Internet is one of the aspects that are developing at an incredible speed in China. According to Chen and Ang, there were only 600,000 Internet users in China in 1997; yet 12 years later in 2009, the number of Internet users in China hits 384 million, even greater than the population of United States (Herold&Marolt, 2011). With the development of Internet in China, Internet policies, regulations and laws came up with the rise of Internet crimes. Similar to most other countries, Chinese Internet police have devoted in fighting against Internet crimes such as hacking, distributing resources without copyrights (piracy), as well as harmful materials such as pornography or anti-government propaganda (i.e. Falungong related materials), etc.
Recently, many people in China shifted their concern from Internet crime to another aspect on the Internet – Internet violence. Nevertheless, this Internet violence in China is essentially different from the one we usually see in western society, where some teenagers are bullied by their peers over cyber space. The phenomenon of Internet violence in China is like this – some incidents are reported by unofficial individuals on the Internet, usually with proofs such as photos or videos poster, then the person or group on the wrong side will face over-harsh criticism from people all over the Internet. Moreover, most of these people will be found by something called flesh search engine – their information such as their cellphone number, ID number, address and so on, are searched by all means with people on the Internet and they are posted online, which eventually brings them many inconvenience in their lives. This “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” has not only caught wide concern from the society in recent years, but it has also brought out the conflicts between people in different social classes in China as well.
First, the Internet violence with Chinese characteristic is very rampant because of the existence of flesh search engine. Herold gives flesh search engine a definition as to “track down offline individuals by employing as many computer users as possible in the search” (Herold&Marolt, 2011). On the biggest flesh-searching website in China – mop.com, hundreds of flesh-searching requests are posted daily. In many cases, in their offline lives, these Internet users spot some incidents that reflect social injustice. They take pictures and post them online, along with a request of a search about the person who is on the wrong side (in most people’s beliefs). However, concerns have been raised that the consequences the person being searched need to carry are mostly too severe. For example, many people who are found out having an affair are fired after being exposed online due to the report done by many anonymous Internet users to the companies. Although it is immoral having an affair, these people exposed online are fired without violating any laws or company policies. Therefore, the “immoral” people (in most people’s beliefs) are suffering violence from the Internet.
There are many reasons that cause the furious flesh search engine, and one of the most significant reasons is the conflict between people in different social classes in China. While being as a practically one-party country, China was ruled by the China Communist Party since 1949. According to Zhao, news organizations in China are supposed to filter “unwanted” and “harmful” information (Zhao, 2008). Because Chinese people have been suffering such censorship for a long time, the discontentedness among them has been accumulating. With the rise of Internet and participatory culture, more and more incidents that reflect social injustice related to powerful groups, such as government officials and the riches, are reported by individuals or alternative media. Many people with power or wealth are uncovered that they tried to cover their dirty facts, such as abusing their power or corruption, by bribing the mainstream media so that they will not be reported. As a result, the animosity for the rich or the people with power among the civilians in China is fairly great. For example, the famous actor Wen Zhang was caught having an affair with another famous actress Yao Di by paparazzi in May, 2014. He and his company tried to pay five million to the newspaper requesting not to report it in order to maintain his image, but the newspaper refused to do so and claimed that the audience has the right to know everything. After the incident was reported, there was a wide criticism towards Wen and his concubine Yao; as a result, Wen was forced to make an apology and Yao was fired by hers crews of TV drama and they both faced a critical career crisis.
