With the increase in poverty, disease, persecution, famine, and war in different parts of the world, people are left with no choice but to leave their homeland. They flee their countries in hopes of providing a better future for themselves and their children. My family is an example of that. At a young age, my father made a difficult decision to leave the rest of my family in the Philippines to move to Qatar so that he could provide for us. A couple of years later, we moved to Canada as a family however, my father stayed in Qatar to work. This decision was made because with three daughters on the path to post-secondary education, my family needed a stable income to provide for school and household expenses. Immigration is a huge part of Canada’s culture which makes it one of the most diverse countries in the world. An immigrant is an individual who comes to live permanently in a foreign country, usually in hopes of a better life. However, moving to a new country does not necessarily guarantee an instant improvement in life. This paper will introduce the various challenges that many immigrants face such as language barriers, finding employment, cultural differences, and isolation and securing housing. This paper will also discuss my personal experience as an immigrant and the issues I faced living in Canada. Lastly, this paper will recommend strategies to tackle the challenges immigrants face in their day-to-day lives.
Language is one of the biggest barriers that immigrants face. Toronto is where most immigrants choose to migrate to Canada because it is one of the most diverse cities in the world and the most linguistically diverse in Canada. Language fluency is vital to adaptation, integration into the local community, and to a better understanding of the local culture (Rojas et al., 2013). However, most immigrants only know how to speak their native language and have difficulty learning another language, especially without the proper resources. This can be frustrating or stressful because it affects “newcomers’ ability to navigate systems that include critical issues like finding housing and employment, enrolling children in schools, finding a doctor, and making new friends” (Anzovino et al., 2018, p. 177). In addition, immigrant students who are not fluent in English can be at a disadvantage when it comes to their academic performance and their general well-being. For instance, they are unlikely to participate actively in the social life of their school and they may feel a sense of isolation in their school community. As for my experience, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity and resources to learn English when I lived in the Philippines. Although I was able to speak English, I was still hesitant to speak in public or to my peers. This is because I was afraid that they would make fun of my accent or my incorrect grammar. By having this fear of speaking in public, I was not able to actively participate in school and potentially missed out on opportunities that would have potentially benefited me in the future. In order to improve one’s ability to speak, read and write in English, they may take English Second Language (ESL) classes. After one year of living in Canada, I was recommended to take ESL classes in my elementary school which was very helpful in improving my English. All in all, the language barrier is a common challenge for immigrants which can lead to missed opportunities, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations.
Furthermore, finding employment is another challenge that immigrants face. Immigrants who are educated and have well-established careers back at home usually find difficulty in acquiring the same jobs in Canada. This is because their credentials are not recognized, they do not have relevant Canadian work experience, or they are not fluent in the host country's language. Most Canadian employers prefer working experience within Canada and certifications outside of the country are usually not recognized and transferable. Employers feel that it is harder for newcomers to integrate since they are not familiar with Canadian workplace culture as to why they are hesitant towards employing immigrants. This becomes an issue because Canada welcomes highly skilled immigrant professionals, only to deny them employment because their credentials are not recognized or equivalent to the people born and raised in Canada. As for my family’s experience, my father knew that finding a job that instantly provided a stable income in Canada would be a challenge to why he stayed back in Qatar. This way, he was able to earn sufficient income to pay for my sisters’ and my school expenses. Eventually, my father moved back to Canada and at first, he struggled to find a job in the field he’s been working in even with his significant experience and engineering background. He bounced back from one job to another and worked manufacturing jobs before landing a job in the same field he worked in. Additionally, immigrants have difficulty finding work in Canada because they do not have adequate language skills. It is essential to have language skills to acquire additional education, training, and experience in the labor market. There are different ways immigrants can do to help secure a job quicker. Immigrants can attend workshops on Canadian workplace culture to help familiarize themselves with the work dynamic in Canada. Additionally, networking will help in developing and improving their skill set and allow them to meet potential mentors, executives, and clients. They can also gain access to the necessary resources that will help them grow their career through networking. On top of that, obtaining an Ontario license or certificate in one’s profession or trade can help immigrants advance in their careers. Certification is a credential that one can earn to demonstrate that they have specific skills or knowledge. They are usually tied to an occupation, technology, or industry and offered by a professional organization or a company that specializes in a particular field or technology. Ultimately, attending ESL classes will help individuals improve their language skills and advance their careers. To summarize, immigrants find it difficult to obtain a job compared to the people who have lived in Canada due to unrecognizable credentials, lack of Canadian work experience, and language barriers.
In addition, cultural shock is a feeling that immigrants may experience after leaving their home culture for another cultural or social environment. Being exposed to new sights, smells, people and customs can be overwhelming and scary when experienced all at once. There are different stages of cultural shock. At first, newcomers are excited and hopeful before or shortly after arriving in the new country. During this time, they feel confident and can easily deal with stress. In the next stage, they might start to feel frustrated or confused about the difficulties they are facing after a while. They may encounter people who are impolite and discriminate against them because of their differences. In particular, many young immigrants get bullied because of cultural differences, lack of language skills and etc. It is harder for children to hide perceived weaknesses such as a lack of language skills or cultural understanding. As for my experience, when I went to school for the first time in Canada, I was very shy, and timid and hardly spoke to anyone at school because I was not used to being around new people. I experienced bullying in my younger years for having an accent and doing things in a certain way. When bullied, young immigrants tend to rely on their peers or the school system to help them overcome bullying as to why it’s important for educational institutions to raise awareness of the issue of bullying and take immediate action when it is happening. During this period, they also start missing their country and loved ones and feel guilty about leaving them behind. In the next stage, immigrants start to have better control of their lives as they acquire better language skills and have a better understanding of the new country, people and culture. In the last stage, immigrants are more comfortable in the new culture and usually demonstrated through expansion of group friends, involvement in activities outside their home, and a better understanding of the new country’s values. There are a lot of strategies to cope with cultural shock such as learning the rules of living in a new country. It is important to understand how and why the locals act the way that they do to minimize confusion. Another one is getting engaged in the life of the local community as it can impact one’s cultural adaptation (Rojas et al., 2013). Finding new things to do is a great way to make a new experience familiar. Lastly, making friends and developing relationships is one way to cope with culture shock. Getting to know the locals will help overcome cultural differences and understand the country. Overall, being in an unfamiliar and foreign environment can cause feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and disorientation.
