Father, son are roomies

September 09, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Living in residence while starting university classes just three months after he turns 16 won't mean instant freedom for Yifan Huang. Not with his father as a roommate.

And the shy mathematics genius will have to study hard, promises his father Quentin, who moved to Canada with Yifan from Singapore when the boy was still in primary school.

They eventually settled in Port Alberni. Now Quentin will look after his son on campus as the youth begins studies at SFU this fall.

The elder Huang says coming to Canada was a positive step as his son marches up the academic ladder with lightning speed. “Sometimes,” contends his father, “parents make sacrifices.”

The walls of their small campus apartment are neatly decorated with the 28 academic awards from provincial, national and international math competitions won by Yifan over the years.

“I knew there was something special in him. Yifan has always been a top math student in his classes,” says Quentin, who taught the boy to recognize the English alphabet when he was only five months old by placing large letters on the walls around their house.

“He has saved three years of schooling because of it, and, though he is still young, he is ready academically for the challenge of university.”

Yifan was born in China. His father was a lecturer at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where his research focused on improving ship design.

They later moved to Sweden and then Singapore, where Quentin was a naval architect and engineer-in-charge of SembCorp Marine Ltd., one of the largest shipyards in South East Asia.

Yifan was a top math student in primary school in Singapore and started high school there before the pair moved to Canada.

There his father became design manager and naval architect for Alberni Engineering Ltd., part of the Nanaimo Shipyard Group, which repairs and builds new vessels.

Yifan completed three years of the junior secondary program in only one year while at A.W. Neill middle school, emerging again as the top math student.

He completed three years of education at Alberni District secondary school in just two years, where he ranked as the top student in math and physics, with an average grade of 94 per cent for all courses. “Yifan's drive, Canada's education system and the teachers and counsellors have all played a part in his acceleration,” notes his father, taking little credit for helping his son with difficult math and physics problems.

Yifan secured scholarships from SFU, UBC and the University of Victoria, but SFU bent its residency rules to allow his father to live in residence with him. “Yifan is still a boy who needs to be in my care,” says Quentin, who hopes to start his own consulting company. “We are indebted to SFU for providing this opportunity.”

Besides sharing cooking and cleaning duties, Yifan concedes he will keep his nose to the grindstone - now that school is beginning.

“Yifan has never had to do much studying, but he knows that his approach while at university will have to be different,” says his father.

Despite being younger than his classmates, Yifan doesn't seem fazed by the challenge.
His goal is to become a doctor. “I am ready,” he says. “I think it'll be all right.”

While the two have lived in various countries, Quentin says Canada “is the best and most ideal place to live and for children to grow up.” The pair expect to become Canadian citizens in September.

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