Running towards a new dream

Lionel LiangLionel Liang was just coming up to the turning point of the racetrack he had run countless times before when, just as he approached the curve, his life took a turn.

Liang, 15 at the time, was involved in an accident that left him unable to continue training and competing as a runner – something he loved. Following the accident, Liang focused on completing physiotherapy for two years, but realized he would not be able to compete at the level he had been any longer.

“My knee healed but if felt like I had to start everything all over again. I had never learned English and I had to come up a new plan for the future.”

Now, nearly 10 years after the accident that changed the course of his life, Liang is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree specializing in economics from Western. He credits a private tutor he worked with through an international school in China for helping sway his decision towards Western for his undergraduate education.

“One reason I chose to come to Canada was because my teacher was the first Canadian I had ever talked to and he really helped me a lot. He used Google Translate to talk to me and he really cheered me up,” said Liang. “I still email him at Christmas.”

The transition from living with his family in China to living in residence across the world in Canada had its pros and its cons, says Liang, who spent six months at the Western English Language Centre learning English before beginning at Western.

“The first day I woke up after I arrived, I walked around and I was so excited,” Liang recalled. “It was my first time away from my parents’ house and I felt free. It was hard to integrate into Canadian society, though. I had to get out of my comfort zone. My language skills weren’t good, I didn’t know the culture and I remember I would try to tell jokes and after I translated them into English they weren’t funny at all.”

Lionel Liang outsideIt didn’t take long before he made some friends and began to feel more comfortable, particularly with his roommates in Ontario Hall, who he says “really reached out” and welcomed him. He joined a few clubs on campus, played intramural soccer and worked coaching soccer and CrossFit in the community. He took part in residence social events, attended his first formal dance in first year and even made what he knows may have been a questionable decision to snowboard down University College hill one night.

Despite all the fun he was having in his social life, Liang was struggling with the academic side of his university experience.

“Studying really wasn’t easy and exams were a lot for me – especially multiple choice where sometimes it’s just one word that isn’t right. Event Canadians get confused by those and it’s their first language,” said Liang, who remembers a few nights studying at Weldon when he became upset and frustrated. “Sometimes I felt like nobody could help me. I can take physical pain but mental pressure is different. I have to take it one question at a time and keep asking for help.”

Now that he’s completed his undergraduate degree, Liang is hoping to start a business in the future and is grateful for the connections he made while at Western. His dream is to become someone like his role model, entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Jobs.

“I really want to help people emotionally and financially someday. I’m not exactly sure yet what that will be but I want to support people and share my experiences of going through hard times. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m going to have to face challenges, but now I feel ready. I know I’m capable of doing a lot of things.”

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