Author: Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB
Last Updated On: August 20, 2023

Navigating cultural transitions: the journey of newcomers in Canada

Cultural Transition in Canada

Akifa, a citizen of Sudan, recently moved to Canada. Her husband and two little children accompanied her as well. While settling in the new country, Akifa and her family faced a new challenge: cultural transition. She had no problem accepting the new dominant culture while respecting her own. However, Akifa’s husband could not get the new culture, resulting in altercations between him and his family. Akifa is wondering why this is happening.

Welcoming newcomers: immigrants’ hope and challenges in Canada

Canada welcomes more than 400,000 new immigrants and over a million temporary foreign workers and international students each year. They arrive intending to reunite with family or embark on a new, prosperous life. Each newcomer is filled with hope and anticipation. Despite the promising prospects, many encounter challenges such as communicating in official languages, obtaining necessary professional licenses, finding employment and housing, dealing with financial issues, and more. However, perhaps the most significant long-term issue is adapting to the local culture or undergoing a cultural transition.

Defining culture: enculturation, acculturation, and cultural diffusion

Culture embodies a group’s shared attributes and understandings, shaped by their religious beliefs, communication methods, arts, food, and social norms. Individuals typically encounter culture through enculturation, acculturation, or cultural diffusion.

  • Enculturation occurs when one grows up within a specific cultural environment. For instance, someone born and raised in a small Canadian city absorbs the culture of their family, locals, and the prevailing living standards.
  • Acculturation is when a person from a distinct culture lives in a predominantly different cultural environment. An example is a person who immigrates to Canada.
  • Cultural diffusion is spreading a particular norm worldwide, such as rap culture.

Cultural Transitions of new immigrants: assimilation, separation, marginalization, and integration

Most newcomers fall into minority groups, meaning their native culture takes a backseat to Canadian culture. Upon arriving in Canada, they undergo acculturation. The stark differences between their original and Canadian culture can trigger specific cultural transitions.

  • Assimilation occurs when immigrants blend into the mainstream culture, often leaving behind or forgetting their original culture.
  • Separation: In this case, immigrants choose to maintain their culture over the dominant one, effectively separating themselves.
  • Marginalization: Here, immigrants distance themselves from their original and the new cultures.
  • Integration: Ideally, some immigrants merge with the new culture while preserving their original, achieving a balance.

Government policies regarding the cultural transition

Canada prefers integration, while other countries, such as the United States, tend to prefer assimilation. Of course, it’s difficult to make sweeping statements about entire countries’ preferences, but it is true that the immigration policies and social climates of Canada and the United States have typically approached immigrant integration and assimilation in different ways.

Canada has a policy of multiculturalism, officially adopted in 1971, which emphasizes preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in Canada’s economic, social, cultural, and political life. We also know this approach as respecting a cultural mosaic. The concept of integration, where immigrants maintain their cultural heritage while also adapting to the new culture, aligns closely with this policy.

On the other hand, the United States has often been described as a melting pot, a metaphor for a society where many different types of people blend together as one. This concept aligns with assimilation, where immigrants are encouraged to adopt the American way of life and leave their old customs and traditions behind.

However, these are broad generalizations, and actual experiences can vary widely based on many factors, including regional attitudes, immigrant communities’ size and strength, and the individual’s personal experiences and perspectives.

Mental challenges and family Dynamics: the stress of Acculturation

No matter their approach to cultural transition, new immigrants face various mental challenges and stress. When a family immigrates together, each member experiences acculturation differently.

Example: a family going through a cultural transition

Let’s consider a scenario. A family of four moves to Canada. Suppose the father, firmly rooted in his original culture, refuses to embrace the Canadian way of life (separation). He prefers to communicate primarily in his native language and continues to uphold the traditions and practices of his homeland. This creates a rift in the family, as he cannot fully participate in or understand the new experiences the rest of his family is going through. Furthermore, in their quest to fit in with their peers, his children may begin to distance themselves from their father, viewing his steadfast adherence to their original culture as a barrier to their integration.

