Guest Submission to MNI Media: An open letter to newcomers to Canada

I came to Canada as an immigrant. But in my life I have also been a refugee. I know the feeling of arriving in a new country with no friends and little money.

Guest Submission to MNI Media: An open letter to newcomers to Canada

Dr. Mohamad Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods and Chairman of the Fakih Foundation

Welcome to the best nation on Earth – a place of peace, fairness and justice. This is your new country, your new flag, your new home. It is a place that will win your love and your loyalty.

Right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself: I made it. I’m finally here. Now what? For many, this can be a time of mixed emotions: excitement, confusion, hope, anxiety.

I came to Canada as an immigrant. But in my life I have also been a refugee. I know the feeling of arriving in a new country with no friends and little money. I know the challenge of starting over.

Let me help to guide you as you begin your Canadian experience. Here are some of the things I’d wish I’d known when I first came to Canada. 

It gets easier. I remember my first few weeks in Canada: A smile from a stranger – a simple gesture from one Canadian – would be enough to make my day. It made me feel welcome as I struggled to adapt to my new home. For some, the first few weeks and months in Canada can be challenging. There are so many details to sort out. There can be difficulty in finding a job. Even if you left a place of despair and hardship, there can be feelings of homesickness and regret. This is all very normal – and in most cases, it is all very temporary.

If you have a family, make sure everyone shares in this experience. You and your spouse will grow stronger when you are each able to explore and take advantage of the opportunities that Canada provides – whether it’s in your community or in the workplace. It feels good to play a part and be involved in the Canadian story. if you have children, it’s important to pay close attention to how they are handling the transition. They may face challenges, too. When you stay positive and optimistic, it’s easier for them to feel the same way. 

Get to know your new country and its people. Try to befriend Canadians from all backgrounds, not just your own. When you arrive, it can be a comfort to seek out and find others who speak the same language and share the same history. But I encourage you build on that foundation. I have become a better, happier and (hopefully) wiser thanks to my conversations and friendships with a wide range of Canadians – people with different backgrounds, religious beliefs and political views. Maintain your traditions, but also accept and embrace new ones. One of the things that makes Canada so great is its diversity – not only of ethnicity, but also of thought and perspective.

Volunteer your time. It’s a great way to get to know new people and to give back to your new community and your new country. Canada showed you a kindness by welcoming you. You can return that kindness by contributing to the greater good.

Speak up for yourself. A lot of times, immigrants and refugees choose to stay quiet. They don’t want to make a fuss – even in the face of unfair treatment. But the laws of Canada apply to one and all. If you experience injustice, you should – you must – advocate for yourself and your family. Canadians believe in equality and justice. You should never feel shy about ensuring you are treated fairly.

Stand up for Canadian values. For many, being welcomed to Canada is a truly life-changing experience. But it comes with responsibilities. Even here, there are people who are intolerant. You must be strong in the face of this adversity. You must call out this hatred for what it is. The vast majority of Canadians will be with you. Whether you arrived yesterday, or your family roots date back beyond Confederation, we are all fortunate to live in Canada. We all have the opportunity to build a life in this country. And we all have the responsibility to do our part to keep it great.

Never forget where you came from. Canada is a nation of immigrants and refugees. These people helped pave the way for our own experiences as newcomers. We should respect their contribution. At the same time, remember to reflect every now and then on the good and the bad that you left behind. Remember the challenges of your past – the moments that made you so resilient. Doing so will help you to always appreciate the amazing opportunities that Canada offers.

No country or society is perfect. But Canada is one of the best places to live in the entire world. If you’re like me, you will grow to love your new country. You will have a passion for its people. And you will realize that there is nothing more valuable you can give to your children than the gift of a Canadian life.