A warm heart in a cold (freezing) country

Hong Kong native still active in UAlberta program that welcomed him 27 years ago

Amanda McCarthy - 11 April 2017

A shock to the system. That's what William Tung felt when he stepped out of the warmth of the airport terminal into the frigid Edmonton night in November 1990. Not just figuratively, but also literally. At a brisk -16 degrees Celsius, the walk from the airport to the safety of his brother's car seemed like a lifetime, and Tung began to wonder why he ever left the comfort of Hong Kong-why he ever left the beaming sunshine of Australia.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Tung can provide you with a plethora of reasons why he loves Canada. Equipped with a straight face, he can even tell you that he now wears shorts in sub-zero weather. The epitome of Canadian culture.

Rewind 34 years, back to 1983, and that's where it all truly began for Tung.

As a member of the Hong Kong Contingent, Tung traveled to Kananaskis, Alberta, for the World Scout Jamboree. It was summer then, which meant he had not yet experienced a Canadian winter. Minus a freak hail storm, Tung was pleased with everything he had encountered during his first visit to Alberta-the scenic national parks, the hospitality of the Canadian people, and the warmth of the summer season.

Tung, a physiotherapist by trade, immigrated to Australia in November 1990 from his home country of Hong Kong. A week later, he decided to make the move to Edmonton to take his Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) exam and enroll in studies at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. He went from living somewhere extremely hot to somewhere extremely cold in the matter of seven days-but no matter the weather, Tung's optimism stayed intact.

"When I came to Edmonton it was a different feeling, especially since we were just in Australia the week before," Tung says. "Instead of enjoying the warm summer weather and lovely sandy beaches in Sydney, I had my first taste of the frigid side of Canadian weather.

But the next morning, I was greeted by a beautiful sunrise. It was very pretty outside with all of the fresh snow on the ground and on the trees, and I thought to myself, 'this isn't so bad'."

Tung and his wife, who is also a physiotherapist, completed their CPA exams and Tung enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Degree Completion Program in 1993.

"It was a one-year program that included courses that I did not complete during my initial training back in Hong Kong," Tung explains. "When I finished in 1994, I came out with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy."

Now, Tung spends his time giving back to the Faculty and the program that helped him achieve his goals. When he isn't working hard in his role as Physiotherapy Professional Practice Leader at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, he's staying active in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's Alberta Internationally Educated Physiotherapists Bridging Program, helping others who, like he was so many years ago, are trying to find their place in Canada.

"Being an internationally educated physiotherapist myself, I understand the feeling of starting over and recognize the potential barriers my fellow colleagues may face when they come to Canada," Tung says. "I want to use my personal experience to help ease their transition and allow them to get a better understanding of the Canadian health-care system."

But that's not all: with a relatively full plate already, Tung is still finding other opportunities to help out. Particularly, assisting Associate Chair of Physical Therapy Mark Hall as a teaching assistant in his cardiorespiratory course-something he's been doing for the past ten years.

"It's very rewarding to teach our future generation of clinicians and see them grow, especially when we see them confidently complete a thorough cardiorespiratory assessment or intervention in the lab and during their clinical placements," Tung smiles. "Plus, it's very exciting to learn new things together with the students. It's never too late to learn, right?"

A sentiment that Tung's own experiences have proven to be true.

While the transition to Canadian culture (and weather) may not have been easy, Tung wouldn't want to be living anywhere else. As he would now put it, he is 'living his dream'.

"I am so lucky and proud to be a Canadian. I would like nothing more than to offer as much as I could to this country and my fellow Canadians as both a clinician and a loyal citizen.

Moving to Canada is one of the best decisions I've ever made. I actually can't believe I've been living here longer than I have lived in Hong Kong," he laughs.

"I love the people, the beautiful spaces and our right to freedom-especially the freedom to explore this beautiful place with my wife, son and daughter. We just love driving and travelling the country!"

And, now a citizen for 27 years, Tung has officially settled in to the culture of his new home.

"I'm definitely feeling at home here. I think I may say 'sorry' and 'thank-you' and bit too much, though."

Spoken like a true Canadian, eh?


Canada 150 at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine

For almost as long as there's been a Canada, there's been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary, we're proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.

Join the celebration and make a difference

Together, our alumni are celebrating Canada's 150th birthday by creating the Canada 150 Alumni Award in Rehabilitation to advance the art and science of rehabilitation in our great nation. Your gift will establish a fund to support a University of Alberta alumnus pursuing a graduate degree in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. This award provides a unique opportunity for us to celebrate and make a difference for future generations of rehabilitation professionals, for the next 150 years and beyond. Visit uab.ca/rehab150 for more information and to donate.