The reason of the hostile towards the rich or the power is obvious. First of all, there are many flaws in the current laws, policies and regulations in China that many people, especially the rich and the power, choose to exploit an advantage that may seem immoral or even harming other people’s interests. They can find ways in getting out of punishment from laws even they are caught. Therefore, by uncovering scandals through the Internet and track them down with flesh search engine, the civilians hope to punish the rich and the power by depriving their privacy. Also, civilians hope that by uncovering scandals on the Internet can urge the development and completion of the judicial system in China. For example, in May, 2014, an innocent woman was bludgeoned to death by six people in a MacDonald restaurant in Shandong Province. The incident was uncovered on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, and it aroused a savage discussion online. The backgrounds of the six murderers were posted online in a very short period of time with the help of flesh search engine. As a result, different sectors in the society, such as senior government officials, the local police department and the MacDonald Company in China, express their concerns about the incident; also, the six murderers were caught by the local police the very next day, and the trial was expected to begin much earlier than normal procedure does. Therefore, the flesh search engine, as well as the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic”, have pushed up the efficiency of governmental agencies, and have alerted the government with issues such as public safety. In a sense, the flesh search engine has urged the progress of the society.
In conclusion, the flesh search engine and the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” is a double-edged sword. The bad said of the flesh search engine is that many people uncovered by flesh search engine suffer from social punishment that they do not deserved. For example, people who fail to give seats to the elders in a bus receive countless harassment on their cellphone from strangers after their cellphone numbers are posted online, and people who are caught having an affair are fired because they have “moral issues”. This is why people are paying more attention to this phenomenon because it produces a more severe violence when dealing with a much less major social injustice. However, on the other hand, the flesh search engine and the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” is a social-progressing force that should not be ignored. It reveals many scandals and dirty facts of the rich and the power, and alerts the other rich and the power to respect justice and abide by the laws; also, it urges the efficiency of government agencies and it forms a justice and moral atmosphere among the society. Eventually, when the judicial system in China is more developed and people with power and wealth are more self-disciplined, the role of flesh search engine and the “Internet with Chinese characteristic” will disappear, along with the bad effect of it.
Note: Co-written with Bernadette Redila and Julie Vanleeuwen
This study assess how new immigrants to the Greater Vancouver area seek means of belonging, how they are able to negotiate a sense of home, and what factors may hinder this process. Focus groups and surveys are used to understand the complexities of negotiating a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. Our research suggests that language and familial ties are influential in shaping conceptions of home for immigrants. This paper seeks to apply its findings to strengthen the already existing community programs directed at immigrants and create opportunities for new long-term resources to help create these feelings of home. In this respect, this paper acts as a vital and practical tool in raising awareness about the importance of creating a welcoming and hospitable community for all residents of the Greater Vancouver area, especially for the large immigrant population.
Key terms: Home, Immigrant, Greater Vancouver Regional District
“I hate holidays…for holidays I have nothing to do, I have no relatives here and I miss my parents and I miss my friends in China.” – Sarah
One of our focus group participant, Sarah, best describes the strong feelings of longing that home, as understood as a connection to family and friends, evokes. A common theme throughout this paper is the negotiation of home through relationships between family and friends, and the role that language plays in making this process easier or more difficult.
Magat (1999) acknowledges the vastly broad definitions that exist of the term home, but conceptually defines home as one with inherent symbolic meanings of identity and belonging. Arredondo (1984) defines a sense of belonging as feeling positive about oneself, to feeling trust and positive regard from and for others, as well as to making a commitment to stay in the country of destination (Chow, 2007). For the purpose of our study, the term “home” is not defined as a physical entity or building, but rather a symbolic term that is defined by the feelings of belonging, familiarity, identity and sense of permanent residence. The need to belong is considered a fundamental human motivation. Regardless of their motivations for migration, immigrants may feel out of place initially. Whether or not immigrants will proclaim that they feel they belong is intricately linked to their lived experiences in the host country. This dimension of belonging may be more aptly measured by immigrants’ interests in the affairs of the Canadian society, frequency of participation in various institutions, and degree of identification with Canada (Chow, 2007).
As members within the Greater Vancouver community, we look for ways in which we can we use our cultural differences as a pillar of strength for the broader community. How can we make the most of our cultural richness and diversity in the Greater Vancouver area? Addressing the unique demographic landscape of the Greater Vancouver region, this paper focuses on: what processes exist that may enable or hinder the ability for immigrants to feel a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area? In investigating the existing barriers and opportunities to create a sense of home for both new and current immigrants, we hope to apply our research findings to strengthen current inclusionary efforts in our communities targeted towards immigrants.
