'Come from away' problem makes integration difficult for newcomers

CBC Radio's Mainstreet is exploring whether Nova Scotians are just friendly, or downright welcoming to new immigrants in Beyond Hello. The series will culminate in a community conversation at the Keshen Goodman Library on March 8 at 7 p.m.

Join CBC Radio's Diane Paquette for 'Beyond Hello' at the Keshen Goodman Library on March 8 at 7 p.m.

Saeed El-Darahali says Nova Scotians should stop asking newcomers about the weather and start asking if they want to go grab coffee. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

There is no doubt the people of Nova Scotia are friendly, but are they truly welcoming?

Immigrants "often have difficulty gaining a foothold in the province," in part because of barriers that stem from "negative attitudes and even racism when it comes to welcoming new people into our communities and hiring people 'from away,'" according to the Ivany report.

On March 8, CBC Radio's Mainstreet will be at the Keshen Goodman Library in Clayton Park for Beyond Hello — a community conversation about how Nova Scotians can be more welcoming to newcomers.

Below are some thoughts from Saeed El-Darahali, a member of the OneNS Coalition.

Put yourself in the shoes of a newcomer

Nova Scotians are very friendly, but not very welcoming.

We need to accept people for who they are, not for who they know or who their father is. Last names still have special powers in our society and it's holding us back.

Saeed El-Darahali is a member of the Sobeys School of Business Advisory committee and is on the board of EduNova. (Submitted by Saeed El-Darahali)

Keep an open mind when reading this piece and put yourself in the shoes of a "newcomer" in Nova Scotia. Imagine you are in a beautiful, unfamiliar country and you are looking for a job. How would you like to be treated?

You'll be surprised to know that I am including new graduates, international students, immigrants, people from Toronto or elsewhere in Canada, and our own Scottish immigrants when I talk about the newcomers we are very lucky to have in our shrinking province.

These are people that have taken the leap and decided to take a risk on our province to help educate us, treat us in our hospitals, build our buildings, clean our streets and serve us that tasty double-double we can't live without.

Come From Away problem

I personally have not experienced the problem I'm talking about, because I arrived here when I was 12 and I am the proudest Dartmouthian you'll ever meet. But I have many friends, family members and students that have struggled to fit in.

I was surprised to see that even people from Toronto, who have similar last names as the who's who in Nova Scotia, struggle to integrate once they mention they are CFAs (Come From Away).

I started researching why this is happening about seven years ago and I think I have some answers.

Newcomers don't necessarily drink the same beer, watch hockey or party the same way we do — and we are worried that we may offend them by saying something that would make us look like we are not informed. Water cooler chitchat might be more difficult.

I don't think this is a problem with our corporate CEOs, VPs or HR — they want a diversified work force. The problem is the hiring managers, they're looking for friends at work, not just colleagues.

After all, we spend the majority of our time at work and having people that watch the same shows on Netflix makes the day go by faster.

'Not welcoming crew' holding us back

But for god's sake, stop asking newcomers about the weather and start asking if they want to go grab coffee. That double-double could go a long way in helping others become part of our community fast and once they're part of the community, you'll see that they're not all that different from you and me.

So, let's hire interns from our universities, connect newcomers to the hidden job market and invite them into our homes to experience our hospitality.

My goal in this piece is not to make you feel bad, but it is my intention to make you feel guilty because if you are part of the not-welcoming crew, you are holding us back in this province.

Let's make our province the best, most welcoming province in the federation and cheers to you for making this leap forward.

Saeed El-Darahali is the president and CEO of and a member of the OneNS Coalition, which drafted a 10-year plan for Nova Scotians to address economic and demographic issues.


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