What is the most important ingredient to newcomer success?

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With all the information we need to process and things to accomplish, sometimes it’s hard to focus on what’s important and we get lost. After the initial burst of energy and enthusiasm when we arrive, many of us get depressed, especially when our expectations do not align with reality. When this sets in, it can prevent many of us from achieving successful integration.

In times like these, we all need some advice. Who better to ask than people who work with and help newcomers day in and day out? So we talked to integration experts, heads of settlement service provider organizations, settlement workers, and other members of the community and asked them the question: What is the most important ingredient to newcomer success?

Here are some of the best pieces of advice we received:

Language is culture

“Your success in living in a country with a different language and culture than your own will be dependent upon how well you can communicate within that culture. There is a saying that “Language is Culture!” Even if you arrive in Canada with good English language proficiency, it is the nuances of the language within the culture that will still need to be learned. Canadians have a reputation for being polite and apologetic. They generally don’t like aggressive behaviour, which in some cultures is the only way a person can get things done or get what they want or need, so learning how to get things done in a polite and non-confrontational way is a skill to be learned.

“Therefore, my advice to a newcomer is to register for English classes even if you are an advanced level English speaker because you will learn as much about Canadian culture as you will the language. The more you know about Canadian culture, the better prepared you will be to meet any challenges you encounter.”

Doreen Cooper, Language Program Manager, Westman Immigrant Services

About Westman Immigrant Services:
Westman Immigrant Services is a not-for-profit organization that provides free services to immigrants and refugees (permanent residents) in Brandon and the Westman area (Southwestern Manitoba).
Programs and services: Information, orientation and settlement support; English language programs; employment support and referral; volunteer services; community outreach and education; interpretation services; family programs; youth programs.

“(So) I think that it’s more important for newcomers to do the things that they enjoyed back home. Read a book, meet with your family and have supper, go for a walk, exercise, whatever it is. Don’t give up those things because these keep you well and healthy and enable you to continue on and reach your goals.”

Effective language learning, maintaining positive mental health & setting goals

“I have a lot of advice I’d like to give but I think I’ve narrowed it down to two. One relates to language and the other to mental health. And so because I coordinate a language training program, our clients are stage 2 CLB 5-8 learners who often have a profession back home: engineers, teachers, agrologists, business or IT professionals, etc., so what I’m going to mention maybe speaks to all language training, but specifically to the higher levels. I think my first piece of advice would be to critically reflect on what you’re learning. And this is something that might be a little new to some, depending on your educational background. This means to constantly be thinking about why we are learning things. Does this change the way I’m seeing the material? Or how does this (what I’m learning in class) different than what I’ve learned before? How can I use this towards bettering my English outside of the classroom? Reflecting on your learning can be through journalling, or other reflective practices that your teacher might integrate into the class. I think it is very, very key to strengthening your language abilities.

“The second point under language is to be open to feedback. Ask for feedback and ask questions as much as possible. Your instructor, and also those coordinating your language training program, want to give feedback that is useful to you. They want to maximize your time in the classroom as best they can. They want you to ask questions. They want to know how they can help you. So be open to feedback. Ask for it. Demand it.

“The third point under language is to stay connected. In our program, we often see students who drop out of the program for whatever reason, primarily work-related. And that’s understandable. Sometimes it’s not the right time to pursue an intensive language training course, or a formal class through a classroom setting, but try to stay connected – in touch with your instructor, in touch with others you’ve met through language training classes. Maybe study independently online, through English Online. Take some of the workshops that we offer at ESP or at the U of W. All of those are great options. Just stay connected. We find if students disengage completely, we lose them, often forever. And they decide to take a different path. Maybe it’s the right path, but just stay connected if you’re wanting to reach your goals. Hang in there.

“And the second advice I would just like to make is just about mental health, mental wellness. I think that’s a huge issue for everybody these days, whether you’re Canadian-born or not. We’re so busy in our lives! We all know that we need to take time and try to make ourselves feel well; to do the things that we enjoy, or that helps us relax and refocus. But we often don’t have time to do them or make time to do them. So I think that it’s more important for newcomers to do the things that they enjoyed back home. Read a book, meet with your family and have supper, go for a walk, exercise, whatever it is. Don’t give up those things because these keep you well and healthy and enable you to continue on and reach your goals.

“And one last thing, this might also be something that is not new but I found that our most successful students set goals. It’s simple, but setting goals that are short term and long term is important. And to be flexible with your goals. Our most successful students had a path. Their path may have changed along the way and how they got to their goal, but the end goal of (maybe obtaining a job in the same profession that they had back home), may have taken a little longer, or may have gone a different route, but they always had the same goal in mind. Whether it was something short term that they could do now, this week. Or something long term that they were going to do. They had that in place. And they were very flexible in that they were willing to adapt.”

Terena Caryk, English Language Program (Part-Time Evening Program) Coordinator, University of Winnipeg

About English Language Program (Part-Time Evening Program):
The program is for anyone who would like to study English part-time in the evening or online to strengthen general, professional or academic English language skills. Permanent Residents, Canadian Citizens, Refugee Claimants, Temporary Foreign Workers, Visitors and International Students may apply.
Programs: English Fundamentals Part I & II (CLB 1-4), English for Intermediate Communication Part I & II (CLB 5-6), English for Academic Learning and Speaking (CLB 7), English for Business Professionals (CLB 7), English for Internationally-Educated Teachers (CLB 7), and English for Academic Writing Part I & II (CLB 7).

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Community Resources

This is part of a series of articles answering the question “What is the most important ingredient to newcomer success?” Want more newcomer success advice? Go to the next in the series.

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