We aim to understand existing processes that may hinder or enable immigrants to feel at home, and want to define the different areas that comprise the feeling of home for immigrants in their host country. Furthermore, we sought to define the cultural and symbolic understanding of feeling home and how that would be applicable in the integration processes targeted towards new immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. To do so we conducted focus groups with a sample of our target population. Our focus groups sought to uncover in-depth ways individuals seek to integrate, and if it resulted in feelings of belonging and a sense of home. In addition, the focus groups prompted participants to explore obstacles and hindrances that they have faced since moving to the Greater Vancouver area, and how those have affected their sense of belonging. Once the focus groups were completed we analyzed the results obtained to form our survey questionnaire. These surveys were handed out to students at SFU, and to immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area.
Raffaeta & Duff (2013) as well as Chaitlin, Linstroth & Hiller (2009) study the processes which hinder the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home in specific cities and communities. Both studies focused on the economic reasons and possibilities for both leaving their country of origin and staying in the new country. Chaitlin et. al (2009) outline the notion of “partial homes” which appears dominant in Raffaeta et al’s (2013) study as well. The idea of a “partial home” acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants. Similarly, Ben-Yoseph (2005) concludes that the relationship an individual has with their country of origin effects that individuals ability to make a new sense of home in another country. The notion of transnationalism, where migrants maintain homes in their origin country and a host country, has also been studied as a process which can hinder the cultural and social integration of immigrants.
Aside from symbolic or physical ties to one’s country of origin, current research also ties economic well-being to the ability to create a sense of home for immigrants. Stewart et al (2009) compares the experiences of social isolation and perceptions of belonging between lower-income and higher-income people. The results indicated that the level of income was a reliable indicator of measures of social isolation and sense of belonging in a community. Nawyn et al’s (2012) study states that linguistic resources are a key component of immigrant integration, because speaking the dominant language provides not only economic opportunities but also gives the immigrant social power.
A significant body of research has been conducted on developing an understanding of what factors assist in creating a sense of belonging. Chow’s (2007) survey results showed that a presence of father in Canada, higher self-rated socio economic status, immigration to Canada being politically and culturally motivated, positive experiences making friends with Canadians, immigration to Canada at a later stage in life, and no prior experience in Canada before immigration were associated with a stronger sense of belonging to Canada. Furthermore, Chow’s (2007) study indicated that if immigrants had a positive academic experience, had absence of discrimination, and immigration to Canada being non-economically motivated then they had a higher level of life satisfaction.
Similar to Chow’s (2007) work, rather than focusing on singular processes that hinder or enable the feelings of home, our research aims to tease out a multitude of factors that exist. While it is beneficial to gather general conclusions from existing academic research, it’s important to note the varying degrees of cultural, social and economic differences that exist from city to city and country to country. A large body of current literature focuses on specific countries and cities, and the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home and integrate in those places. It would be presumptuous to say that findings from Raffaeta et. al (2013) study in the Italian Alpine area could be presumed true in the Greater Vancouver area as well.
As one of the most demographically diverse urban populations in Canada, the Greater Vancouver area has surprisingly not been a focus for migratory and ethnic research. The void our research seeks to fill is specifically focused on immigrants negotiating a sense of home and belonging in the Greater Vancouver area. Moreover, this research acts as a practical tool for inclusionary efforts in the area. In order to contribute valuable and practical information to inclusionary processes in our communities, we need to take into account the specific context of the Greater Vancouver area.
