Embracing Canadian culture through community connections

Photo by Susan Hancock

Photo by Susan Hancock

Our lifestyle gives us a sense of belonging; it gives us our identity which is vital for our well-being and happiness. When newcomers arrive in Canada, they have to rebuild their friendships and connections to help them feel welcome.

Queenie Choo is the chief executive officer at S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a multi-service agency assisting immigrants and Canadians. She can relate to the challenges of other immigrants who are going through the settlement process.

“Newcomers need to find the courage to contribute to society, says Choo. “It’s important for them to venture from what feels comfortable in their immediate surroundings so they can learn about our Canadian culture.”

Choo is referring to newcomers who have difficulties integrating into Canadian culture. She explains that immigrants tend to settle in neighbourhoods that have a similar culture to their homeland. In the short term it’s comforting to be with people with similar backgrounds, languages and customs: in the longterm
it’s limiting. Choo suggests that newcomers need to embrace what it means to be Canadian to achieve their full potential.

When Choo arrived in Canada many years ago she had a choice. She could remain sheltered in a familiar Asian culture, or she could branch out to learn what it means to be a Canadian.

“I wanted to talk about my culture to Canadians,” says Choo. “I wanted people to understand where I was coming from. I also wanted them to know that I was willing to learn about Canadian culture and customs.”

Immigrants have to rebuild their friendships and community connections when they move to a new country. They have to rely on other people’s kindness to discover a pathway to assimilate into a new culture.

Adjusting to Canadian society

Tanvir Hossain, 30, emigrated to Vancouver two months ago from Bangladesh. He was dissatisfied with life in Bangladesh and was looking for a place to call home.

“I needed a change, says Hossain. “I wanted to live in a safer place with less problems.”

Prior to leaving Bangladesh, Hossain connected with Multicultural Helping House Society (MHHS) in Vancouver to organize a place to stay and access settlement services to help him adjust to Canadian culture and customs.

MHHS is a non-profit society that helps immigrants integrate into the community through orientations, training and social assistance. Hossain is involved with their youth settlement program, that gives him access to workshops, advisors and mentors.

Volunteering fastest way to make connections

MHHS introduced Hossain to volunteering.

“I’m grateful to be living in a country like Canada where you can volunteer, says Hossain. “As a volunteer, I have gained work experience and an employment reference.”

Volunteering is an important part of the settlement process for many immigrants. For Hossain, volunteering at Universal Relocations Services turned into a job offer after only a few weeks. Now he can focus on his next challenge – finding affordable accommodation in Vancouver.

Hossain also enjoys volunteering at the Richmond Animal Protection Society Cat Sanctuary. Feeding and cleaning up after these furry felines forces Hossain to practise his English language skills. During each shift, he observes the animals for signs of distress and it’s important for him to be able to share his findings with other staff members. These interactions create opportunities for Hossain to build new friendships and learn about Canadian culture.

“I’m not a very outgoing person. Volunteering forces me to talk to strangers, which is good for me.” says Hossain.

Arts programs shine a light on youth settlement in B.C.

Richard Carpiano is a professor for the Department of Sociology at UBC and an expert on social capital, social networks and communities. He explains that immigrants are faced with a number of challenges once they arrive in Vancouver. They need to make new connections to develop a sense of belonging.

“Immigrants need access to social services like child care, affordable housing, employment that fits their skill sets and the ability to assimilate through cultural connections or activities like art, culture or even sports,” says Carpiano.

Non-profit organizations like MHHS, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and MOSAIC all have settlement programs to support immigrants and refugees. These organizations address a need in B.C. communities to help newcomers feel they are a part of their community.

Rubin Mudhar, a coordinator for youth programs at MOSAIC, oversees workshops like The NuYu (meaning Newcomer Youth) Popular Theatre Program. Up to 20 youth aged between 14 and 24 enrol each term. The last production was called, “My Challenges Coming to Canada,” which allows youth to explore their personal challenges of immigration in a community forum of teachers, parents and friends.

“It’s an awesome place for youth to meet new people, practise their English, and share some of the challenges they’re going through as a newcomer to Canada,” says Mudhar.

Finding connections within a community is an important part of the settlement process for all newcomers. Immigration services provide guidance and options, but to truly understand Canadian culture and feel a sense of belonging newcomers need to venture out on their own to access community activities like sports, arts and culture.

“Settlement takes [for] newcomers a lot of perseverance and determination,” says Choo. “Don’t feel discouraged. Canadians are very welcoming and ready to accept you.”