Day 286 - Jessie

Day 286 - Jessie (6th person I approached)

October 13, 2014 - I wondered if it would be tough to find someone to chat with today. I wasn’t sure there would be many people out and about because it’s Thanksgiving (here in Canada). However, it looked just like a regular Monday judging by people on the streets, in malls and coffee shops. In some cases it might have even been busier. It still took me six attempts before I found someone to chat with. The first person I asked had a hearing impairment and was afraid she’d get angry with herself if she couldn’t communicate with me. The second person was an elderly man who said his story wasn’t so nice. I approached a woman who had heard of my project, was willing to chat briefly while on her coffee break, but didn’t want her picture on Facebook. The next two were both in a hurry. One gent apologized three times for not being able to stop and chat. So 'Canadian' my New York friends would say!


I had seen Jessie sitting by herself, at a table in a deli. She had empty food containers in front of her and seemed to just be enjoying sitting looking out the window. When I approached Jessie and told her what I was doing, she said she talk, but wondered if she could send me a photograph. 

“One that has been photoshopped,” she said laughing, yet kind of serious. I introduced myself, and she said hello. I asked her name. 

“I’m from China, so I’ll give you my Starbucks name. It’s Jessie,” she told me. I asked which way she preferred it to be spelled. Again, she smiled and said 

“However you like.” I was immediately drawn to her unique personality and humour.


Jessie was born in China, just outside of Shanghai. 

“It’s a relatively small city for China, but much larger than Vancouver,” she told me. Jessie was born under the ‘one child per family regulation,’ before recent changes were introduced to the laws around second children. She attended all of her elementary and secondary schooling in China. 

“We don’t really have a culture that has school teams or a lot of extra-curricular activities. Everything is rather serious and focussed on schooling. English is taught throughout school. I can’t say there’s enough English learned to be able to speak it well. It’s a good foundation,” she said. Jessie had always been interested in science in school.


Three months after graduating high-school, Jessie said goodbye to her parents and moved to Newfoundland (and Labrador) to attend Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), in St. John’s. 

“We did research on a number of schools and this was a good one with a good reputation. I applied to a few different schools, in a few countries. When I first arrived in Canada, everything was so foreign to me. It seemed some of the local people felt the same about me as well. I stood out because I'm Asian. Sometimes people would be looking right at me and ask ‘Do you speak English?’ Or, because of their Newfie accent, I didn’t always understand what they said. Some sound like they are speaking with an Irish accent. But it was a good place for me to learn to be more open and speak with people. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only mixes with a certain group,” Jessie said. 

“The east coast is very different than the west coast of Canada. I don’t want you to think I’m saying it’s not as good as the west coast. I’m not saying that. It’s different. They have their own culture, traditions and for some, even their own diet! 


Jessie studied for her bachelor’s degree, doing a double major in Behavioural Neuroscience and Biochemistry. 

“I was there for four years. I went back to China for vacations with my family during the summers. My parents both work for the Government in China. When a person works in a position with certain responsibilities, it is hard to get a visa to leave the country. My parents weren’t able to visit me in Newfoundland,” she said. We talked about some of the differences between the cultures of China and Canada, based on Jessie’s personal experience. 

“In China there are social norms of behaviour that have been establish for many, many years. Everyone wants to achieve those standards and fit into the conventions of society. No body wants to stand out. Here in Canada, independence is the norm. It’s a diverse country with many diverse people of different backgrounds, In China, people want to be seen as normal,” she said. I told Jessie I didn’t want to be normal, and put my hand up saying ‘I’m not normal.' As I said that, she raised her hand and said 

“I don’t want to be normal either. I like weird!”


“My parents sent me to Vancouver (British Columbia - BC),” said Jessie, with a slight air of resignation. 


“I went back to China for a visit after completing my undergrad in Newfoundland. At that time, I was making plans to transfer to another school to get my PhD. In order to be accepted, I had to have a sponsor. One of my instructors from Newfoundland had gone to UBC (University of British Columbia). She recommended the school to me. She also was willing to with my application,” she said. Jessie has been in Vancouver for just over a year now. 


“I’m studying to get my Doctorate in Neuroscience. But it’s interesting that we are talking about this. It’s a bit of a long story. I was dating this man at UBC who is studying to become a lawyer. In the first year of my PhD I was starting to feel like something is wrong. I didn’t know what it was or why, something just felt wrong. After dating this man for a while and meeting some of his friends I realized that I was a little jealous of the life they had. They work hard and study just as much, but they seem so much happier. My program requires that I am able to set-up experiments and when they don’t work out, I have to figure out why. I have to learn what to change and what to tear apart and rebuild. It requires an attention to detail that is far more precise than I feel I have. I don’t have that kind of attention span!” she laughed. 

“I get too easily distracted. Everything in research science is done more black and white. It's very procedural. If you get something wrong, others will prove you wrong and your work starts again,” she said.


“I started to think I was better suited to becoming a lawyer. I don’t know if my personality is suited to becoming a scientist. I don’t want to get my PhD in Science just as a vanity to become a Doctor. Only to wonder in twenty years ‘what if I had done something else?’ Then I started to date someone else who is also studying to become a lawyer, and I felt the same way,” she said. 


“What I do know is I want to do something that I can be passionate about, and that is fulfilling. I like a good argument. Even if I don’t agree with the point, I can debate something and enjoy it. I can learn a different viewpoint through debate and arguing a point. I like the energy and exchange of ideas that happens in a debate,” she said. 

“If I were to change direction, I can always go back to science. It’s all just a theory right now. There’s so much involved in changing. I’d have to get written permission. Do I ask to take my PhD part-time at the same time as Law School? I don’t know,” she said. 


Jessie’s option are complex and varied. 

“I have to consider staying in the Sciences program and becoming a Doctor of Neuroscience in five more years. Or stay in the program and get my Master’s in Science and then go to Law School. Or leave the program sooner and go to Law School. Then of course there will be articling. It’s a lot to think about,” she says with a sigh and shaking her head. But all with her ever present smile and soft laugh. Whatever happens, Jessie hopes to stay in Vancouver. 

“Rain? Are you kidding me. I’ve lived in Newfoundland where to leave the house in winter you go out through the roof!” 


Jessie somewhat begrudgingly let me take her picture. I took three pictures of her, and then showed each of them to her. As we looked at them, she gave an immediate 

“No. No. No.” She is the first person to ask if she could take her own picture, using my phone. And because I have no rules, of course I let her. Jessie didn't want to see the picture she took. #notastranger