Two focus groups were conducted with recent and established immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area. The first focus group contained eight participants aged 18-30, and the second focus group had twelve individuals 30 and older. We chose this demographic in attempt to uncover a greater variety of factors that attribute to the feeling of home at various life stages of young adults. In order to generalize our results towards our target population, which is all immigrants living in the greater Vancouver area, it was necessary to not constrict the age range, or the duration of their time spent in Vancouver. The focus groups investigations concentrated on four main questions: how would you describe the feeling of home, what were the reasons behind why you moved to Vancouver, what processes enable you to feel at home, and what factors hinder the ability for you to feel at home. Our sub questions were largely driven from the responses given by our participants to get more clarity on their views, opinions and experiences.
Stemming from our focus group findings, we designed survey questions based on the areas of concern mentioned in the previous focus groups. A twenty-question survey was disseminated to participants all over the Greater Vancouver area through social media platforms. Here, our target survey participants were people who identified as immigrants, aged 18 and older, who live in the Greater Vancouver area. We received a total of 102 responses and conducted further analysis on the data we received.
FINDINGS AND RESULTS
Upon analyzing the responses from the focus groups, we identified four dominant themes. These include: Family and friends, economic stability and educational opportunities, different cultural norms and expectations, and language. We will examine each theme sequentially.
Focus Group Findings
Theme 1: Family and friends create a sense of home for immigrants
Although the participants in our study migrated from different areas, and had varying lengths of duration living in Vancouver, they all agreed on a few essential factors that generated a feeling of home. For instance, when the participants migrated with family members they felt substantially more comfortable than those who migrated on their own, or who left family members in their country of origin. One member in our focus group, Sarah, explained it in terms of an idiom they use in China that roughly translates to, “where ever your parents are is where your home is.” For those who had family members in their country of origin they expressed a feeling of loneliness; however, for those who came with at least their immediate family felt more inclined to say Vancouver was their home.
The participants that moved here on their own, particularly the members within the first focus group, said that they frequently talked to their family members who remained in their country of origin. The ability to be able to call them, or talk to them over the Internet, was seen as a beneficial feature contributing to developing a sense of comfortability in Vancouver. Carol explained that, “for me I would think home as something that means that you need to have the support from your family, regardless of their geographical location. My parents are still in China. So I would say support and communication. And then the love, you can feel from them.” Other participants reiterated this point by saying that they talk to their family members frequently, even those who have been here for a longer duration. Interestingly, it was not the technological aspect that made it difficult to communicate with their family and friends in their countries of origin but the new cultural barrier. For example, Carol said, “I had a hard time communicating with my mother for a short period of time, but then I think I overcame that barrier because I tried to explain the differences between what it is like in Canada and what it is like in China. And then they tried to understand the differences and they appreciated the differences as well.” The ability for our participants to be able to easily communicate with their families residing in their countries of origin assisted them in feeling more comfortable in Vancouver.
Another key aspect for an immigrant to feel a sense of belonging is whether or not they have a strong support group of friends in their host city. Many of the participants in our focus groups agreed that it was fairly difficult to make friends when they first arrived. Although they said Canadians were friendly, they mentioned that it was difficult to tell which people were simply being superficial. One participant shared her experience of living in an apartment building when she first arrived and said it was easier to connect with neighbours that way. However, when she moved into a house she felt a higher degree of disconnection and isolation. Another participant, Emma, compared how welcoming her community is in her country of origin, and explained to us that if we were to migrate there everyone in the neighbourhood would invite us to dinner and show us around. Conversely, Emma said here “in Canada there’s too much distance for me. Like if you want to go ask [your neighbour] it feels like you’re wasting their time, they have other things to do.” This conception creates a sense of uncertainty and isolation among immigrants. Furthermore, the participants in the focus group illustrated how important it is for them to feel connected within their new community, because if they feel accepted by their neighbours than they can use them as source of information. For example, one participant, Emma shared that her friend received a fishing ticket and they were unsure how to pay it. Emma said, “for simple things like that we don’t know who to ask, and you have to Google [instead of asking your neighbour].” The importance of having friends and family members present in Vancouver was reiterated in various ways but appeared to be the most collectively agreed upon factor for feeling at home.
