Kelly Sun (Canada)
This summer, My Eyes Tokyo team is going to Canada, a country known for its multicultural communities. To commemorate this trip, we would like to introduce a Canadian woman who has been a friend of ours for many years.
Kelly Sun, an educator and a school owner from Vancouver. She used to help us with some interviews. You can see her in the following articles:
We had not seen Kelly since the pandemic, but after we decided to go to Canada, we wanted to hear her voice. A mother of one and a businessperson had a big smile on her face when we met her for the first time in several years. However her words were powerful as a woman who grew up and experienced in various culture settings.
*Interview at Tomigaya (Shibuya-ku)
Childhood memories of Japan
My first encounter with Japan goes back to my childhood. My mother has some close Japanese relatives and actually she grew up between her own family and them. They were very traditional Japanese people, so her way of thinking and treating people are very Japanese. So I got introduced to the Japanese culture from my mother at a very young age. After she married my father, they started the business related to Japanese stuff in China in early 80s.
Because of that, Japanese culture and manner are never strange to me. I learned the Japanese alphabets from my mother, we have a kotatsu in our house in Hong Kong, and we had a Yamaha piano shipped from Japan to our house when I was born as a gift from my Japanese relatives. I still remember when I came here with my family at age 17, right before I graduated high school.
I grew up in that kind of background. So later on when I moved to Japan, it was very easy for me to adopt. I didn’t get much cultural shock I guess compared to most of the foreigners who relocated to the brand new country.
I’m very thankful for this country in many ways. I really appreciate its people, its environment and its system. I feel I have the right to say Japan is a very good country by now because I’ve been living here since 2016 and I’ve lived in other places in my life.
A girl who longed for freedom
I was raised between the East and the West. I was born in Hong Kong and went to the international boarding school there for 3 years. It was my choice to attend a boarding school because I thought I would be able to be free and do whatever I wanted. But actually it was very challenging first because I was spoiled at home. But being around with the people around the same age in the same environment everyday really helped me to have strong social skills because I’m the only child in my family and my cousins are much older than me. I was educated there in two languages, Cantonese and English, and made friends with children from other countries there.
I was a teenager who was very into the Western culture. I think it’s because my personality has been freedom-loving, disliked staying in the box and funny (laughs). I always wanted to live in the Western countries and be a part of their culture.
My parents understood and respected it. So we started thinking of moving outside of Hong Kong, then we visited Australia. We went to the house hunting there and I even had 2 or 3 school tours. The schools were amazing and I liked their uniforms (laughs). When we went back to Hong Kong after the house hunting tours, we had to consider if we really wanted to move there. Then we started thinking where there are other options for us to choose to compare.
My father had some business partners and friends who lived in Canada. I didn’t go there while he visited the country. He said to me, “Why don’t you go and see Canada?”. His friends who had their families and children seemed like they were having nice life there. I was in the summer break, so I decided to visit Vancouver with my mother. The city was really beautiful and people took care of us very much while we stayed there for 3 weeks. Its school systems and safety were good and the city was very multicultural. People seemed to have a very relaxed lifestyle so we just felt that we would also make a very nice life there. We decided to move to Canada when I was 12.
You gotta love where you choose to be
As soon as I moved to the new country, I fit it right in. I think it’s also because I would jump right in to like it my fullest and I try my best to enjoy it if I’m interested in it, I’m happy with it or I think about the place that gives me the positive feelings. I felt like I finally found this place the new life and new country. Everything was bright to me. Even though there were things that I didn’t know much or I struggled with at the beginning, I think I enjoyed. I was willing to learn the new things like how people think and what they valued the most.
I went to the private school first to learn English. 80% of its students were from Asian countries. Most of them didn’t seem to enjoy being in Canada because they were there because of their parents’ decision. On the other hand, I enjoyed my life there and tried my best to talk to people so I learned the language really fast. I started going to the local school, which I chose because it was more multicultural than other schools around my area, 9 months after I moved to Canada. Also I started working as a part-timer at age 16 while many Asian parents wanted their children to focus on studying instead of working. I worked at many places including Starbucks in Vancouver.
I lived in Vancouver until I graduated high school, then I went to the college in other area away from home. My parents were not around me and I lived by myself there. I continued to work at Starbucks near the college because I learned from them a lot and they gave me a lot of things to gain confidence. After I graduate the college, and after a tough job hunting for a few months, which was enough to make me lose my self-esteem, finally I found a job at a university in Vancouver. I guess I feel more comfortable in the academic environment. I took care of the student housing and administration there. I also got MBA at a business school in Vancouver. It helped me I rediscovered my strengths, which means I realized that business was not for me (laughs).
I was married and had built a family there. I was totally enjoying my life in Vancouver. However, I was looking for something new because I had been there for about 20 years. I guess I want to have a change and get more challenge no matter how much I love the place. I started thinking of the new place where would be good not only for me but also for my family. I remembered my childhood.
A new challenge – Back to the East
I took typical group tours to Japan a few times. I didn’t go only to the famous spots but also went to the residential areas and supermarkets and saw local people. I drove around as well and tried to see if I could make it myself in here. I thought, “Wow, it would be really cool if I lived here!”. Also I learned that Japan was a really nice country to raise children.
But I didn’t move to Japan with my family immediately. We tried living here for 6 months and went back home at the beginning. After two years of living back and forth between Canada and Japan, and comparing which side of the world we liked, then we officially moved here in 2016.
My son went to an international kindergarten because he couldn’t speak any Japanese at that time. After he transferred to a local elementary school, I had kind of tough time because it was not the type of education I’ve ever experienced in my life and leaned only from the Japanese anime called “Chibi Maruko-chan”. But we wanted him to go there because we knew Japan has been very mature with its social and education system. I strongly believed that he would have good experience by going to a public school. And he enjoyed its environment even though he had to switch the school. It’s like me always enjoying the new places. Now he is in 6th grade and he became almost a native Japanese speaker. And I got better at paperwork too because of his change of school (laughs). We were convinced that we had made the right choice.
Your life is on your own
On the other hand, I always wanted to start something on my own. But when I was in Vancouver, I never got the chance to do it because I had a stable job at a university. However in Japan, I felt it would be possible because there were so many small local business and people were chasing their dreams. Also I learned how to teach people English as a second language through online when I was in Canada.
I launched my own language school called “KNS English Education” in the heart of Tokyo even though the market has already been developed. So I focused on the mature students, which means we do the adult lessons. Also we offer the translation services. I thought of going to eikaiwa (英会話, English conversations) schools with children and even babies, but most of them are not voluntary; they are only following what their parents have decided because they don’t know what they want to do. Do you remember about the private school in Canada where I went to right after I moved there? There were children who were not enjoying being in the country because they didn’t decide to go there at all. I want to teach… No, not teaching. I want to “connect” with those who know what they want, have their own questions, and come to learn to achieve their own goals through the language.
I am a mother and a business owner. I still want to see myself with other values. Children will grow up and they will have their own life. But what about us? – With that thought, I want to continue something that is actually my own. My child has his own life, and I feel like I am on my own, too. I wouldn’t choose certain lifestyle because of him.
What is Japan to you?
Of course Canada and Vancouver are my home in my heart. But finally I started to see Japan as our home this year after many challenges, struggles and pandemics. We feel very comfortable here now. We appreciate people who are willing to have us here.
Right now we can say that we’ve finally made it home and we see ourselves continue to live here.
KNS English Education: knsenglish.com/