Mei Cong

How Mei Cong learned English through running

When Mei (Maggie) Cong immigrated to Saskatoon from China in her late 30s, one of her first challenges was learning spoken English.

In the five-plus years since making the move, Cong has gradually mastered the language by taking government-sponsored English classes and ESL lessons at Emmanuel Baptist Church. “And the third way is in the running team,” Cong says. “Sometimes they correct my pronunciation and tell me which word is correct to describe some certain scenario. It’s really helpful.”

Cong, now 44 years old, moved to Saskatoon with her husband and son after her husband was accepted into the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program. Cong was keen to find a sense of community in her new home, so when a friend invited her on a group run in October she said yes — even though she’d never run before.

On that first run, Cong ran one kilometre, then walked four.

“The next day I found that my legs were very sore, but my friends told me that I would be fine if I stuck with it. Weekly persistence, I gradually adapted it, and now I can easily run five kilometres,” she says.

Mei Cong and her Saturday running group.
Mei Cong and her Saturday running group.

These days, Cong runs with the group almost every Saturday. It’s an opportunity for her to stay healthy, get help with her English and learn about Canadian cultures and traditions. Plus it provides an opportunity to destress and recharge; Cong was a high school teacher in China and is now working on her teaching certificate at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I have a lot of pressure, academic pressure. Running can keep me fresh and relaxed,” Cong says.

Cong had not heard of Saskatoon before immigrating and says many people in China haven’t heard of the city either. She hopes talking about her positive experiences will encourage others to make their homes here as well.

And it’s not just Cong who’s thriving. She’s particularly thrilled for her teenage son, who excels at math and was just accepted into Harvard University. “These teachers have shaped him into what he is now, which is a motivation for me to decide to be a teacher in Saskatchewan,” Cong says.

She knows finishing her teaching certificate won’t be easy, but running has helped build her confidence — and she’s confident she’ll be able to complete the course with the support of her family and running friends.

“I really love this city,” she says. “We have a lot of warmhearted, kind friends who met and helped us in Saskatoon. It makes me moved, grateful, and feel blessed.”