Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The scale, scope and diversity of immigrant experience

Canada faces an unprecedented challenge in enabling newcomers to settle quickly and comfortably into Canadian life. Canada is a nation made up of largely immigrants. Immigrants bring with them a wealth of expertise and education, and contribute enormously to Canadian society and its economic well-being.

The process of integrating into Canada, however, is one that requires much effort on the parts of individual immigrants. All immigrants face adjustments in their adopted country, and the settling process can be very disruptive and stressful.

Immigrants typically experience three phases of adjustment after their arrival in Canada.

• First, newcomers are in a heightened state of expectation and anticipation. This phase is often referred to as “honeymoon” phase. Sometimes, the hopes and expectations are unrealistic because of the lack of information to immigrants about average Canadian life.

• Second, newcomers encounter challenges and frustrations in their adjustment to life in Canada, and may need to alter some of their expectations. Immigrants experience a vast range of emotions during this phase, some finding the experience exciting while others are depressed and lonely. No reaction is right or wrong, but immigrants’ experiences can be made better or worse depending on the support they receive and the resources they have.

• Third, although setbacks and frustrations still occur, they are more relevant to the regular ups and downs of life than particular experiences associated with being immigrant.

The duration of time associated with these phases is unpredictable. Some people move through the phases very quickly and for others many years will pass before they feel comfortable. A great number of variables affect each immigrant’s experience.

Learning to adapt to a new culture, climate, and language requires a great deal of learning, and newcomers fare better if they are exposed to information about Canada in multiple ways, through various sources, and at different times