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Navigating identity: Balancing culture and assimilation in a new country

Dr. Mohamed Al-Adeimi. (Source: South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre) Dr. Mohamed Al-Adeimi. (Source: South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre)

Dr. Mohamed Al-Adeimi is the director of newcomer settlement services at the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre.

He knows all too well, what it’s like to move to a new country and start a new life.

Born in Ethiopia, Al-Adeimi came to Canada in 1997 from Yemen with his wife and two young daughters. He was seeking asylum from the Government of Canada.

“The dictatorship in Yemen was targeting intellectuals who opposed the war, I was one of the university professors who was opposing the war.”

They wanted to resettle in London, Ont. because it was safe and a smaller community with good schools. His daughters would go on to graduate from Western University.

His eldest daughter is a senior administrative officer at Laurier University and his younger daughter is an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

Mohamed Al-Adeimi says he is absolutely not the same person he was when he arrived to Canada.

The change wasn’t in his reading or writing, he had already obtained his masters and PhD. He said the biggest change for him was an opportunity for his entire family.

“You undergo a lot of changes physically and mentally. The pace of change in the society like Canada is very quick. That pace is hard for immigrants to catch up to and understand, and therefor they struggle to fit in,” said Al-Adeimi.

Although that wasn’t the case for him or his wife, simply because they were well studied when they arrived to Canada, he has devoted his career to helping others as they try to assimilate to a different culture.

Al-Adeimi has been involved in communit- based research work with Western University to determine what challenges youth from other countries face as they integrated into Canada.

He noted one of the most obvious challenge is acculturation — the need to replace, modify certain societal or cultural elements to fit in.

“They would like to look like their peers, they want [to] imitate, they want to be involved and engaged, and be actively involved in the life here,” said Al-Adeimi.

As a result of this change, the structure of an immigrant family may shift. The families’ expectation as they arrive to Canada, may shatter.

“The excitement goes down. When they face reality, especially parents, they have resentment, they might have a different way of life. They kind of go into a time of depression, some even decide to go back.”

This challenge of adjusting to the country, getting involved, getting employment, making sure their kids get [the] best education is a lot of pressure on the family dynamic.

“One major aspect that we have seen is the family disputes. A peak increase in the number of family related domestic violence, or disputes.”

According to Al-Adeimi, in the last few years, they have noticed an impact that the rising cost of living has had on relationships. Additionally, he noted a change in power from male dominance to the female.

“With the change of power among the family members, the kids they learn the language better, get used to the life, and also in some cases the females move faster in adapting to their new life in Canada. Sometimes we are seeing the men are struggling more.”

Al-Adeimi noted they have been trying to include the entire family in their programs, but this has been challenging.

“We do struggle to bring the men into these programs. Recently we have started a men’s group together, to deal with their issues and talk about their challenges.”

The Newcomer Settlement Services of SLNRC (South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre) is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to enhance the integration of newcomers in London in order to succeed. Partnering with Western University, the organization implements programs that are evidence-based.

Al-Adeimi said the results of Western University research has given them the opportunity to put together a package of programs for different needs.

When people come from different countries, the norms, customs, and traditions are often times very different.

Many of the newcomers Al-Adeimi works with come from a male-dominated society.

“Let’s say for example, a family who has been in Saudi Arabia comes to Canada. For many years, the women were not able to be actively involved in taking care of their families. Imagine at the time, the male, the father and the youth males, they take care of their families.”

Al-Adeimi continued, pointing to how heavily the females rely on their male counterparts.

“So when the men come to this country they don’t see themselves in that capacity. Something as simple as failing a drivers test, makes them resentful because they used to drive back home and they see their female family members moving forward, sometimes at a faster rate.”

Another factor that Al-Adeimi points to that has proven challenging for newcomers is their ability to retain their values and believes while trying to adapt to a new way of life.

“In a multi-cultural country like Canada where human rights are put at the top, a lot of immigrants face challenges, in trying to understand the journey and the changes that communities like Canada have gone through to achieve these human rights,” said Al-Adeimi.

Unlike people who come from other countries, the same structures have been going on for many years. They see this as a challenge and it contradicts their way of life.

Speaking with CTV News, Al-Adeimi said people change, through change of time and place but this flexibility of change depends on the attitude of the individuals.

“If people talk within their own community, in closed doors, and they see that is the way of life, it’s very difficult for them to get engaged and intergraded into the community. We encourage newcomers to get engaged and involved in larger society. Those who are open minded, and clear in their understanding as to why they came to this country, to better their livelihood.”

Through the work of resettlement agencies, newcomers are able understand they are apart of the society.

Of course, they have their own cultures and are encouraged to retain their identity, but at the same time understand and appreciate the changes here in Canada.

Al-Adeimi stressed the need for people to ask themselves why I migrated to this country.

Is it because I want to deepen my religious values, or am I going to look for a better life here, get to know other cultures and understand them? Will I be able to share some of my values with my community?

“People have a choice to make, the one we made as a family – is that we tried make sure people know who we are and what our values are, but also understand as much as we can about the new society that we live in, our neighbours and the people we work with. It’s a personal choice.” Top Stories

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