Find Challenges Aplenty in Manitoba
Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, November 20 / 17
Linkletter, the old comedian now long since deceased, made
his fortune with a radio program called “Kids Say the Darnedest
Things!” He would interview young children on a range of
subjects and they would prove time and again how insightful, or
at least cute, they were. We also, through his show,
learned a lot from what the kids had to say about ourselves and
Kids are still smart and interesting, but we now have a new
group of people whose observations and reactions can bring a
smile to our faces or even a knowing nod every once in a
while. I want to share with you some of the comments I’ve
had from immigrants I have met with in my work, but also some
that I’ve read about in on-line blogs.
I admitted in a previous column that I’ve embarrassed myself by
the assumptions I’ve made about immigrants I’ve met or thought
that I’d met. Several times I’ve had appointments with
recent immigrants from Africa and the Middle East – people
looking for work in my field. My assumption has been that
they may be from parts of the world that my organization works
in carrying out aid projects, but that they have little
knowledge beyond that.
Instead, I have found that most are at least as well educated as
I am and have years of experience. It is conflict beyond
their control that has put them in the position they are
in. If I had the funding to hire them, it would happen –
or if I were to ever retire, they would be candidates to take my
My greatest embarrassment was approaching a black man at a
Conference and asking him where he immigrated from, only to find
out he was an umpteenth generation Canadian from Nova Scotia,
part of the contingent of descendants of slaves who came to our
country from the United States, in the years from the
Revolutionary War to the US Civil War. Oops! And I’m
just a first generation Canadian, a child of parents who escaped
war and revolution in Europe a hundred years ago.
Back to today’s world and especially the early winter we have
been “enjoying”. As Manitobans, we like to brag about how
it doesn’t bother us to endure winter for half of each
year. For new immigrants, it is a painful shock! I
am teaching a course at the University of Winnipeg and one-third
of my thirty-six students are international, from countries in
Africa and Asia.
That first really cold day, a student who arrived in Canada the
first week of September after a young lifetime in Southern
Africa, came to class with what could only be described as
“arctic wear”. He was surprised to see most of the class
with jackets and some still wearing shorts. I counselled
him that if you put all your warm clothes on in late October,
you will lose the psychological advantage of “gearing up” when
the really cold, snowy weather arrives.
I asked my newly arrived students one day what they had
discovered about people since arriving in Manitoba.
Generally, every young person had had only good experiences,
finding us friendly and helpful. They really appreciated
that people would take the time to help them as immigrants or
international students really do feel lost upon arrival.
The College where I teach had held several welcome days that
included pizza, cinnamon buns and other goodies – and that was
truly the highlight for many newcomers.
For some who arrive from troubled situations, for example areas
of conflict and refugee camps, they are still caught up in their
past bad experiences. It is interesting to hear their
stories, and that is exactly what they need and want, someone to
take the time to listen. I see that, while the trauma may
not ever entirely leave their consciousness, time, experience
and success in their new surroundings does alleviate their
When we talk about culture in my class, I ask the international
students to tell the rest of us what their Canadian experience
has been like – what has surprised them about us. I also
read out the results of surveys and interviews done across the
country with students on this topic. What always gets a
good laugh is how newcomers are struck with awe about “Roll Up
the Rim”. There is no equivalent overseas.
While they think we are a bit crazy about the Tim’s contest,
they are impressed that we line up in an orderly fashion,
sometimes five times a day, to get our red and yellow cardboard
cups, partly to enjoy our caffeine fix, and partly in the hope
of winning a cookie, donut or fancy new vehicle.
People are people the world over. Manitoba’s current and
future growth, not only in population but in our economy, is
predicated on immigration. Embracing our diversity and
learning from it is the only way that we will all prosper and
live in harmony.
Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis
Project and now
co-ordinates outreach for Fair