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Adjusting to Canada: From ABCs to -40 degrees

They were prepared to risk everything. In the years following the Vietnam War, over one million refugees fled the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Those Vietnamese who took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded ships were dubbed the "boat people." The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. The luckier ones were taken in by countries like Canada.

media clip
Peter Tran, a refugee living in Toronto since 1975, talks about adjusting to life in Canada; he tells what it's like to go from being a lecturer in Vietnam to a dishwasher in Toronto. And he advises Canadians on the little things that they can do to help.
Life in Canada is a big adjustment in many ways: new home, new language, new climate, new food, new culture, new customs, new kind of job. Those over fifty find themselves a burden, unable to find work. The young, so infinitely adaptable, have an easier time.

The boat people have more difficulty adjusting to Canada than other refugees have in the past. The psychological trauma they've endured is a major factor: they suffer the loss of family, possessions, position, self-esteem and respect. Some have been raped. Others have seen family members killed. They carry guilt for being the survivors, the ones who got out.
• The boat people faced institutional blocks, such as refusals to accept their university degrees or former professional status.
• Some refugee families, uncomfortable with the large houses sponsors provided for them, would move the entire family's beds into one room.
• Many refugees experienced conflict between their traditional culture and the cultural values they encountered in Canada. In Vietnam, husbands supported their families. But in Canada, the wife sometimes found herself the sole breadwinner.

• In Asia, family is traditionally all important. But some refugees found themselves far from their extended families and unable to afford children.
• There were more divorces amongst Vietnamese refugees than Chinese immigrants, despite the fact that divorce was still considered shameful in both cultures. In part, this was because the Vietnamese lacked the help and support usually provided by parents and other family members.
Medium: Radio
Program: Don Harron's Morningside
Broadcast Date: March 5, 1981
Guest(s): Barry McCorquandale, Peter Tran
Host: Don Harron
Duration: 9:05

Last updated: February 1, 2012

Page consulted on November 7, 2014

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