Refugees who’ve spent time making Canada their new home have some advice to share with Syrians fleeing conflict for Canada.
Learning to deal with Canadian winters
For many refugees, the Canadian winter was one of the hardest things to get used to. Mahad Yusuf tells CBC’s The Current that after fleeing Somalia in 1981, he arrived in December in the snow, knowing no English. The language barrier was tough enough, but “dealing with the weather” also ranked pretty high on his list of challenges: “I didn’t know how to dress. I didn’t know how to, you know, wear gloves in cold weather — it was a little bit of culture shock.”
Iranian refugee Haida Amirizadeh tells CBC that she was seven months pregnant when she arrived in Canada, speaking no English. Yet it was the weather that was her “biggest challenge,” she recalls. She remembers how important it was “to learn how to dress warm and use the transit system so you didn’t get stuck in the cold.”
For many refugees, picking up and leaving loved ones and everything that’s familiar behind can be incredibly lonely. Kelly Hong Mien Lee tells CBC that she felt “very lonely” when she left her native Vietnam for Canada: “It was definitely tough. I didn’t speak any English at all. I was definitely very shy, and I didn’t have any friends. I guess most of the time I was in the bathroom, just hiding in there because I’d feel more secure in there.”
She advises the Syrian refugees to avoid the temptation to stay in the house and to get out and meet new people: “When you are home in the four walls, you will become very sad, very lonely. You will separate yourself from everybody, and it doesn’t help as a newcomer. It doesn’t help you to integrate with everybody.”
Yusuf suggests getting your kids integrated in community activities as well: “The most important advice to Syrian refugees is — number one — getting the kids in recreational programs that exist in the city.”
Embracing Canada’s multiculturalism
Amirizadeh encourages newcomers to get to know people from different cultures than themselves and to be open-minded: “This is the most beautiful thing about Canada, is there are people from different backgrounds and different religions and cultures here right in Canada,” she says.
“This difficult time will pass, and it will get easier.”