I was very pleased when My Halifax Experience asked me to join their team. Relatively speaking, I am a newcomer who immigrated from Egypt 14 years ago, as an international student.
Today, I am an engaged community member. Becoming a columnist here will let me reflect on my own experiences as an immigrant as well as the current community affairs relevant to immigrants and newcomers.
Who am I? I think of myself as a Canadian. As an immigrant, I am very proud of this identity as it came to me through profound conviction and hard work, not just the coincidence of birth. However, this is not in isolation of the other identities that form me.
I am a cosmopolitan, Egyptian, Nova Scotian, Haligonian, academic, and secular Muslim. As an immigrant, it is very important to acknowledge the identity I was born into, but at the same time open my mind to the new life I have chosen in Halifax: to accept, adapt and to relate. No single identity fully represents my views or me. I had to embrace the multiple layers of my identity during my efforts to integrate into my new home in Canada.
The great thing about our country is that we don’t label people based on race or religion. The unique thing about immigration is that we get a rare opportunity in life to pick the country to which we wish to belong and the city we call home.
The world is becoming more cosmopolitan and we are becoming citizens of the world. In Halifax, when we look around us, we see in a city of nearly 400,000 residents, which is a reflection of a cosmopolitan world. This is thanks to growing international student populations at our universities, alongside a global port and an international airport. In this cosmopolitan world, people are free to choose cultural fragments and their self-identity should not be limited by their ethnic origins.
I am an example of a global mobilization and cross-community memberships in a modern world. As an Egyptian-born Canadian, I feel strongly that I belong to a new community and that I am as active a member in it as I was in my old one. I believe that newcomers will remain outsiders unless they and the community believe in the concept of inclusion. Immigrants are expected to learn and accept the norms and customs of the host community in their new home, but it’s a two-way street. Members of the community should also learn and respect the norms and customs of immigrants. This is what we call diversity.
As with many newcomers, the main challenge I faced was to feel like a part of the new community, so I could call it home. I had to find opportunities, be patient, keep a positive attitude, and build a support network. I reached out to organizations such as Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Partnership, and Fusion Halifax, and joined connector programs. I watched friends who were able to settle successfully and others who had to leave frustrated and disappointed at their inability to overcome the challenges of relocating to a new city.
I can summarize my own Halifax experience and observations on creating a successful life by acting like a cosmopolitan-Canadian from day one. To think, relate, and have a global view within the local context. This helped me to ease the transition and reduce the challenges that I faced in my early years.
Engage with your new home. Meet people, volunteer, connect, network, be optimistic, persistent, and showcase your talent and what you can offer your new home.