By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
“Canada needs you!” This is a sentiment I heard over and over while I was in Canada. I came to Canada with my husband and daughter, in August 2015, on a student visa to pursue my Ph.D. in economics.
I still pursue that dream of coming to Canada, but meanwhile, things have gone awry.
Our bank account manager in Ottawa was the first to utter these words to me: “Canada needs you! You are young, talented, educated and have work experience in economics and engineering, (my husband’s field) both of which are needed in Canada.”
Then my daughter’s teacher told us the same thing, adding that “Canada is the place that protects talented people”. In her opinion, we were among the most talented.
I was a good student and had more than 10 years of work experience in business journalism. As a result, I was offered multiple offers of admission to a number of universities in Canada, Germany, the United States and Great Britain.
So, we started to think about our options as a family and we came to a final decision: Canada. A North American and English-speaking country with natural beauty, peaceful policies, and high educational standards, as well as welcoming immigration laws; Canada we assumed would be an ideal destination for our family.
Funding opportunities for international students were also an important factor, as this would help me focus on my studies and research interests.
With this in mind, I reached out to the head of the department for more information. An email response pointed me towards a partial scholarship through the university's "Teaching Assistantship".
But he also suggested that there were many external funding opportunities available, scholarships that I could apply for once I got to Canada. My good educational background meant I had a good chance of securing these scholarships, he said.
So, we packed up.
Running out of options
I was a good student in Canada. I attended all my classes, read all the books that were suggested and got good grades. Simultaneously, I tried to apply for scholarships from organizations outside the university. But there was a problem. Most scholarships were given to international students who had lived for more than 12 months in the city that housed the university. As such, I did not qualify.
Other scholarships were given to students who had started working on their thesis, provided that the thesis proposals were approved by funding organizations and met their objectives. I did not fit this category either.
Besides, the amount of external funding for international students was very low. If I won one of them, I could not access other scholarships.
I explained my situation to the head of the department. He told me: “You are a perfect student, but the university cannot do anything about it.” That’s it!
I completed the first semester with an “A” in every course. I went to the head of the department and told him that I could not complete my studies without funding. I told him “money matters for me”, but I heard the same answer, “There are no other options for you.”
It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated.
I had come to Canada to get a Ph.D., become a researcher and a productive person in society. But I made the mistake of making a decision based on incomplete and, sadly, inaccurate information about funding available to international students. I trusted the information that was given to me and did not try to verify before moving to Canada.
I made up my mind. I did not want to be a “not-so-good” student, “not-so-good” mother, “not-so-good” provider and “not-so-good” person, who made a mistake but did not want to admit it.
I had just accepted at face value a possibility that came into my life because I was afraid to review, re-think or even return to where everything had started.
As a result, I dropped out of school and flew back home to Iran.
Costs on all sides
It was a hard time in my life. I was in the middle of a journey that was potentially leading my family and me to nowhere.
When we were on the flight back home, I was thinking about all the things that had happened to my family, all the challenges that we had faced, and all the decisions that we had made.
I thought about what I lost when I left school. The economic costs of this decision and the emotional suffering was tremendous. I also thought about the costs that the university endured: the cost of giving me a partial scholarship, the cost of losing someone who could have become a good researcher, and the cost of counting on someone and planning for her to be an academic, but losing her so soon.
At the time, I thought to myself, “These five months of my life were like a game with no winner, a lose-lose game”.
This piece is the first part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: What I Did Not Know About Communication and Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Time is quickly running out for this liberal government. With recent polls showing Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating hovering at 19 per cent within her home province, a historically low rate which stands below all other active Premiers.
Premier Wynne needs to step aside soon and allow another member of the party an opportunity to rebuild the Ontario Liberal brand at a time when they can still recover ahead of the next provincial election. If she waits any longer, she risks depriving her party of any chance to enjoy the grace period that is usually afforded to new leaders. On another tangent, refusal to leave could result in further economic hardships for a province that was once looked at as a prosperous financial state.
Since that election, the gaffes and examples of Liberal mismanagement have been stacking up like cordwood and polls have shown that Ontario voters are ready for a change. The Tories have made significant gains, now finding themselves sitting at 38% in the polls to the Liberals’ 30% and NDP 24%. The recent Forum poll even suggests, say it isn’t so, that the Tories are ahead in Toronto!
Wynne’s hubris is larger than the budget deficit she and her party have racked up under their leadership, yet she insists she will not relinquish her position of leadership. If that is the case, then I am convinced we are going to see a catastrophic meltdown of her party from which the Liberals are not likely to recover for some time.
Liberal failures are beginning to add up: the “billion-dollar gas plant boondoggle”, the disastrously inept mismanagement of hydro in general, the more than $300 billion in provincial deficit, Wynne's costly handling of the carbon tax and environment files, the Sudbury by-election scandal, and the botched sale of Hydro-One; are all contributing to the province's mistrust of the ruling party.
