By TINA VIRMANI
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on every aspect of our individual and collective lives, and it is affecting all of us, regardless of our differences.
At the same time, we have become aware of the ways in which our specific identities (seniors for example) and circumstances (such as being a single parent or dealing with anxiety or depression) are shaping – and for many exacerbating – our experience of the crisis.
This is true for immigrants, in particular newcomers to Canada, who face a unique set of challenges. Given the difficulty of accessing employment at their level of professional experience, a large number of newcomers work in precarious jobs in sectors hardest hit by recent closures such as retail and restaurants. For new arrivals who were engaged in a job search, the goal of ultimately finding work in their field is threatened further by the prospect of longer-term economic recession.
For those who have come from away there are also worries about family and friends in other countries. The current situation may also bring back traumatic memories for those that have lived through violent conflicts or natural disasters. And as we all take extra measures to care for our health and maintain our finances, newcomers are forced to do so while navigating unfamiliar health and financial systems.
At this time, social connections are especially meaningful for those with smaller and more tentative social networks. If you have or would like to offer support to friends, neighbours and colleagues who are new to Canada, here are some ideas:
• Check in and build mutual support: For most of us this is an unprecedented experience we are finding our way through. But listening and validating someone’s experience is a meaningful way to show up and be present with them. This is also an opportunity to learn from each other – to share what our daily routine looks like, how we are coping, what is especially challenging. Exchange ideas on how to keep kids engaged or creative recipes to try when the stores are short on ingredients. Together, recognize that this is a difficult adjustment and it is normal to feel unfocused or overwhelmed.
• If asked for insight, focus on strategies to deal with financial stress: In my network, many friends have spent the last weeks making phone calls regarding their rent, loans and bills. They’ve spent hours on hold, but the process resulted in deferrals that have helped lessen some of the immediate financial stress. For newcomers adjusting to Canadian banking institutions, there can be a reluctance to take on similar negotiations and some individuals may not realize it is a possibility. If such concerns are shared with you, discuss some options. You can offer coaching on how to prepare for these conversations and ensure they access the latest, accurate information.
• Explore new forms of self-care together: Identifying techniques to manage stress and face uncertainty is vital for all of us at this time. Extend an invitation to try some new approaches together. You can do a virtual meditation class together, or schedule a call that you take while walking around the block. This will keep both of you accountable to healthy routines, so that your good intentions don’t get sidetracked by the dire predictions on social media.
• Offer support with employment goals: For those trying to re-establish their careers in a new country, the effects of this crisis will last much longer than for others. Having support can help determine ways to continue taking steps in the job search. This could be a time to refresh a LinkedIn profile or deepen skills in a relevant platform. Professionals with international experience can enhance their knowledge of management culture or diversity and inclusion initiatives in Canadian workplaces – both will be greatly needed when people return to their offices. You might suggest setting up informational interviews online, and offer to leverage your own network if you work in a relevant field.
• Maintain healthy boundaries: Boundaries are something many of us struggle with in the best of circumstances. Maybe you’ve felt inundated with constant invitations to Google Hangouts and FaceTime chats. If you’re in touch with a newcomer, offer to connect in ways that are also mindful of the energy you need to take care of yourself, and appreciate that newcomers may, in the same way, not always feel up to engaging, even if your intention is to help. Balance for now might mean scheduling calls during certain hours, or suggesting checking in via email now and then instead of regular video calls.
• Learn from their experience: It is important to remember that your support need not be grounded in having all the answers. Newcomers bring with them a myriad of experience in rebuilding lives, finding community and creating connections across cultures and incredible circumstances. While they are vulnerable now, they have also demonstrated their resilience by having the courage to start afresh here in Canada. Using this time to learn from one another will strengthen our bonds in the long run.
Tina Virmani is the Learning Specialist for the TRIEC Mentoring Partnership, a program that links newcomers to Canada with a mentor who is established in their field. She holds a Ph.D. in Politics from York University, Toronto.
Article featured at Desi News.