Theme 2: Economic stability, educational opportunities, political stability and environmental factors are influential in enabling a sense of home for immigrants.
A common response from our participants was that one spouse, or parent, would remain in the country of origin to work while the other spouse and children lived in Vancouver. Similar to Raffaeta et al’s (2013) idea of a “partial home,” this separation acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants. For many of the participants, they found it difficult to secure jobs in Vancouver. For many of these families, a spouse would live in another country to work and support the family because of the difficulties of gaining economic stability in a new country. In our second focus group, many of the participants acknowledged that in their country of origin, they were all employed, some as doctors and some as business professionals. However, they mentioned that they don’t work in Vancouver because of the difficulties that exist for immigrants in the job search process. Therefore, in order to sustain themselves and their families financial needs, they must make decisions like having one parent work in another country and the other parent raising their children in another.
Many of the focus group participants divulged that they originally moved here for a ‘better’ education, whether it was for themselves or for their children. However, most of our parent participants said that they would prefer their child to go to a university back in their original country. One respondent, Carol, said that, “ I think we immigrants have fewer social connections. If we need to look for a job we just need to do what we can do, but for local people they may have more family and friends that can help them in looking for jobs.” A few mentioned that because their social net is larger in their original country they would be able to assist in finding their children careers, as opposed to their smaller connections here. However, the alumni and university students mentioned that once they received their degrees they felt more connected here and wanted to remain in Vancouver to find a job. One participant, Sally, said that because her Vancouver friends, many that were also immigrants, found jobs here which made her want to stay as well. Another said that after she got her degree and secured a job she started to find that she felt a stronger sense of belonging, and was getting use to Canadian norms and customs.
Political and environmental issues also arose as contributing factors for migrating to Vancouver. One participant, Sam, mentioned that he and his family relocated to Vancouver because of the political turmoil in China in 1997. Sam believed that, “we didn’t have enough freedom of speech. [The government was] trimming down the freedom of speech in the media.” It was constricting policy’s such as this that motivated Sam and his family to move to Vancouver. Similarly, Remy, disclosed that her family moved to Vancouver to evade the one-child policy in China, because they wanted a bigger family. Another participant, Jessica, explained her situation in Japan. She said that the “Japanese government hides everything”, and that no one in Japan can oppose the system. So, she believed that Vancouver was a better place for her children to grow up because it would allow them to have more political freedom. Another respondent, Carol, reinforced this notion of political stability in Vancouver by saying, “the [Canadian] government they don’t hide too much from you, from the public, and I think the process is more transparent and the tax dollars is used more fairly towards the taxpayers. In China there’s so much corruption going on.”
Furthermore, the participants expressed their admiration for Vancouver’s natural environment. Participants explained that the air pollution in their countries of origin were becoming increasingly hazardous. Jessica explained how her friend’s children in Japan are developing asthma as a result of the air pollution. She also mentioned how her son had a rash and a serious cough while in Japan but since moving to Vancouver it has disappeared. Most of the other participants in the focus groups agreed that political stability and environmental factors were reasons towards why they chose, and remained, in Vancouver.
Theme 3: Different cultural norms and expectations created feelings of being outsiders, but also allowed for feelings of belonging.
An obstacle expressed by the participants in our study was the misunderstanding of Canadian cultural norms and expectations. Many of the immigrants that moved here with younger children experienced discomfort because they were unsure of the materials their children were being taught in school. One participant, Maia, said, “We have different culture, I’m from China so it’s a little different. There’s a culture gap. My children live here so they think differently than me.” Another factor expressed by immigrants with young children was that they were unsure of acceptable behaviour to teach to their children. For example, Emma illustrated this point:
“My kid is in grade six he’s have been bullied for a while, but I teach him that always smile because you can forget and try to walk away and he did exactly like that. But to the teacher that’s rude, if the teacher corrects, or asks him to go outside of classroom for 5 minutes he is still smiling, and the teacher thinks it’s rude. He’s trying to put down his feeling and embarrassment but that is something that I’ve learned. So that sort of thing when my kid comes to me I will say that your teacher is weird, I will say something like that. It’s all kinds of strange things, maybe there’s a website for immigrants of daily life taboos and maybe it’s good for me.”