The Wynne Government's recent report on Ontario education reported that hardly half of Ontario's Grade 6 students passed provincial standards in math this year. The lack of improvement has lead the party to suggest a curriculum overhaul. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter went on to say, "there's still more work to do, especially when it comes to math overall."
Even with the additional $60 million provided to schools for improved Math curriculums, students continue to struggle with the subject.
Ontarians and pundits alike are reaching the same conclusion that the Liberal party’s popularity and prospects cannot recover with Wynne at the helm of the government.
Ontario’s economy is being subjected to damage, the likes of which it has never seen and may never recover from. Which may leave the citizens of this once great and prosperous province to struggle against epic currents just to keep their heads above the proverbial water.
Wynne’s terrible leadership and numerous failures have done real and lasting damage to the Province of Ontario. It is time for her to accept responsibility for her mismanagement, step aside, and allow another to take over.
This is now Patrick Brown’s election to lose and he needs to step up and show he has what it takes to lead Ontario out of the bleak state of affairs that Wynne and her Liberals have dragged us into.
Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications.
By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia
The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.
So what to make of these shifts?
On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.
To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).
According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.
Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.
It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.
Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.
There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.
Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.
By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.
This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.
The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.
We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.
That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.
It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.
We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.
These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.
The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change?
Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.
Downloading to taxpayers
But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.
What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.
If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again. When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.
Citizens in the dark
Will $90 million build a university campus? I highly doubt it. I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?
Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal. We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down. The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie. The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital. It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department. Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services. This does not bode well for our university.
Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.
I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.
So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
by Our National Correspondent
Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was appointed Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) earlier this month. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with him by e-mail.
Q: You obviously bring a strong international outlook to the new position given your own early background and education in Egypt. How do you think your immigrant background will help as Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU)?
A: Together the presidents of Atlantic Canadian universities share a diverse range of experience and we are stronger because of it. Having been an international student that immigrated to Canada, I would not claim to understand the needs and hopes of all international students. Everyone’s experience is unique, but that does not prevent me from drawing on my experience when I approach an issue.
I believe the key to success for both international and Canadian students stems from good relationships. At the University of Prince Edward Island, we strive to keep this at the core of everything we do, and it is emphasized during new student orientation and mental health and well-being initiatives. Interactions with friends, family, professors, staff, employers, and strangers affect our day-to-day lives, and building good relationships with these people can make all the difference.
International students will almost always have smaller networks of people in their lives so providing those services and opportunities to build those relationships when they come to Canada is key.
Q: As you say in your news release, foreign students are a particular focus. How do you think the current population of international students is fitting into Atlantic campuses? Are they contributing to the overall campus experience or do they tend to keep to themselves?
A: The culture of Atlantic Canadian universities is one in which the larger community and the campus are integral to one another. The cultural and social influences of students and their communities impact each other positively and benefit the overall experiences and success of everyone.
International students play a very important role on Canadian campuses as they are ambassadors for their respective countries. In Atlantic Canada, we strongly believe that integrating our international students into our campus communities not only benefits international students, but also Atlantic Canadian students.
Q: What does your early experience in Canada as a student/researcher tell you about what more Canada – particularly the Atlantic universities – can do to make foreign students feel more welcome? What advice do you provide to international students that you run into?
A: Canada has been, and is, welcoming to students of all cultures, and international students arrive in Canada with great appreciation for our country and its diversity. Having been an international student myself, I can say that there were many Canadians who made me feel at home by demonstrating support, kindness, and sincerity.
I personally have worked with and supervised dozens of international students and I tell them all, “In Canada you have the opportunity to be yourself, talk about your culture, interact with your community, and embrace Canadian values while enriching them with those of your own home.” This is advice that can truly help to make the best of an international student’s experience while studying in Canada.
Q: In your view, should international students have a pathway to Canadian citizenship? Would that help the Atlantic region address its demographic challenges?
A: When I think of immigration and encouraging our international students to stay and pursue citizenship, I recognize the many benefits that would have for our region. As our governments are actively working to attract talent and youth to help build our economy and society, an obvious group of people to attract would be the international students who are currently studying, researching, and honing their skills here in Atlantic Canada. In addition, I have to think about it from the point of view that even if our international students decide to return to their home country, they will forever be linked to Atlantic Canada. This too will have positive results, because if our international students are looking for opportunities to build bridges globally, there is a good chance that their first thought will be Atlantic Canada.
Q: Your time in Canada appears to have taken you to institutions from coast-to-coast. Can you please share with our readers your views on Canadian multiculturalism?
Having arrived as an international student and lived in Canada for over 30 years, I have seen many examples of how Canadians welcome, appreciate, and support the benefits of multiculturalism. We consist of people from all over the world, and yet we are probably one of the best examples of embracing differences. This makes us unique as we pour an incredibly strong foundation that embraces and respects the values of everyone.
Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton
Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.
The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.
Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.
See a trend here?
Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.
Learning to hate French
I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone.
