Immigrating: Making New Friends in Canada
By Aruna Papp
Regardless of social class or ethnic background, most immigrants go through a process of settlement. For some, this period might be a few years, and for others it might be shorter.
It is often hectic and stressful. It begins with looking for employment, housing, settling children into school and making sure the family’s schedule is adjusted to meet everyone’s needs. By the time life becomes a routine one realises a few years have gone by.
During this time there is little energy left to socialize and make new friends, and thoughts return to old friends left behind. You tell yourself that once things settle down, when you have a better home, when you have more money, you will entertain more and open yourself to others. In the meantime the loneliness and lack of emotional support starts to eat away at you, and you can’t understand why you are not happy with your life.
One grandmother from Punjab told me that back home, each morning she would walk with her friend to the river just to dip her feet in the water. Her family house had indoor plumbing and there was no need for river water. But for her, this walk each day before the sun came up provided exercise, an opportunity to speak with a trusted friend, organize her day and, most importantly, to learn that her friend was all right.
“In the old country”, she said, “It was simple. I would shout over the wall and tell my friend that I needed to dip my feet in the river and she would know that I was upset. We arrived in our village as young brides, living with our in-laws, all strangers to us. In time, we became mothers-in-law. We shared everything with each other. Now, speaking over the phone is not the same thing”.
Thousands of immigrant women are housebound especially during winter. The cold weather, lack of transportation, illness, household responsibilities… it can be a long list which prevents them from going out. Others may work full time, look after the family, and can’t wait to fall into their beds at night. They hesitate to discuss their loneliness with anyone because they do not want to become a burden, they do not want to seem selfish, and they feel that, now that they are in Canada, they should be happy. Everyone in the old country is trying to get out and come here and they should be content with their life. Loneliness can lead to illness, and yes, people who live in large families can also be lonely.
Some women are more comfortable within their own faith communities, such as temples, gurduwaras, mosques and churches. Having recognized the needs of isolated women, many of these organizations provide religious and social activities. Some provide transportation as well.
For those who are not interested in faith-based organizations, there are other options. Call the YWCA or YMCA. The majority of neighbourhoods have Community Centres. A good place to find information is your local newspapers, and your family doctor’s office may also have information. If organized programs don’t appeal to you, try volunteering. Here you will find people who have the same interests as you. Once you get to know your co-volunteers you can go for coffee or shopping or whatever interests you. New friendships are difficult to start, so take small steps. Keeping an open mind about people is important.
With some effort you can make new friends you can trust and enjoy life with. Maybe you cannot walk to the river again, but there will be new rituals you can build.