This disconnect between immigrant parents and their children causes discomfort and a desire to return back to their country of origin where they understand the cultural norms.
Another obstacle expressed from the cultural gap was the uncertainty of knowing certain cultural norms, such as humor. A few student participants mentioned that in lectures when the professor told a ‘joke’ all the Canadian born students would laugh but the immigrants did not. This cultural division made them feel like an outsider.
In addition, a cultural difference that was highlighted was the slower tempo of life in Vancouver compared to some of the respondents country of origin. For example, Melissa from Korea explained how her friend went to the hospital here “but she just waiting, waiting, waiting…why do they need a very long time to give just one prescription. Those times make me very uneasy and make me go back to Korea.” Melissa, and other immigrants in our study, expressed a dislike for the ‘slow’ pace in Vancouver.
Another cultural expectation that made immigrants feel hesitant and isolated was Canadian medical care system. Respondents expressed a feeling of reluctance towards using Canadian healthcare because they were uncertain of when it was acceptable to go to the hospital, and what was covered. One respondent, Melissa, outlined an experience when her son developed a bad flu, but she was hesitant to visit the doctor. She thought, “ -it is not serious so I just cure with my natural medication what I know in Korea.” The participants said they were unsure of when it was appropriate to go to the hospital, so this left them feeling vulnerable.
Ultimately, the respondents agreed that to have a sense of belonging in Vancouver it was necessary to understand some cultural difference and have access to information. One respondent, Emma, captured this point saying, “I have to feel that I know a lot of things, I know the school system, and I know where I can get help, and I know where I can work, and I know the organizations that can help me. I have to have connections with the society.” These connections can help reduce the degree of uncertainty and discomfort, because with access to information and organizations they can learn cultural norms and expectations.
Conversely, certain cultural differences have made Vancouver immigrants feel more at home. Many participants agreed that locals in in Vancouver are very friendly and polite. One respondent, Stephanie, explained her experience on the buses in Vancouver:
“I usually take the bus here and I saw every people’s behaviours are very good. Everyone will say thank you and the bus driver will say you’re welcome. And when I hear these things every day I feel it’s different than in my country and when I go on the street on the snow or rainy day at the bus stop people will say you first ,oh no you first. Small things for me I feel very warm, very tiny small things I feel so good.”
Others agreed that these were strange cultural customs compared to their country of origin, but that it was small things, such as this, that made them feel more welcomed. Another cultural expectation that made our respondents admire Vancouver was “that people respect life here as a high quality”. For example, Julia mentioned how “whenever there is a firetruck on the road everyone will move aside for it, and let the road clear for the saving of the life. All these tiny things. It’s very different.”
Theme 4: Language acts as a barrier to opportunities and to creating a sense of home
The language barrier for those who speak English as an additional language, is viewed as the utmost obstacle immigrants face while they are attempting to develop a sense of belonging in Vancouver. Among immigrants, English is often an additional language, which leaves them feeling a lack of confidence when interacting with locals. Most of our participants said this barrier made them feel isolated, and often they would not participate in community activities, or develop relationships with locals. One participant, Lena, shared that while she was in grade nine “the people around [her] were so rude. They treated [her] like, you don’t know our language. It’s like, it’s our language, it’s not yours.” Other respondents indicated that due to their lack of confidence when speaking English it was difficult to obtain a job. One respondent, Carol, said that the interview process was very complicated because “English is our second language and it’s difficult for us to express our thoughts and opinions and feel confident representing yourself.” Another participant expressed her lack of confidence due to the language barrier because in China she was a businesswoman and was always busy but here she has not been unable to obtain a job. Language played the biggest role in determining whether or not the immigrants in our study felt accepted and that they belonged in Vancouver. However, once their English skills strengthened they felt exceptionally more confident and were able to develop better connections that helped them receive vital information, such as medical care, or community organizations.
