Cultural Talks: Diversity in Working

Canada is a wonderful place if you like diversity. There are people from all over the world in every major Canadian city, including Winnipeg. Travelling through Winnipeg shows our history of immigration. When Winnipeg was first settled by European settlers, it was not known as Winnipeg. It was known as Red River, for the soil that you can see that makes the river look like it has dark water. Even in the days of Red River, you could see how Scottish settlers lived in Selkirk, French speakers lived in St. Boniface or several other communities. In the 1900’s you see the development of China Town near Winnipeg’s city hall.

Our organization runs not only the SOPA program to help newcomers before they arrive. We also run Entry Program, which provides settlement orientation to people after landing in Winnipeg. When I speak about cultural adaptation at Entry Program from time to time, I see people from all over the world. I can see in these newcomers that there is both fear and excitement. They are in a country and place in their lives that will allow them new opportunities to work hard and to succeed. The fear is seen in only small ways usually.

Just like Red River and surrounding areas were settled by different people groups, the Filipinos like to sit with one another. The Nigerians like to sit with one another. The Indians like to sit with one another, and so do the Chinese. They are sitting in the same classroom, but not as sitting together in one group. They are rather four groups or more, sitting in the same classroom. I speak to them about successfully adapting to the culture.

I ask them, “What kinds of cultural things have you noticed are different between your old country and your new country?” They will often mention things like weather, which is not cultural. They will mention things like clothing and food, which are often cultural. They will mention ways that people behave in private and in public, which are most definitely cultural. Newcomers will often mention that the new city they live in is the most diverse place that they have ever experienced. “Where I come from, 99% of people look like I do. Not here.”

If this is the case, there is one important skill for people to learn once they land: People need to become comfortable with diversity. 50 years ago, the vast majority of newcomers came from Europe. Europe’s people no longer make up the greatest number of newcomers. This was surpassed by immigration from Asia in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Along with Asian immigration, we have many more people from Africa as well.

It is good to connect with your culture in your new homeland. Everything around you is new to you once you land here. Perhaps you could find some new friends who share your language, your cultural values, and your choices for meals. This makes things more comfortable while you are a little unsettled or uncomfortable. This is what we are seeing at Entry Program when newcomers sit with people from their same background. It’s normal for people, no matter what culture we are from, to go toward the familiar instead of the new experience, especially when we may have become tired of everything around us being “new”.

Developing the skill of appreciating diversity is easy to do when adjusting to a new culture. You are planning to move to Canada, and you should also plan to expose yourself to greater diversity. Make friends with other people, certainly. However, don’t limit yourself to friends from your own culture. One of the wonderful things about people in Canada, wherever they are from, is that they are able to maintain their previous culture while learning and developing their new one. Start with both, right away. Get support from the familiar and the new diverse culture.

I have observed that new immigrants that are the most curious about life here are the ones that will take the chance to observe and experience the newness of it all. These people are the ones who will adapt the fastest and also feel at home here much more quickly.

Martin Blumrich | SOPA Manitoba | Cultural Communications Facilitator

When you come to Canada, and you socialize only with people of your own background, you limit yourself. It is a Canadian value to understand the diversity as a beautiful thing. Perhaps you share this value, and perhaps it is new to you. To remain only with people of your own background is going to be a hindrance to your new way of life in Canada. Belong to your own cultural association, but also belong to a sports group or community club, where you can meet people from other backgrounds.

Diverse women and men talking
Diverse women and men talking at work

I have observed that new immigrants that are the most curious about life here are the ones that will take the chance to observe and experience the newness of it all. These people are the ones who will adapt the fastest and also feel at home here much more quickly.

Within the workplace, when people of a similar cultural background sit with one another, they are not practicing their English. In Winnipeg’s biggest hospital, you can see workers sitting at tables during lunchtime. They are in the same ethnic groups as they have been at Entry Program. It is not one big group of employees eating lunch together. It is several small groups, often identified by their ethnic or language background. Hearing only their cultural language, and not English sends two messages. It can say to the other workers, “I am not curious about integrating deeply into this workplace culture” and “I am not interested in having others of different backgrounds joining me for my lunch times.” Both are messages that communicate against the Canadian values of diversity and inclusion (inclusiveness). Perhaps the person thinks, “I am on my lunch break. My head hurts from all this English speaking. I need a break.” This is a fair thing to think, but there are lots of chances to integrate and become part of the working culture that many people miss. Take the chance to expand your experience of diversity, and you will feel rewarded personally, and your career will be rewarded as well.

To learn more about SOPA (Settlement Online Pre-Arrival) and whether you might qualify for our courses, please find us at arriveprepared.ca. We love to help newcomers to arrive prepared for life and work in Manitoba, and we have many partner agencies in most other parts of Canada as well. We look forward to seeing you, so please, come and say “Hello!”

Approved to immigrate to Canada? Join us in our SOPA courses before your arrival to prepare your résumé and your mindset for Canadian success!

Martin Blumrich | SOPA Manitoba | Cultural Communications Facilitator

Martin has dedicated his career to helping people improve their lives. He has worked with newcomers from over 40 countries to make their homes in Manitoba, Canada. Involved in adult education his entire career, he provides “Canadian experience” through cultural communications courses online. An informative and entertaining speaker, Martin delivers specialized workshops on issues ranging from religious diversity to the soft skills needed to succeed in diverse workplace cultures.

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