Confessions of a Chinese Female CS Student

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

I reconnected with Grace Xiao, my former summer school classmate, when we were collectively rejected by Woodsworth housing and placed into Chestnut Residence- a great bonding experience, some would say, and they would be right. Figuring out Res together (while ranting about Starportal) and deciding to be roommates brought us closer, and in turn I was able to learn quite a bit about my friend, who inspired me immensely after hearing her personal story of defying cultural and gender expectations.

Grace came from Beijing and spent her high school years in Canada. By the time Grade 12 rolled around, she had decided with little hesitation that she would go into computer science upon graduation. A choice that, if she had still been in China, would’ve sparked controversy and concern among her family, relatives, and many other people she would have told. As someone with an identical ethnic background, I understand all too well why this is. Though China strove to move with the rest of the world in regards to the feminist movement- and made incredible progress- those of the older generations were not as easy to give up their internalized gender expectations built up over their entire lives. Boys belong in STEM whereas girls should go for the arts. What’s ironic is that while STEM careers are way more highly valued and respected, often times parents wish for their daughters to marry a man in those fields instead of believing that she could flourish as a scientist or a mathematician herself. 

Having met Grace’s parents, I can attest to the fact that she was lucky enough to have had support from a family who had traded this internalized discrimination for open-mindedness long ago. This was crucial to her courage of coming to Canada without her parents and living in a home-stay, all so that she could pursue a better education that would lead her to achieve her dreams, as well as grow in an environment where she wouldn’t have to justify her career choice to people who had no business meddling in hers. However, the main factor that had fueled her determination and hard work all these years was still her passion for computer programming. Being able to take computer-related courses in high school that wouldn’t have been available to her in China only made her more certain that this was what she truly loved and wanted to dedicate her life to.

As the school year starts- the first of university life for both of us- Grace feels nothing but excitement and a healthy dose of freshman nervousness. In her own words, knowing that she would be surrounded by empowered women who also take on STEM like absolute queens gives her even more confidence for the upcoming semester and for making U of T’s notorious CS PoST. I myself am confident that she will, because whenever she talks about her ultimate dream of making her own game that she could play with pride, the glint of determination in her eyes tells me that she will go on to achieve anything she sets her mind to- and no one could tell her otherwise.