On the other hand, the mother strives to balance both cultures (integration). She learns English or French to communicate effectively in their new environment but also ensures that her children learn their native language. She celebrates Canadian holidays with her neighbours and friends but also continues to observe the traditions and customs of her homeland within her household. This gives her a sense of belonging in both cultures but presents unique challenges. For instance, her determination to uphold their original culture may sometimes come into conflict with her children’s desire to fit in, leading to disagreements.

Meanwhile, the children (also known as Third Culture Kids), often more adaptable and eager to fit in with their peers, may fully embrace the Canadian culture and even reject their original one (assimilation). This might mean refusing to speak their native language at home or feeling embarrassed by their parents’ different accents, traditional clothes, or foreign customs. This desire to assimilate can create tension within the family as they navigate the delicate balance between their original culture and their new Canadian identity.

How these scenarios relate to our topic

Such scenarios demonstrate the complexities involved in the process of acculturation or, rather, cultural transition. Depending on their personal preferences, life stage, and external influences, each family member will respond differently to the new culture, creating a dynamic and sometimes challenging family environment.

Managing cultural transitions: the importance of understanding and communication

To alleviate conflicts and lessen the adverse mental impacts often associated with cultural transitions, it’s crucial for immigrants and their families to understand their individual and collective attitudes toward these changes deeply. Each family member must become aware of their reactions to the new culture and how they affect their interactions with others. By recognizing these dynamics, they can start to make sense of their emotions, behaviours, and attitudes in the context of their new environment.

One way to foster this understanding is through open and honest communication. Families should make time to discuss their experiences, feelings, and challenges related to their cultural transition. For instance, parents can create a safe space for children to express their difficulties in balancing their parents’ cultural expectations with those of their new environment. At the same time, children should also be encouraged to understand the struggles their parents may be experiencing as they try to adapt to a new culture while maintaining their own.

This shared understanding can significantly reduce stress and make the transition smoother. On the contrary, ignoring these dynamics or failing to address them openly could lead to misunderstanding, resentment, and conflict within the family, negatively impacting both individuals and the family unit as a whole. It is, therefore, essential to actively engage in these conversations and work together as a family to navigate the journey of cultural transition.

Consultations and public speaking: get in touch with Al Parsai

Navigating the journey of immigration can be complex, and understanding cultural transitions is even more so. With years of experience in Canadian immigration law and extensive teaching and public speaking engagements under my belt, I am well-equipped to provide valuable insights and assistance.

If you need personalized advice, consider booking a consultation session with me. Each consultation addresses your unique concerns and equips you with the knowledge to make informed decisions about your immigration journey.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for an engaging public speaker for your event or program, I’d be thrilled to discuss this opportunity. My public speaking engagements include Canadian immigration law, cultural transitions, and more. Over the years, I have led hundreds of speeches, seminars, and courses in Canada, the UK, the UAE, and Iran.

Whether you’re an individual seeking immigration advice or an organization needing a speaker, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Together, we can make the journey smoother and more meaningful. Please fill out the following form to get in touch with me.

    References

    • Berry, John W. (1997). “Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation.” Applied Psychology 46 (1): 10. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.1997.tb01087.x
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2014). 2014 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration. Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/annual-report-2014/index.asp
    • France, M. H., Rodriguez, M. Del C., & Hett, G. G. (Eds.). (2013). Diversity, culture and counselling: A Canadian perspective (2nd ed.). Calgary, AB: Brush Education.
    • Taggart, W. (2014). Enculturation, Acculturation, and Cultural Diffusion. Video Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkpfZZ6hubY
    • Zimmermann, K. A. (2015). What is culture: Definition of culture. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/21478-what-is-culture-definition-of-culture.html

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    Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB

    Al Parsai is a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University (Osgood Hall Law School). A respected member of CICC, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.