A friend, S gifted me a copy of his recently published book. It provides an account of his life in India when he first attempted to come to Canada as a student, the anger he felt when his student visa was denied, moving to the Middle East later where he started to teach, before eventually landing in Canada as a Permanent resident. The book offers candid glimpses of his mindset through these different life-phases, including the shocks experienced after landing and starting to settle in his new homeland. Stuff routinely encountered by most new immigrants. For instance, incomprehensible accents or manner of speech that make it difficult to converse effectively, unfamiliar etiquettes of alien cultures that make one feel like an “outsider”, feeling awkward when first using the transit system, not knowing what ordering a “medium double-double” at “Timmy” means, who is a Blue Jay or what is Maple Leaf. Things that are a part of the daily life for others can sometimes prove major obstacles for a newcomer. Even just standing, staring and observing to try and learn from others is boorish and not an option! Who does one turn to, for guidance!
All immigrants, those that came earlier or the more recent arrivals can possibly relate to these scenarios and what went through their own minds as they settled here. One can either nod empathetically while remembering his or her own relatable personal experiences or, simply brush all this aside because none of this might seem unique; nothing special about another man’s experiences when our own life story is redoubtable.
However, such stories do help. One, newcomers look for and clutch at things that appear familiar because these serve to provide a security blanket in the cold, impersonal land where they do not feel welcome even if through no fault of the local residents. Two, another newcomer’s initial experiences and eventual success lend hope and confidence to those that follow later. “I am not alone. This happened to S as well but he got over it” is morale boosting. In his insightful book “Arrival City”, Doug Saunders, leading journalist and a columnist for the Globe and Mail discusses how ethnic communities and conclaves help provide a security net for new arrivals within those nationalities. Although with success rivalries do come up, later.
There are any number of people and agencies equipped to provide settlement services to newcomers. However, it is always the individual’s personal stories that make the most impact.
It is also interesting that a few years after “settling down” it is not unusual for “older” newcomers to judge or be resentful of the “newer” newcomers. I wonder whether such behavior is the result of a perceived competitive threat, repressed life experiences of the struggle in the home country for scarce resources or simply the atavistic greed of most humans. At a recent dinner, some guests were upset that Canada was allowing refugees to “freely” arrive in Canada ahead of their parents, whose entry was subject to a lottery. But there were others to remind all of us that if the original residents here had not been accepting and trusting of the waves of non-residents that landed on their land, none of us would be here today and Canada would not be the envy of the world.
On a more general note, my mentor and “life coach” (in today’s parlance) had suggested a few noteworthy points to bear in mind as one journeys through life:
- Take ownership of your thought and actions. Only YOU control your destiny
- People see you through the prism of THEIR experiences. Retain self-confidence, as only YOU can best define yourself
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and empathize. Do not pre-/judge
- Above all else, hold yourself to a higher standard than others
- Just feel love for others and be compassionate
The late Professor Singh would often relate an anecdote to me. Many years ago, a friend and he were walking past the famous Birla Mandir in Delhi one evening, when a young man whizzed past them in his car focused solely on his co-passenger, a young lady. He was zigzagging through traffic at breakneck speed, causing people to sound their car horns or curse the offender. Professor Singh’s companion just stood silently for a moment, mouthing a prayer. All he said was, “Oh Lord, please get these two lovely young souls home safely; let no harm come to them”.