How new Canadians can make friends in a new country!

Are Vancouverites not welcoming to immigrants?

A recent study commissioned by HSBC on new Canadians, found us to be the least welcoming city out of four metros and complements an earlier report from Vancouver Foundation that found a third of Metro residents find it difficult to make friends, most of us don’t know our neighbours or participate in community activities and over a third of us have no close friends outside our ethnic group!

According to the survey, Vancouver was found to be the least welcoming Canadian city with Toronto (79 per cent) a close third, Calgary and Edmonton (84 per cent) at second place and Montreal (89 per cent) being designated most friendly.

And one of the top three challenges immigrants face is making friends (34 per cent) with finding employment at the top (62 per cent). Having worked with immigrants for a long time, I understand the isolation that occurs in the migration process. And we are not alone in this, it happens with seniors as well as other groups. Speaking to thousands of immigrants across Canada I often get asked, “How do I make friends?”

To me, volunteering is the best way to tackle this problem.

When Anita (not her real name) first landed in Canada from India, the marketing professional didn’t know quite what to expect, but she never imagined finding a job in her field would be so difficult. She was repeatedly told she had “No Canadian experience.” To seek some advice, she approached a settlement counselor, who suggested Anita volunteer to get some Canadian experience.

Her initial reaction? “What? Work for free? That’s not why I came to Canada!”

But she decided to give it a chance, and began volunteering at the YMCA, working with new Canadians like her. Now, three years later, smiling at the memory of her original response, Anita tells me she is still an active volunteer with the YMCA, even though she now heads up a leading-edge social media company.

Today, she tells me of how her experiences in those initial days changed her life for the better: Through volunteering, she quickly started making new friends in her adopted country. She also discovered she enjoyed helping other newcomers and learned a great deal from the mentors who trained her.

Only three months later, through a mentor she met, she was offered a part-time job with a non-profit to help it submit a bid for funding a marketing plan. The part-time job turned into a full-time one when the bid was accepted! From then on, no one ever asked her about “Canadian experience!” Anita had arrived!

In case you think volunteering won’t be considered much by potential employers, think again. According to a LinkedIn survey, 46 per cent of Canadian professionals polled stated that they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience.

Immigrants to Canada come from countries where volunteering is not as big as it is in Western countries, but, once here, volunteering is an important tool that can help immigrants settle in faster. In my 7 Success Secrets for Canadian Immigrants seminar, volunteering is a key step.

Here are nine benefits of volunteering for new Canadians:

1)     Gives you that elusive Canadian experience

2)     Often turns into your first job in Canada

3)     Creates a network and opportunities for mentorship

4)     Allows you to practice the official language

5)     Gives you a chance to learn Canadian idioms and phrases

6)     Gives you exposure to the Canadian work environment

7)     Helps you build a connection with Canada

8)     Allows you to meet people outside your own ethnic group

9)     Gives you Canadian references

Hopefully new immigrants out there can start on this path to success in Canada!

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