through this project, I have been lucky enough to chat with one of my professors, Dr. Ran Ju, who is a 1st-generation Chinese immigrant in her mid-30s. I really wanted to know how she came to choose Canada and the processes throughout her life that shaped who she is today.

The story of Ran Ju

Family history

Ran’s first language is Mandarin.

She speaks in Hangzhou dialect, which is spoken and understood by people in the Hangzhou province, where she grew up. Hangzhou is south east China in Zhejiang province, where 10.4 million people live. The city of Hangzhou is considered small when compared to other cities in China, such as Shanghai (24.3 M) or Beijing (21.55 M)!

Above: location of Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. Below: Hangzhou cityscape.

Hangzhou City. Image from ProLogis.

Ran’s name in Chinese is 居然, with Ju being her family name first, and her individual name Ran second. Her mother’s maiden name is Lin – however, Chinese women rarely change their family name after marriage, so there isn’t a strong concept of maiden names within Chinese culture.

Ran’s entire family remains in Hangzhou, and she has been the first one to leave and live in another part of the world. She doesn’t believe that any of her family have any intention to leave China, and so she considers herself to be a rebellion in the fact that she has always dreamed of traveling and studying abroad.


Her parents are both civil servants and expected her to follow the same route as they had. While she doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that profession, she just didn’t believe it was for her. Ran is the first person in her family to pursue academia and studied abroad to do so.

She attended Morehead State University in Kentucky for two years.

Then Ran moved to Athens, Ohio, where she studied at Ohio University for four years.

English is a required curriculum from kindergarten until grade 12 in most parts of China, so she grew up learning English and Chinese on a daily basis. Ran explained a little bit about how school system works in China: “Students learn English every day, and they’re always studying. They go to school at 7:30 in the morning to read until 8 am and alternated between reading in English and Chinese.” Ran’s school was within her community, and she walked 10-20 minutes to get there.

As a young adult, Ran dreamed of studying and living in Paris. With the dream of living in Paris on her mind, Ran took classes in an effort to learn French as well.

Photo of Paris, France by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

However, learning French at the same time posed to be a little bit of a problem. (As a person who speaks only English, French is extremely hard to begin with, never mind being a third language! Incredible).

Coming to Canada

So, with her education in the United States, the skill of speaking both Chinese and English, and her Parisian dreams… why did she choose Calgary, Canada to live, of all places?

Above: Map of Calgary, AB, Canada. Below: photo of Calgary.

Photo of Calgary, AB, Canada by Kyler Nixon on Unsplash

Well… Ran said, “My husband is the only reason for immigration.”

Her husband is also Chinese, but he grew up in Canada. With the intricate structures and systems that are in place in China, she said it was more difficult for him to figure out the complexity of the culture. Since she had already lived in North America before, it would be easier for her to adjust to the Canadian lifestyle – so that’s what they did.

However, her immigration process wasn’t as smooth sailing as she had been told it would be. She came to Canada in 2015, but was still waiting for her permanent resident card, and it took eight months for her to get a work permit. Then, it took another five months to get a permanent resident card. The whole process took a little over a year, but now Ran is able to pursue her career in communications, specializing in research and teaching.

Memories of China

I was honored to have Ran share some personal images with me.

She took the photos on the way to visit her grandfather while he was in the hospital.He was a special man to Ran and these photos have lots of resonance about her family and her childhood. I think these photos are beautiful and capture a great deal of intrigue. From the lush foliage, to the signs I can’t make out, to the other motorists on the road, it really helps to visualize the differences in environment from China to Canada.

What I have learned

Through learning genealogy and diving deeper into the histories of other people, I have really come to appreciate how much effort goes into every aspect of… well, almost everything. From learning other languages from such a young age, to family expectations, to leaving home and moving across the world, every person has a story to tell and motivations behind everything that they do. I am thankful to have had this experience and gain a deeper understanding of another culture, even if it is just barely scratching the surface.

Thank yous

My thanks to Dr. Ran Ju for her interview and story, and to Linda Yip for the invitation to guest post.

Summer giveaway

For the month of August, I’m giving away an Ancestry DNA kit. Like & follow me on Facebook and Twittter, and tell me your best genealogy tip. Doesn’t have to be something you learned from me! Context closes on the 28th and the winner will be announced on September 1st. Good luck!

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