An outlook for immigrants

Photo courtesy of Canadian Immigrant Magazine

Despite having a Bachelor’s degree in business administration (BA) from India, Priti Shah’s early experiences in the job market inspired her to rethink her path.

She recently started a consulting company, Drishti Consulting, to further aid new citizens. In the past, she worked with numerous organizations, winning awards for her involvement.

Working in Canada

In 1986 when Shah first arrived in Canada, she had to take jobs doing low paying cleaning work or at local warehouses despite the master’s degree in Business Administration she had earned in India, her previous work experience at UNICEF and her English language capabilities. In this work, she quickly found herself to be one of only a small handful of women working at the warehouse who could speak English. It was apparent to her that they were at that time being mistreated, threatened and often manipulated because of their fears and language barriers.

Priti Shah, facilitator and social justice activist. | Photo courtesy of Canadian Immigrant Magazine

Shah soon realized she wanted to work to help other immigrants as they arrived in Canada. She entered the job market later on and ended up at in an interview where she didn’t know how to properly answer the questions.

“They asked if I knew how to use a cashier machine and I said ‘yes’ though I’d never seen one. They asked if I knew what a quarter looked like and I said ‘kind of.’ [They then] asked how many quarters were in a roll, and I said to myself ‘What kind of crazy question is this?’”, she says laughing.

Luckily, the hiring manager “liked her confidence.” Still, it was only with the help of another employee that Shah was able to succeed.

“I asked my colleague if she would come an hour early and teach me the cash machine and she didn’t even question it. [She] said ‘absolutely I can help you,’” says Shah.

Canadian comforts

According to Shah, staying among people from similar ethnic groups can both support and hinder integrating into a new culture.

“The support and sense of belonging is really good, especially when you are new and don’t have anybody else living here from your family,” she explains. “[But] if you’re in a community [of] your own race [which] historically [has] had difficulties integrating or finding employment beyond low paying jobs, the advice they give you is ‘don’t look in your field; just take whatever you find.’ That comes from their experience.”

Instead, Shah says, new immigrants should try stepping outside of their ethnic communities. “I think to really become integrated into Canada as a Canadian, you really have to learn to build relationships with all kinds of people, to get civically engaged or involved socially and economically,” she adds.

One piece of advice Shah has is to advance conversations past “Hi” and continue them regularly, to help immigrants find a sense of connection in their new neighbourhoods.

She also advocates city efforts to create formal and informal common places where young and old people from all walks of life can congregate and foster new and lasting connections. Shah does point to coordinated events that have been held in the past. However, she has hopes for a more organic unrestricted “hang out” space in the future.

Communication as key

Shah looks at European, South Asian and Latin American countries as inspiration for working common places where people can gather [together] while socializing freely. These are countries, Shah says, with strong social and communication standards that should inspire Canadians to help each other move towards welcoming and cohesion.

She also sees promise in various individuals she has met along the way, the many people who have been willing to share their time and experience to help new community members or other immigrants’ transition into Canada.

“I’ve never in my 30 years (except one person) come across any immigrant who lacks in empathy or compassion for others,” she says.

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