On top of that, cultural differences can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation for immigrants. Those who come from collectivist cultures may find themselves feeling lost and alienated when moving to a western country such as Canada in which individualism is prevalent. They start to miss the support and comfort of being around their friends and family from back home. As for my experience, after a year of moving to Canada, I felt homesick and was missing my family and friends back in the Philippines. I felt uncomfortable, anxious, and stressed because I was in a place or situation that I was not familiar with. In the end, I was able to overcome this challenge by making new connections at school and finding a new hobby such as going to the gym. Moreover, this issue is more common for immigrant seniors. When older immigrants’ sons and daughters go off to school or work, they are left alone at home or end up in retirement homes. Sometimes, parents who expected to live with their children find themselves alone without the family support they always relied on. Adapting is also not easy for them especially if they are unable to learn a new language quickly. They tend to feel isolated from their community, leading to loneliness and depression. On the bright side, there are ways that newcomers can prevent or reduce loneliness. Individuals can attend support groups for people who are struggling to learn a second language to improve their communication skills. In addition, they can also volunteer or participate in local organizations to expand their friend group and improve their self-esteem, essentially leading to lower feelings of loneliness. Lastly, learning how to use social media can increase the level of life satisfaction and lower levels of loneliness and depression. Newcomers can meet new people through the internet and communicate with their friends and family from back home. To summarize, social isolation is a common emotional experience that newcomers to Canada face, especially for seniors, with language, family separation, economic reliance on children, and discrimination as contributing factors.
Lastly, immigrants face increasing barriers to affordable housing. Toronto is the main port of entry for new immigrants and refugees however securing affordable housing is a huge problem they face. Toronto is not the most affordable place to live in as the availability of non-market or assisted housing declines. This includes social housing, rental assistance, and other sources of assisting low-income households. There is a wide variation in housing experiences within immigration classes. Family class immigrants usually have the least difficulty in securing housing because they are most likely to have a family already in Canada, skilled workers and business class immigrants fall in between and refugees experience the greatest difficulties finding housing. Moreover, immigrants with low-paying jobs are unable to afford housing that is well-maintained, and they end up living in inadequate, unsuitable, or unaffordable housing conditions. The housing choices of most immigrants are mostly determined by affordability due to limited income. As for my experience, my family and I lived in a basement as our first apartment in Canada. This choice was made because it was the cheapest among all the options. At first, the basement did not pose any problems but over time the furniture started breaking down and the ceiling started to leak. After a few months, my family decided that it was not suitable anymore and we moved to a new apartment. Moreover, immigrants can also be victims of exploitation from their landlords. Landlords would charge tenants additional expensive fees for unnecessary things or threaten to kick them out. Immigrants who are unable to speak English and unfamiliar with the Canadian laws tend to comply not knowing it was a scam. To help immigrants through the housing process, there are materials and housing-related services available for them. These include basic information about types of housing, finding housing, and housing-related rights. Newcomers may also attend help housing help centers that offer services such as the provision of housing information, referral to other housing assistance sources or housing agencies, rights education and etc. Lastly, the government provides refugees with financial and other assistance programs. During this period, they are given general orientation to living in Canada and receive assistance in their housing search. Sponsored refugees are also selected abroad and assisted in their settlement by different private groups. There has been an increase in multi‐sectoral involvement in immigrant and refugee resettlement with non‐governmental, private sector, and employer groups now active in immigrant selection and settlement in Canada. All in all, the search for affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges immigrants face when they first arrive in Canada.
In conclusion, people leave their homeland due to a lack of resources, education, employment and essentially to better their standard of living. Immigrants move to countries that seem promising, and in most cases, immigrants do end up living a better life. However, they often experience challenges and barriers upon arrival in Canada. These challenges range from battling the language barrier to finding employment, securing housing, and combating culture shock, and isolation. My family and I, immigrants from the Philippines, have also experienced these difficulties upon moving to Canada. Since arriving in Canada, I felt instantly homesick, especially after being stripped away from familiar faces at a young age. Being in a new environment surrounded by new people and cultures, I felt a sense of disorientation and loneliness. On top of that, for someone who does not speak English as a first language, I had fears of speaking in public at school or in public settings. This affected my ability to make connections, and my academic performance and prevented me from pursuing opportunities in the past. Moreover, my parents have had difficulties in finding employment in the same field they worked in in the past. This is because experience, credentials, and education outside of Canada are not recognized and deemed to be equivalent to ones earned in Canada. Lastly, securing adequate, affordable, and suitable housing is a factor my family and I struggled with before, especially living in Toronto. Toronto’s home prices continue to increase as the availability of affordable rental housing decreases. All in all, immigrants move to a new country in hopes of a better life however moving to a new country comes with challenges and barriers that are unavoidable but can be overcome with the proper resources and support.
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