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Adjusting to Life in Canada

For most newcomers, coming to Canada means making many changes to their lives. Rather than being motivated by or necessitated by social, political, or religious reasons, some adjustments to life in Canada are motivated by practical reasons.


Skating at Hawlerak Park

One adjustment is growing accustomed to the climate. Immigrants from countries such as Ghana, Jamaica, or Vietnam may have never experienced cold weather. In countries like these where the winter temperature rarely drops below 15°C, coming to Canada with its winters of ice and snow can be quite a challenge. Those who arrive in spring or summer allow themselves some time to acclimatize, but many immigrants who arrive in the middle of winter are not only unable to adjust slowly, but often, they also arrive without proper winter clothing. It is not uncommon for people from warmer countries to have never seen snow before arriving in Canada. People need to learn about wearing proper insulating clothing and continuing with their life despite the cold temperatures. Besides simply purchasing warm clothes and learning how to walk on ice, some people face culturally specific predicaments. Consider, for example, adapting religious wear to the new, colder climate: many Sikhs wear turbans which do not cause any difficulty during the warmer months, but in winter, turbans can become a problem because it is hard to slip a toque over them.


Group of first settlers leaving to colonize Venice and Hylo

Many immigrants encounter language difficulties and need to adjust by learning one of Canada's official languages: English or French is not their first language. Many immigrants make learning one of the official languages a priority upon arrival. Learning a new language helps them navigate around their new city, meet new people, understand new customs, and, most importantly, find employment. Speaking one of the official languages is critically important to finding a job since employers need employees who can communicate.

Chinese man at Centre Street South, Calgary

Many immigrants with education and training must first pass a standardized test prior to having their qualifications assessed and recognized. (For more information on the recognition of foreign credentials, please refer to the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials.) Because these exams are administered in either English or French, immigrants must learn one of these languages in order to pass. Until they master the new language, many immigrants have to find work for which they are overqualified, if they can find work at all. Increasingly, many are learning English as a second language in their home country before immigrating. However, many, upon coming to Canada, are frustrated to learn that their English is less than perfect. Some people’s accents or foreign pronunciations make it difficult for Canadians to understand them.

French settlers at Sylvan Lake


A third practical adjustment revolves around food. Just as different cultures have different clothes or dances, they also have different foods. For example, India is known for its curries and Ukraine for its perogies. However, some foods are not as readily available here as in immigrants' homelands. This might be due to differences in climate which make growing certain plants impossible in Canada.

First store in Venice

While large chain supermarkets now carry ethnic foods and ingredients, their selection would be less than in immigrant’s homeland. Because of this, many speciality grocery stores now operate, selling an even wider range of ethnic foods. However, these stores are fewer in number than large supermarkets, thus making it hard for immigrants to shop at them with the kind of regularity they might be used to.

Sometimes, the foods we have in Canada taste different from those in other countries. For example, bananas in Southeast Asia are smaller and sweeter than those in Canada. In addition, because of Canada's multicultural nature, immigrants may have exposure to new kinds of food. Supermarkets and restaurants offer unfamiliar items and many people may also be more familiar with shopping at markets, buying their goods from local producers rather than from large companies.

In some cases, foods such as dog that are considered accetable to eat in some countries (e.g., South Korea), are not considered acceptable in Canada. Immigrants have to adjust not only to not eating something they are used to but also to Canadian values — in this instance, Canadian’s fondness for dogs in particular and pets in general.

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