Serena Zhang speaks six languages, moved to a foreign country by herself in her early teens, took second place at the 2013 Miss Chinese Montreal pageant last October and recently danced two sold-out performances at the New Year Gala put on by the Montreal Centre for Chinese Culture and Arts. But don’t expect her to slow down anytime soon – Serena has been named Dance Director for the new season at MCCCA, and in between transitioning into her new duties and preparing for her spring graduation, she took the time to chat with Her Campus about her passions, life experiences and goals.
Hatty Liu for Her Campus McGill: Okay, we’re all dying to know – what are all the languages you speak? How did you pick up so many languages and what motivated you to do it?
Serena Zhang: If you count Mandarin and Cantonese as separate languages, I speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and French. I also speak Shanghainese. Shanghainese and Mandarin are my mother tongues [and] I study Japanese and French at McGill. I picked up Cantonese through watching TV dramas. People think I’m crazy whenever I mention that.
I enjoy learning languages and I think every language has its charm. Since I’m a multilingual myself, I find it fascinating to learn [about] psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics. That’s why I chose my major in cognitive science – to better understand myself and people like me. My ultimate goal is to become a speech-language pathologist. I also would like to become an interpreter, to fully use my language skills.
HL: And I guess you picked up English when you came to study in Canada. What’s the story there?
SZ: I was born in Shanghai. I was sent to Vancouver to study at the age of 12, but then my parents thought it was too much for me to take by myself at such a young age, so I went back to Shanghai. At 15, I went to London, Ontario and started my study-abroad life.
HL: What was it like to move abroad by yourself at a young age?
SZ: I went to an International school in London. Because the school’s principle is “unity in diversity,” even though all of us came from different countries with different backgrounds, we were like a big family. I remember learning in Canadian history class that Canada is a “mosaic” rather than a “melting pot” like the States. Maybe that’s why I never felt homesick during my time in high school. London was like my home to me, [but] I chose to come to Montreal [for university] because I want to challenge myself. I believed that I wouldn’t grow if I was in my comfort zone. It was a bit hard at the beginning since I knew no one in Montreal. But I think I made the right choice.
HL: How long have you been dancing? What has your experience at MCCCA been like so far?
SZ: I started dancing when I was three. I stopped dancing in high school because my parents wanted me to focus more on academics. But I never lost my passion for dancing, so I looked for dance groups when I first got to Montreal. Then I was introduced to MCCCA through [a] friend. MCCCA does mainly Chinese traditional and ethic dances. But we also do contemporary, hip-pop, etc. Every single dance that we do, there is a story or a feeling that we want to deliver to the audience. We want our audience to learn about Chinese culture while enjoying the show.
MCCCA definitely had a huge impact on me. It’s like my family in Montreal. Also, it is not only a Chinese performing arts group, but an organization where I get to practice leadership skills.
HL: That’s right. This year you had a role in organizing the New Year Gala.
SZ: MCCCA not only consists of performers. At the same time, we have to take care of the logistics and organization of performances. I had to go out and find sponsors for the show [and] also taught one of the show pieces this year. After Chinese New Year, I’m going to be the dance director for the new season. I will be in charge of the organization of small-scale performances, oversee all the dance pieces [and] set up rehearsal times.
HL: For those of us who missed your performance, where can we see you next?
SZ: We also have some small performances coming up for Chinese New Year, [like] the Lunar New Year Night Market happening this Friday the 31st. There’s a possible performance for Just for Laughs in July.
HL: Bonus question – you dress so stylishly, and of course, you got to put your personal style to good use when you participated in the pageant last year. Any fashion advice for our readers?
SZ: My tip would be: [wear] no more than three colours.