Newcomer youth write guidebook to life in Canada

The New Canadians Centre’s Young Leaders Council takes the lead to support incoming students during another pandemic school year

When Ian Nazario first moved to Peterborough, he was in his early high school years and in many ways the experience was overwhelming. Recently arrived from Newfoundland, where he’d lived for one year after emigrating from the Philippines, Nazario had to adjust both to a new city and a new school. 

“Thinking about myself three years ago, being me [now], I wish I had met someone who could show me the ways and stuff, be my friend, and be kind enough to help me adjust,” Nazario says.

Nazario’s experiences have helped shape his contributions to The Newcomer Youth’s Guidebook, a new publication authored by Nazario and five other youth leaders that sit on The New Canadians Centre’s Young Leaders Council (NCCYL). Launched in November 2020, the council is composed of youth who are either newcomers themselves or have newcomer experience through their parents’ immigration to Canada.

Preshtha Garg, a Grade 12 student at Kenner Collegiate who moved to Peterborough from India in 2019, joined Nazario on the NCCYL this past year. She says that when the NCCYL first started meeting, “[We] had these conversations where we’re talking about, ‘What challenges do newcomers face? What are the things you can do to help with those challenges? What are the things we faced when we first came here?’”

Questions and reflections like these helped them draft the guidebook, which is full of advice by and for newcomer youth.

“All the advice we could glean from our own experiences is in the guidebook”

The guidebook covers four major topics: language learning, social integration, Canadian culture, and some “Do’s and Don’t’s” that may go unspoken by Canadian-born people or longtime residents. Nazario and another youth, Sami el Moussa, lead the language learning section, while Garg guides the social integration section.

Although both Nazario and Garg knew English before they came to Canada, keeping up with local idioms or online slang can be difficult. The loss of access to another spoken language can also be challenging to navigate.

“It’s like your communication abilities are cut in half,” Garg says. “I knew English and Hindi and a little bit of French before I came. And suddenly, half of how you talk is just gone. [Before moving] I would talk in English and Hindi, but [now] I can’t talk to my friends in Hindi anymore.”

In an interview with Peterborough Currents, both Garg and Nazario talked about facing some challenges with social integration in their earlier high school years.

“I came here in Grade 11, so all of the [social] groups were already made,” Garg said. 

A cartoon illustration of Preshtha Garg with a speech bubble that reads, "Hi, I'm Preshtha! Social cues and customs are different everywhere. You might feel out of place or question how you act. That's okay. When you find yourself wondering here are some ways to reassure yourself:"
An excerpt from The Newcomer Youth’s Guidebook which shows an illustration of Preshtha Garg introducing the section on social integration.

To help others who might be feeling similarly isolated, the guidebook recommends exploring existing or new hobbies with others to help develop strong relationships. If there are any issues, it’s important that youth feel empowered to find support in family members, teachers, and community members at the NCC.

“Even young people experience racism,” Nazario says. “There was little to no diversity at my first school [in Canada]. So being [one of] the few brown people there, or people of colour, you really feel the isolation and alienation because people are really scared to open themselves up to you.”

As Garg advises in the guidebook, “Be aware that people are sometimes unwilling to learn new things. Don’t worry! You have the freedom to speak to whoever you want about whatever you want; you don’t have to associate with people who do not respect you.”

The Canadian culture section offers a brief introduction to popular seasonal activities, attractions and parks in Ontario, and of course: maple syrup and poutine. It also offers an introductory look at Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples to contextualize the use of land acknowledgements at events.

The NCCYL team was also mindful that the guidebook included QR codes to integrate online resources. A quick scan through a smartphone camera leads readers to four additional digital pages of the 13-page guidebook. They include curated lists of links to YouTube channels and mobile apps for language skills, information on Canada’s immigration and education systems, further reading on Canadian customs and Indigenous histories, and tips on local etiquette.

“It’s a compilation of all of our experiences,” Garg says. “All the advice we thought we could glean from our own experiences is in the guidebook.”

A project for and by newcomer youth

NCC Youth Worker Lubna Sadek explained that the NCCYL was developed to offer newcomer youth leadership opportunities directly from the New Canadians Centre.

“When we started, because it’s youth-led, it was very much like, ‘What do the youth want to do? What goals do they want to have?’” she said. “They decided as youth that their goal as a council was to help other newcomer youth.”

The NCCYL offered virtual drop-in “hangout” Zoom sessions, homework help, and tutoring as part of their work during the school year. However, Nazario, Garg and Sadek described engaging youth during this pandemic as difficult, whether from screen fatigue due to online classes or from feeling intimidated going into a Zoom call. 

Several weeks of sparse workshop attendance made the group reevaluate their approach, resulting in the guidebook project. The new project began in February 2021 with the goal of offering a helping hand to other newcomer youth despite the physical distance.

“Being a newcomer, you’ll face a lot of problems. So that really opened me up to being a person who wants to take on bigger shoes, and be the welcoming person, be a nice person in general to help others,” Nazario said. “Because, at some point in time, I was that person trying to navigate [their] way in this country, having gone through all the resets, starting from zero.”

As far as additional advice you won’t find explicitly in the guidebook, Garg says, “It takes time to actually get settled into a place and if you come in with the expectation of having a lifestyle in a month, you’ll just be very disappointed. So it takes a long time; you will have that newcomer experience for a long time.”

“And the second piece of advice I would give is that they really should find ways to connect with their native culture, either online or through groups in the community,” she continued. “But find those places, find those communities and go to those communities, because that really makes you feel much better.”

“You aren’t really supposed to fit in; you’re supposed to stand out. And don’t be afraid to be different – just own it,” advises Nazario. “Knowing the importance of your authenticity will make you happier in general.”

The cover of The Newcomer Youth's Guidebook.
The Newcomer Youth’s Guidebook is available through the NCC and through local school boards.

The guidebook will be available online through the NCC and distributed to students in local school boards this September.

Sadek hopes that in the future they will have translated versions to further help newcomers, while Garg hopes the guidebook will continue to be updated from time to time.

In the meantime, NCCYL is recruiting for its next Youth Council for the upcoming academic year.

“I can’t really say what NCCYL will be doing next year, simply because it’s youth-led and the projects are for them to create and implement themselves,” Sadek says. “That’s how they gain their leadership skills while sitting on the Council.”

Leina Amatsuji-Berry is a born-and-raised Peterborough community member. A Kenner Collegiate and Trent University alum, she was co-Editor-in-Chief of Arthur Newspaper for Volumes 53 and 54. She is also a member of the Peter Robinson College Student Association (PRCSA, Sadleir House) Board of Directors. Leina is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Communication and Culture at York University while (still) living in Peterborough.

With files from Ayesha Barmania.


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