We designed the survey based on the results we obtained from our two focus groups. The survey was comprised of twenty questions, including three yes-or-no questions, and 17 multiple choice questions. The survey was conducted with the aim to uncover the relationship between factors of home described in our focus groups, such as language barriers, the amount of time living in Vancouver, friendship and neighborhood, jobs and career opportunity, as well as media consumption patterns, and the extent of immigrant’s feeling of belonging in Vancouver. 102 participants took part in the survey. 56.9% of all survey respondents felt very strongly that Vancouver was their home. 28.4% of respondents felt that Vancouver is somewhat their home and 7.8% of all respondents felt as if Vancouver was not really their home, or not their home at all. The data provided from the respondents demonstrated a relationship between ties immigrants have with family and friends, language, job opportunities, media consumption and feelings of belonging.
Of the respondents that felt as if Vancouver was very much their home, 79.3% of those respondents had lived in Vancouver for 10 or more years. The respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, 83.9% migrated with friends or family members and 57.9% of them cited family or friends as their reasons for migration. These numbers demonstrate how relationships with family and/or friends has an impact on negotiating a sense of home for immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. For those who feel Vancouver is their home, friends and family are a large influence of feelings of belonging. Similar to the theme uncovered in our focus groups, the location of family and friends and the relationships ties between family/friends and immigrants deeply affects the negotiation of home in a new city.
Similarly, another factor that influenced the respondents degree of belonging in Vancouver was their ability to make friends with both locals and other immigrants currently living in the Greater Vancouver area. 42.1% of respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was their home, found it somewhat easy to make friends with people already living in Vancouver. 26.3% of these respondents felt that it was very easy in making friends in Vancouver. The ability to have and make friends in a new city or country is critical for immigrants to create feelings of belonging and negotiate a sense of home for themselves. It is also beneficial to have a friend or a relative when first arriving in Vancouver. Among the respondents who felt “very much” and “somewhat” that Vancouver as their home, over 40% of them had a relative or friend already residing in Vancouver at the time of their migration.
In terms of analyzing the influence of language amongst the respondents that felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, it’s interesting to see the relationship between language and feelings of belong and home. 69% of these respondents evaluated their English speaking abilities as fluent; however, 42.1% of these respondents admitted to always speaking their mother language. There is a visible link between language and creating a feeling of home. Overall, a large portion of respondents felt as if language was a barrier to creating a feeling of home in the Greater Vancouver area. Amongst the respondents that noted English as an additional language, more than 47.5% of them agreed that language was a major barrier in creating a sense of home. At the same time, although living in an English speaking city, 67.3% of the respondent still practice their mother language quite often.
It is noteworthy that people who attributed education as a reason for migration were more likely to feel as if Vancouver was not their home. Among the respondents who chose Vancouver is “not at all” their home and “not really” their home, 75% of them came chose education as at least one of the reason they came to Vancouver. For these respondents, Vancouver was not a permanent home, but rather a temporary place of residence. Individuals who migrated for education and who felt as if Vancouver was not their home, also felt that it was difficult to build a network in Vancouver. These immigrants reported that they had a stronger connection with friends and family in their countries of origin. Among these respondents, 75% often communicate with people living in their country of origin. These participants demonstrated strong ties to their country of origin, and a lack of relationship ties to people in Vancouver. This reinforces the idea that the relationships between family and friends largely influences the feelings of home for immigrants.
After recording the focus groups and survey results, it was evident that despite a largely multicultural demographic, there are still many immigrants who have difficulties integrating and creating feelings of home in the Greater Vancouver area. In the second focus group that contained twelve participants aged 30 and older we found that they were all members of a community centre program that aims to assist immigrants by helping them make a sense of home in Vancouver. Some of the participants are long-term volunteers in these community centres, yet the majority of program participants had been in Vancouver for a comparatively short time and had recently joined the program itself. Therefore, these community centres are mainly aiming to help new immigrants, but the assistance is short-term only. Although many participants stated that the community centres they were attending, as well as other integration programs, had been very helpful to them, it is more important to have some long-term integration programs that can help immigrants for numerous years post-migration.
At the same time, the strengths of current and existing inclusionary programs is also of particular concern. Among the participants in the two focus groups, we noticed that younger immigrants in the first focus group did not seek help when they faced difficulties in acculturating or creating a new sense of a home in Vancouver. Conversely, the immigrants in the second focus group joined the community centre activity almost immediately upon arrival mostly because of their children, as the community centre is located next to an elementary school and does a lot of outreach to the community through the elementary school. The strength of promoting available programs for immigrants is inadequate, as well as the strength of helping the immigrants.
Many of the participants in our focus groups mentioned that it was difficult to make friends with Canadian locals because of a degree of superficiality, where they feel as if their community and neighbours were somewhat welcoming. This can hinder their ability to call Vancouver their home. Our survey results supported this notion showing that more than 50% of the total respondents feel that their neighbours and communities are “somewhat” welcoming whereas 24.8% of respondents felt neighbors and their community were “very welcoming” and 10.9% felt that they were “not really” welcoming. The idea is that immigrants did not feel entirely welcomed by their neighbors and broader community.
From our research we can conclude that language, and the relationships between family and friends act as both enablers and hindrances to creating feelings of home within the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. For many immigrants with English as an additional language, the inability to communicate their feelings or opinions thoroughly and precisely created numerous obstacles for them to feel at home in Vancouver. The difficulties of communicating often resulted in numerous social and economic costs and setbacks for immigrants.On the other hand, participants acknowledge that the relationship ties to family members and friends can either enable or create obstacles to feeling at home. A large number of focus group and survey participants migrated to the Greater Vancouver area with family members, or already had family members or friends living here. There was a significant relationship between having friends and family in Vancouver and feeling that Vancouver was the participant’s home. These exploratory findings open up the door to more specific research in the Greater Vancouver area. For example, through our focus groups, we discovered an area of concern for immigrant parents where they feel a sense of disconnect with their children who have and continue to grow up in a culture and society very different from their country of origin. Therefore, these parents not only feel a sense of disconnect with their place in Vancouver, but also a cultural gap between themselves and their children.
Our study is both important and relevant to the current demographics of the Greater Vancouver area. The understanding and acknowledgement of obstacles and enablers that exist to creating a sense of home for the large immigrant population can benefit the economic, social and cultural situation of the Vancouver area. For many immigrants, a reason for migration is the educational opportunities that exist here. However, many immigrants express the desire to gain an education in the Greater Vancouver area, but eventually find further economic resources in other cities or countries. The Greater Vancouver area can reap substantial benefits from updating and implementing stronger short-term inclusionary programs, as well as initiating and providing long-term programs. The feedback we received from our focus groups highlighted the strengths of the existing programs directed at immigrants in the Vancouver area, such as, the North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Welcoming Neighbours Programs, the Multicultural Society, and the World in Burnaby. These programs focus on providing arenas for new immigrants to meet other immigrants, aid with language and communication barriers, and information regarding volunteering with their communities. However, the information that is not readily available through these programs are more in-depth ESL classes to help with job searches and interviews, information regarding jobs and educational opportunities, and opportunities to create more long-term friendships and relationships. Furthermore, we discovered from our participants aged 18-30 that they did not reach out to community programs when they felt isolated or vulnerable. Currently, there are programs directed towards youth, such as, Safe Teen International, the Vars/ty Initiative, and Neonology, but minimal programs directed to young adults. As one focus group member, Eric, mentioned he stayed at home for the first two years after arriving. We need to develop more inclusionary programs to fill this void and make all new immigrants feel welcome in the Greater Vancouver area.