The challenges of housing a new immigrant

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Sabrina Almeida

Housing new immigrants either temporarily or permanently is quite common in Canada. After all, the country’s open-door police and large number of applicants from our respective homelands means that you are likely to have family members or friends immigrating to Canada occasionally. And if you are the first or only one here, chances are they will look to you for more than just information and emotional support. In other words, a place to stay till they find their footing.

Setting up in a new country that is vastly different from your own can be a stressful experience. In addition to the challenges of navigating foreign territory comes the trauma of being separated from your loved ones and social circle. Having a familiar face help you plot a new course can make less excruciating.

Years ago, a lady working in Walmart asked for my phone number. I hesitated because she was a stranger. Sensing my reluctance, she explained that she would only call me if she needed some information. She didn’t know anyone in Canada and reached out to me because we were both of Indian origin. At that point I was thankful to have been able to move in with family when I arrived. Most in my social circle were also fortunate to have that kind of support.

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A close friend who opened her doors to several newcomers over the years believes that doing this offers an opportunity “to pay it forward”. Grateful for the initial assistance she received when she arrived with a small infant in her arms, she would like to extend a friendly hand to someone in need.

A few days ago, I received a distress call from a relative whose son recently touched down in Vancouver. The previous arrangement with a family member was not working out and soon he would have to move out on his own. With no job and limited finances, renting was not feasible. Coming to live with us in Toronto or going back to India were his only options. Put off by the negative experience, his first instinct was to return home. For me the decision was a no-brainer. I couldn’t imagine the lad who is a couple of years older than my boys, being forced to give up on his dreams just because of a small setback.

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I had offered to put him up initially, but he chose Vancouver because the weather seemed less daunting than Toronto.

While I am happy to help him, I realize that the arrangement will require a bit of adjustment on all our parts. Especially my sons who have rarely had to accommodate anyone in their personal space. Most of our guests have been adults who they have respectfully tolerated but never had to engage with, or kids on vacation. Making this house guest feel welcome would require sustained effort and involvement from them.

However, being raised here and in a nuclear family setting puts them at a distinct disadvantage. They are too used doing whatever they want in the privacy of their rooms and are less receptive towards including someone in that personal space daily. He, on the other hand, is accustomed to living with extended family in a highly-interactive environment. It will be left to me to bridge the gap and maintain a harmonious balance. After all, my sons’ acute sense of privacy could be misconstrued as being rude. Given the upset he has encountered in his very short stay here, their acceptance and involvement could make all the difference.

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Having said that, I believe the experience will be valuable for my sons as well. They must learn to step out of their comfort zone and be sensitive to the needs of others. While community service has given them some exposure—it is just for a little while and rarely calls upon them to share their personal space for prolonged periods of time.

He too will have to get accustomed to spending time by himself without feeling excluded or lonely.

To say that it wouldn’t require any adjustment on my part, would be untrue. It’s been a while since we have had a house guest for an indefinite period. I realize that it will require a sacrifice of personal time and bit of extra work which might upset my perfectly-balanced apple cart.

But taking a cue from my friend and others who have reached out to newcomers, I welcome the opportunity to “pay it forward” and help the young man make Canada his home. -CINEWS

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