“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”
Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”
The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.
Moving to a bilingual setting
When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.
My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.
From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.
Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.
The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.
Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up. That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.
My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.
The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.
They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.
Need for spontaneity
So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.
The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.
It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.
That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.
Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City.
Historical wrongs faced by East and South Asian immigrants and Aboriginal people to be taught
THE world is changing and parents expect their kids to be taught the skills they need to succeed in that changing world. That’s why, for the past few years, the Ministry of Education has partnered with teachers and […]
Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax
Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.
And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.
Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.
Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.
The starting-over advantage
“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”
The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.
Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay.
Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.
Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.
Role for universities
He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”
The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.
Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.
Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.
Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”
For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.
“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”
The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.
Ditch "Come from Away"
“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering. The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.
Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.
At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region: “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.
Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region. He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.
Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.
Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.
Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.
by Justin Kong in Toronto
While many Americans may be declaring their intent to immigrate to Canada if Donald Trump becomes President, this migratory trend towards the north is not a new phenomenon.
Historically, everyone from runaway slaves to draft dodgers and individuals of the LGBTQ community could be found among the different waves of American migrants coming to Canada. In more recent years, this flow has remained sizeable, with Americans being the sixth-largest source of immigrants in 2013.
Yet, Americans in Canada don’t fit most popular notions of immigrants and public discussions usually portray them as invisible immigrants or “expats.” They also appear to perform economically better than other immigrants, and many are also taking up key positions in the fields of arts, culture, and politics.
Higher cultural-economic capital
There is some belief that this stems from the fact that American immigrants have higher cultural-economic capital than other immigrants. A sector where this is particularly apparent is within Canada’s post-secondary education system.
Ongoing research on the changing landscape of academia in Canadian universities by PhD students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Francois Lachapelle and Patrick John Burnett, has found that among Canada’s U3 universities (UBC, University of Toronto and McGill University) almost 66 per cent of tenured professors in 2015 were American-trained.
Rougher approximation tests conducted by Lachapelle suggest that half (33 per cent) of these are American immigrants.
Effects on Canadian academics
Rima Wilkes, who researches immigration at UBC, suggests looking back to the 1960s to understand the phenomenon of American academics in Canadian universities.
“[That was] when the Canadian university system saw a massive expansion,” she explains. “There weren’t enough Canadian-trained PhDs to fill the jobs. So it made sense to hire people from other countries [such as the U.S.] because we didn’t have the skills base.”
Wilkes notes that since then, however, Canadian universities have produced more and more PhD candidates. “So now [even though] we have the skill base, in some cases Canadians with PhDs still don’t get those [tenured] jobs.”
All of this is happening in a context where academic employment in both Canada and the U.S. is becoming more precarious. With the intensification of competition and fewer tenured and economically secure academic jobs in the U.S., aspiring American academics look abroad. Canadian institutions, such as the U3, have been eager to receive them.
Louise Birdsell Bauer, who researches precarity in academia at the University of Toronto, says that the preference of hiring American-trained academics stems “from institutional traditions combined with a growing inequality in prestige and training” between Canadian-trained and U.S.-trained academics.
These factors, Birdsell Bauer explains, do in fact contribute to the “increas[ing] academic precarity for Canadian-trained PhDs,” who face intensified competition with American-trained academic immigrants for these jobs.
'Colonial inferiority complex'
Other researchers say that the preference and prevalence of American academics in Canadian universities actually speaks to broader attitudes in Canadian academia.
Thomas Kemple is an immigrant from the United States. He has been a professor at UBC for more than two decades and now serves as an executive member of the UBC Faculty Association.
“In some ways, Canadian universities suffer from a kind of ‘colonial inferiority complex’ where ‘our own’ could never be quite as ‘excellent’ as academics produced in the U.S.,” he says. “We hear versions of this argument from deans and department heads who value degrees from certain U.S. universities over their Canadian counterparts, [and] often without checking the content and quality of the applicant.”
Unlike the experiences of many immigrants who come from regions such as Asia, Africa or Latin America who are unable to turn their credentials into positive labour market performance and economic well-being, academic immigrants from the U.S. sometimes experience the reverse.
Kemple says whether or not the prevalence of American academics in Canadian universities should be an issue of concern is something to think about.
“There has certainly been some discussion in recent years among faculty – but I’ve never heard it among administrators – about whether an affirmative action or diversity policy should be implemented for Canadian-born or Canadian-educated applicants for university positions.”
Wilkes similarly notes that she has seen some discussion around this trend stating “that it is often American-born or trained scholars who are leading this [discussion].”
There is some evidence to suggest that American academic immigrants in Canadian universities appear to be on the statistical upswing.
Lachapelle, who continues his research at UBC, is finding that amongst the U3 and many other Canadian universities there has actually been a “small, but statistically significant increase in the number of American academic immigrants in Canadian universities between 2008 and 2015.”
It seems American academics will continue to come to Canada, regardless of who becomes the next president of the United States.
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit