Lonely in Canada? Find support before you fall into isolation

March 14, 2016

By Sophia Kim, Canadian Immigrant Magazine|

For Tania Sharma, 27, her immigration experience from India was a lonely one. Although she came to Canada in 2014 as a new bride following her marriage to a Canadian immigrant from India, the 27-year-old didn’t expect the first year of life in Canada to be such an isolating experience.

In the beginning, Sharma found herself alone with no one to talk to while her husband went to work. “No one was there. Not even my landlady,” recalls Sharma. “I had nobody here to talk to. I just waited for my husband and stayed home all day.”

According to Marc Valade, a PhD candidate and lead researcher of the Integration Trajectories of Immigrant Families study at Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, Sharma’s experience is common among many new immigrants.

In his research, Valade and his team interviewed 23 immigrant families from 13 countries in the Greater Toronto Area regarding their experience when they arrived. His research has found a common theme of isolation for immigrants, especially for spouses of the primary immigration applicants. And language skills were a big part of it.

Cut off by language
“[The interviewees] said that [language skills] did impact their ability to integrate and it also factored in their isolation,” explains Valade. “Especially for their spouses.”

Although a spouse who applied as a skilled immigrant may speak fluent-enough English, the rest of the family members do not necessarily have the same language skills. Valade explains that many “lacked the language skills to build ties with the community or with their neighbours so then they were even more isolated … if they weren’t a part of a community, or an ethnic group supporting them, they didn’t have any friends or relationships here.”

The result is that “their world initially would gravitate only around the house and the few stores or services they could access around the neighbourhood.”

Sharma agrees that this was her initial experience without any connections other than her husband. “I felt bound to my husband and I didn’t like that because I’m very social and I love to talk,” she says.

Family ties help
While the stress of having one spouse so dependent on the other financially and socially can seem like a heavy burden, Valade’s research revealed that, for many couples, it helped them grow closer.

“Family is quite important for them to be able to withstand all this social and cultural trauma,” says Valade. “In most cases, they’re telling us, ‘if it hadn’t been for our partner, I don’t know how I would have done it.’”

Valade adds that having a spouse or a partner to rely on helps in many ways; there is an opportunity for one partner to learn English, upgrade their credentials or pursue the career they want here while the other partner financially supports them.

“Once one of the spouses gets a diploma and gets a job, the other can go through the process. There’s this exchange in the integration process that is quite valuable for them,” says Valade.“Family is an important factor to stay afloat, to stay focused on their objectives.”

Research suggests that extended family such as grandparents also provide similar support. Often the grandparents or older relatives are able to provide essential help around the house and childcare, allowing many immigrants to pursue their career goals outside the house.

And since there’s a strong sense of loneliness that stems from the distance from family left behind in the home country, says Valade, having extended family in Canada helps to lessen that feeling.

Further, immigrants who are in Canada without extended family feel lonelier knowing that going back to visit relatives in their country of origin is a huge financial challenge at first. Valade’s interviews reveal that many immigrants have to miss funerals and big family events, an experience that is psychologically and emotionally draining, adding to the sense of isolation in Canada.

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