by Heidi Riley
Huiran Yan (Sherry) grew up in Chengdu, a very positive and energetic city which is the capital of Sichuan Province in China. The city has a population of over 16 million people. In September 2015, she embarked on a new adventure when she arrived on PEI.
“The Island is my second home,” says Sherry. “I love this little island very much. It is a similar feeling to my hometown. Each period in my life on PEI has been a totally new surprise adventure – a magical journey.”
Sherry went to university in her hometown and studied English. At first, she did not know what major to study. People around her suggested that when you don’t know what major to choose, English is probably a good choice. She agreed to study English and learn some western culture.
“After I graduated from university, I worked in a library and lived a very comfortable life. I felt like I was already retired. I wanted to try something new. I have always been very interested in education, and I wanted to learn and explore more. I made the choice very fast – one day I just decided to go abroad and see another world and get another experience.”
She decided to continue her education at UPEI by taking a master of arts in English. “I chose PEI because I heard it is one of the safest places in the world and it is surrounded by the ocean. I love the sea.”
Sherry had travelled around Asia but going to Canada was a new experience. When she landed on PEI she realized that English is not an easy language. “When I came to PEI, there were not many Chinese people. Everyone talks English, and sometimes I understood, and sometimes I did not. Still after all these years, I can communicate in English better than before, but I still feel different from the way locals communicate with each other.”
When Sherry first arrived in Charlottetown, it was a week before the UPEI residence opened, so she stayed in an Airbnb. “The owner was very friendly and nice, and he helped me a lot. He picked me up from the airport, and then when I was ready to go to the residence, he helped me move my suitcases. Everyone I met on the Island was so friendly, and the Island is fantastic.”
Part of the UPEI program involved an internship, and Sherry was chosen to do her internship at The Employment Journey. “The internship was short, but I learned a lot. It was valuable.”
After graduation, Sherry worked for a while, and looked for a new adventure. “I was always interested in baking. One of my friends here inspired me and shared some baking knowledge. Then I started making Chinese pastries and sharing with my friends. It is joyful.
“Another friend told me about the one-year Pastry Arts program at Holland College, and I really wanted to learn professional skills. Pastry arts is a huge world to explore, and I feel one year was too short to learn everything, but it was a good start.”
By the time COVID-19 measures forced PEI into lockdown, Sherry had almost finished the program, except for the course on chocolate making, which she took in the fall of 2021. “We graduated from the program with no ceremony, and I lived a very quiet life. But I was not lonely. I could talk to my family and friends online, and I felt peaceful.”
Then she made another sudden choice and decided to try something new by chance. She enrolled in the Fundamental Arts program at Holland College. This program gives students the opportunity to develop and enhance their skills as an artist through courses in art history, drawing, design, animation, digital photography, and more.
In late spring of 2021, Sherry was assigned to work at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Although there was no internship offered in the Fundamental Arts program, this job did relate to arts. She appreciated this short experience working with artists. She helped build and operate huge whale puppets for a live theatre production called Between Breaths.
Later, she worked at the Chowder House and the Country Kitchen Bakery. “I am grateful to have worked with hard working, friendly, and lovely people at both the restaurant and the bakery, and the work environment was multicultural,” says Sherry.
“I feel like the art world, no matter what type of art, whether it is making pastry or other art, is a thing that can cure people and makes the world more beautiful.
“I cherished every day I spent in all the programs I took and at the different places I worked. My instructors in education, in pastry arts, and in fundamental arts were all fantastic. My classmates were very creative, and our ideas inspired each other. My employers and co-workers are good team players and easy to communicate with. I would say most people I meet here are artists of life. There is light in their eyes and love in their hearts.
“The hardest question for me is about my plans for the future. I don’t know what my next choice will be. Maybe I will go on to a new experience. My plan is to never limit myself.
“PEI is a very multicultural place, and I feel I have added to that environment by adding some eastern culture. In the pastry arts and the fundamental arts programs, I always added an Asian element.”
“I don’t have a clear plan of what my career will be,” says Sherry. “I hope it can be related to art, pastry art, or education. I want to follow my heart, and I want to live every day to the fullest.”