Newcomers face many obstacles when trying to start a new life in Canada, from learning the language and interacting well with fellow citizens to finding a good career and education. When Tung Chan arrived in Canada in 1974, an immigrant from Hong Kong with a limited command of English trying to make ends meet, he knew those obstacles all too well.
Today, Chan is one of the 2014 Order of British Columbia recipients honoured for his philanthropy and community service. Many of his community efforts have focused on dismantling the barriers hindering newcomers’ ability to integrate and contribute productively to Canadian society in civic and leadership roles. But he recognizes that there is still a long way
“Our society is moving in the right direction welcoming new immigrants, but the basic fundamental issues remain the same,” says Chan.
Improving the conditions for newcomers is a two-way street
Chan has had a prolific career campaigning for increased opportunities for newcomers, in his capacity as CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and his board of director positions at many educational and civic organizations. In addition, Chan has voiced his support for initiatives, such as the WelcomeBC newcomers program, the foreign qualification recognition and the Immigrant Employment Council of BC, which are aimed at attracting newcomer talent and encouraging companies and communities to recognize the value new Canadians can bring to the table.
However, Chan thinks the long term solution to breaking down these barriers is to encourage newcomer youth to play a more active role in shaping their adopted country by getting a quality education; improving their English and/or French language skills; becoming involved in the political process; developing a healthy understanding between the many different cultures that make up this country; and synthesizing those cultural differences to come up with well-rounded solutions to cross-cultural ethnic issues.
Nevertheless, he encounters many families who are squeamish about taking risks in life.
“I find many visible minority parents don’t encourage their children to pursue careers in political leadership,” Chan says. “They prefer to see them pursue professions with income certainty.”
Keys to making important decisions: explore, understand, inquire
Although Chan understands the motivations, he thinks that having a profitable career and being a leader are not mutually exclusive life paths. As an example, he referred to the benefits offered by the Canadian Forces – paying for one’s education, learning a trade, becoming a commissioned officer and retiring with a pension – as an example of a profession many visible minority parents would discourage their children from pursuing.
Gaining these valuable interpersonal and professional skills would enable newcomer youth to develop confidence, make important connections and be in a position to make valuable leadership contributions to society.
“If they are not in a position to facilitate change, other things are going to happen anyway, and they’ll be affected by it. So I would highly encourage youth to keep an open mind, be curious of what’s happening around the world, be a part of the process and to participate in important decision making that affects their lives,” Chan says.
To support his view, Chan recalls one of his favourite sayings: “there are three types of people: people who make things happen, people who see things happen and people who don’t know what the hell is happening.”
He hopes many more newcomer youths will fall under the first type in the future.
“At the very least, I hope our youths don’t fall into that last type,” says Chan.
To learn more about Mr. Chan and his ideas regarding cultural diversity and immigration,
visit his personal website,