By Vicki Brookes
Let me start this article by saying I have no idea about what it’s like to walk in an immigrant’s shoes. I am a second generation Canadian; this means, I was born in Canada to one immigrant parent and one Canadian-born parent. My Canadian-born father was Canadian first, Macedonian second. My immigrant mother always had one foot on Canadian soil and one foot firmly planted back in the “old country.” My childhood was steeped in knowledge about my culture. I learned everything about a country that I wasn’t even born in: from cooking, to folksongs, to dancing, to language and all during my childhood and well into my adult life, I heard my mother’s stories about the difficulties of being an immigrant in Canada. It is through her stories and through my work in coaching and helping newcomers that I have tried to compile a list of the top 10 problems faced by immigrants.
- Language Barriers. No big surprise here, right? The ability to communicate affects almost every area of our lives because we have to interact with others. From jobs to schooling, to navigating your way around the complexities of life: buying food, transportation, and making friends. These are just a few of the essential functions where we require language fluency. Quick fix: It is essential that you learn the language of the country. In Canada, there are two official languages. Master the dominant language and work hard at learning the second. You will never say goodbye to your native language! You are adding to your repertoire and in an increasingly global market place, employers will truly value your multi-lingual skills. LINC, IELTS and ESL courses are offered to make your language learning journey as easy as possible. Take advantage of the classes and make some new friends and learn more about the culture.
- Employment. Hard enough for Canadians, never mind those of you who are new to the country! The hardest and most difficult situation is finding “suitable” employment. Anyone can work at Tim Horton’s but is that going to be meaningful employment for you or just a survival job? One of the biggest stumbling blocks to finding suitable employment is the language barrier. Another stumbling block is culture: what is a Canadian resume and what is the interview like? There are so many other issues that immigrants face trying to find meaningful and suitable employment and some of them are so difficult to conquer. For example, credential evaluation is sometimes necessary depending on your profession. This may be next to impossible when organizations such as World Education Services (WES) or ICAS are requesting that your documents be sent directly from your university. In many cases, your university may not even exist anymore. Quick fix: There are wonderful courses available to help you learn how to write resumes and interview the “Canadian way.” Check out some of the settlement agencies that offer programs such as Enhanced Language Training (ELT) or Labour Market Access for Newcomers to Canada. These courses may even offer internships or co-op opportunities with employers that may lead to full-time employment. These programs also work with organizations like WES to provide workshops in credential evaluation. Knowledge is your key to success.
- Housing. Many immigrants tend to settle in areas that are densely populated. I think the general consensus of opinion is that these densely populated areas have more jobs and better housing. This is a myth because the competition for jobs is greater in the big cities and affordable housing is difficult to find. A lack of knowledge is also a big problem for immigrants as they may not understand how the housing market works. Also, the cost of affordable rental housing is a concern for everyone. Quick fix: Find the best places to settle in Canada. Try to remember that it’s not always the big cities. Look for settlement in a more rural environment and by rural I don’t mean the forest! Smaller cities will provide you with more affordable housing, a cheaper cost of living, more job opportunities, and a sense of community that may be missing from living in a big city. National and local government agencies can offer advice. Look again to a settlement agency with a strong Immigrant Settlement Adaptation Program (ISAP) which will provide you free-of-charge, information and assistance with finding affordable housing.
- Access to Services. This is so important! The biggest hurdles to overcome include health care, legal advice and access to mental health and social services. In Canada, we are lucky because we have so many services available to immigrants. The biggest problem that most immigrants admit is that they don’t know what is available and where to find it. Quick fix: All you need to do is type in “Immigrant Support Services” into a search engine and hit the Enter key. Like magic, a list of service agencies will pop up and you can locate one that suits your needs according to where you live. We are lucky that we live in an age where help is at our fingertips. Take advantage of this! Service agencies provide help free of charge, from interpreters to legal advice. You just need to know where to go and the help will be there waiting for you.
- Cultural Differences. Cultural differences may not be evident immediately. This is due to the fact that pressing considerations for immigrants may mean finding affordable housing, meaningful employment and services for children first. However, slowly and surely, the differences will creep up. The cultural differences make a huge impact on immigrants. The impact can be as a result of social customs to attitudes towards gender, race, religion, ethnicity and sexuality. Quick fix: It is important to accept that values will be different. There are some things that you cannot control. Accepting the differences doesn’t mean that you adopt them as your own but remember, you want to be respected so therefore, you must respect others.
I will stop here with the first five issues. I will continue the next five next month. Try to remember one thing: Canada is a country that was built by immigrants. It has taken us a long time to get to where we are now and where we are now is a country that accepts everyone as equals. The days where my mother complained about immigrants not being accepted are long gone. Everything is here for everyone. You just have to know where to find it.