Toronto

Are Canadians welcoming? 4 immigrants talk about adjusting to life in Toronto

After a CBC poll found that 68% of Canadians believe minorities should be doing more to 'fit in' with mainstream society, we asked four immigrants to Toronto what lengths they've gone to to be accepted.

CBC poll finds Canadians want minorities to do more to 'fit in'

Clockwise from top left: Win Shi Wong, Vlad Alexeyenko, Amer Al-Mahameed, Chris Kim (CBC)

Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians believe minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream society, instead of keeping their own customs and languages, according to a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with CBC News.

Americans answered the same question, with only 53 per cent of those surveyed in the U.S. saying minorities need to do a better job of adjusting.

Are Canadians less welcoming than we think?

CBC News spoke with four people who immigrated to Toronto to ask whether they feel welcome in the city, and what they had to change in order to fit in.

Chris Kim

Came from South Korea in 1975

'I used to meet Italian and portuguese and other international friends, now I’m going back to Korean friends. When you get old, you go back to your roots,' said Chris Kim. (Submitted by Chris Kim)

How assimilated do you feel in Toronto? Do you feel a part of things?

I spent over 40 years in Canada. So I'm more Canadian than Korean. It all depends on your attitude to adjusting.

Was there anything that you felt you had to change about yourself when you arrived?

The number one issue was the language barrier. I tried my best to break that barrier so I won't be treated like an immigrant forever. Because if you don't speak English well you're treated as a new immigrant. People will look down on you. But that attitude has been changed since the 70s. Now there are so many new immigrants in Canada. I still don't

"I decided if I wanted to be called more often by friends and teachers, I needed to have an English name." - Chris Kim

speak English 100 per cent, but I do get by well and that gives me the confidence to mingle in Canadian society. Also my name. If I introduce myself with a Korean name, in a minute, they forget what it was. I decided if I wanted to be called more often by friends and teachers, I needed to have an English name. That's why I changed my name to Chris.

What do you think acting Canadian means?

To be open to other cultures.

Are Canadians welcoming?

Yeah, but with a condition. You have to have a certain attitude, to accept Canadian culture. Even though it's a mixed international culture, you still have to accept it.

Amer Al-Mahameed

Came from Syria via Jordan in 2016

'The great thing about Canada is that it's multicultural and there’s many religions here. I didn’t need to make many changes in my life or lifestyle,' said Amer Al-Mahameed. (Submitted by Amer Al-Mahameed)

How assimilated do you feel in Toronto? Do you feel a part of things?

Yes. I had this kind of feeling from the first day I arrived. I felt this way because of the help I was getting from our sponsor. There was a feeling that we were part of the community and part of Canada. We have not struggled or had the feeling that we are strangers.

Was there anything that you felt you had to change about yourself when you arrived?

No, because the great thing about Canada is that it's multicultural and there's many religions here. I didn't need to make many changes in my life or lifestyle.

What do you think acting Canadian means?

To act like a Canadians means we are a part of the community and contributing, so that in a few years we will be in a position to help other newcomers.

Are Canadians welcoming?

Yes. Canada is a land where everyone is accepting and welcoming.

Win Shi Wong

Came from Malaysia in 2011

'I feel like I’m more Canadian than Malaysian right now,' said Wong, who added that she loves to eat poutine. (Submitted by Win Shi Wong)

How assimilated do you feel in Toronto? Do you feel a part of things?

Yes. In university, I was part of a volunteer group that helped me a lot to get involved in Canadian culture. I didn't find it difficult to get comfortable.

Was there anything that you felt you had to change about yourself when you arrived?

I feel like I need to get out more. I feel like people here ... really like being in groups and helping each other. People are more actively involved in issues and they want to talk about it. Back home we don't do that. I feel like I need to be involved more.

What do you think acting Canadian means?

Be nice, be less judgmental, and treat everyone equally. Like, everyone's the same.

Are Canadians welcoming?

Oh yeah, very much. They invite me to everything, to parties, to different festivals. At my university we had a program where local families would invite international students to their place for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. It was really great.

Vlad Alexeyenko

​Came from Ukraine in 2006 ​
I’m quite close to the Ukrainian community here. I have a part-time job at a local Russian-speaking website where I write news about Toronto and Canada in Russian,' said Vlad Alexeyenko. (Submitted by Vlad Alexeyenko)

How assimilated do you feel in Toronto? Do you feel a part of things?

I do feel like I'm part of the city but most of my friends are from Russian and Ukrainian backgrounds. I still see myself as part of Toronto, and I feel quite comfortable here.

Was there anything that you felt you had to change about yourself when you arrived?

In university and since I started work, I've had no issues. In high school, I felt a bit uncomfortable with people not accepting the way I dress, because in Europe people dress a lot more classy. People wear dress shirts and dress pants, and so people here were not accepting of that. But I did not change that, I still continue to do things the way I prefer.

What do you think acting Canadian means?

To me acting Canadian means participating in Canadian social activities, paying taxes, participating in debates. You have to follow Canadian law and respect all the people who share space with you. Also outdoor events — those are really popular here.

Are Canadians welcoming?

Yes. Maybe a little less when I was younger, but now I feel accepted.

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