New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 14:35

Feeling Like a Stranger at Home

Commentary by Laska Paré in Toronto

“If you were born in Canada, you won!” was the catchphrase that came to mind during my flight's turbulent descent into Toronto airport. The next thing I knew, flight EK 241 was making harsh contact with the runway, followed by the pilot’s announcement: “Welcome to Toronto Pearson International Airport.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Am I really here? After twenty-nine months, am I finally back?

I stood up slowly, as you do after a 14-hour flight and let out a big sigh of relief.

I was back in Canada, my home and native land.

As I trudged through the airport, I considered how elated my grandma would be. During my time away, she always made it a point to end our calls by reminding me that people around the world were dying to get into Canada, hoping to create stable opportunities for themselves and their families.

And there I was, instead, gallivanting to every developing Asian country I could locate on a map. 

The birthright lottery

Having won the birthright lottery, that is, a Canadian passport, I've always felt as if it was my duty and responsibility to understand the value of my citizenship. My grandma was right – people risk their lives for a chance to have a decent life in Canada.

But, I've also always wanted to know more about the struggle of newcomers and perhaps gain a better understanding of how immigrants and dual citizens identify once they are in Canada. Do they identify as strangers? Does Canada ever truly feel like their home?

Two and a half years have passed since I set foot on Canadian soil. For some, that seems like a lifetime to go without seeing family, friends, or a house pet.

But after living across Asia and witnessing the sacrifices people make to provide for their family – seeing their spouses and children on a short holiday once a year, if that, for example – my absence and sacrifice seem very brief and insignificant.  

Defining Strangers at Home

A "stranger" is an individual who does not belong as her position in a group is determined by the fact that she has not belonged to it from the beginning. A "home" may be understood to be a place where individuals experience a sense of security and are comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Therefore, feeling like a stranger suggests that an individual does not identify with the people around him, and consequently, does not belong or does not feel accepted in the place that he identifies as home.

As I took my place in the "citizen" queue in the customs hall, I couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong.

By now, I knew bits of several languages, had become accustomed to eating rice with my hands, greeted people by saying “Namaste” and mastered the skill of washing my hair upside-down in a bucket. My norms, customs and mannerisms would come across as abnormal to the rest of my native, Canadian comrades. For the first time, I felt like a stranger at home.

Understanding the Other

The customs officer signaled that it was okay for me to approach the counter. He flipped through my passport – pages now filled with stamps and visas – and without a question about my two-and-a-half-year absence, waved me through with a jaunty, “Welcome home.”

I looked back at the long line of anxious visitors, hands filled with papers and documents. Not only had I travelled all over Asia without struggle, but I was able to come “home” after an extended trip and not be questioned about my absence.

It was in that moment that I understood why all the sacrifice and risk was worth the chance in Canada.

Now settled in Toronto, not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for my citizenship.

While I’m still adjusting to life in the city, there’s no question I’ve gained a better understanding of how new immigrants and dual citizens may feel upon their arrival in Canada, as I now identify with countries and ethnic groups not part of my country of origin.

After so much sacrifice in the hopes for a better life, the ambiguity around identity and desire to identify with one’s new “home” must be difficult for new residents. Building a new life is one thing; however, reconstructing one’s sense of belonging to a nation must require time. 

As I greeted my uncle in the arrivals hall and looked around at the room filled with diverse faces, I realized that to identify as a stranger is to empathize with all Canadians – because diversity has built our land.

An experienced mentor to women in business and the youth, Laska has an unshakeable passion for writing. Inspired by helping people realize their human potential, when not coaching a client or sitting at her computer creating engaging content, you will find her outside seeking adventure.

Published in Arts & Culture
Monday, 02 May 2016 13:00

Nepal Missing a Teachable Moment

Commentary by Laska Paré in Kathmandu, Nepal

Just over a year ago (April, 25, 2015), a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, bringing this country to its knees. Word spread immediately around the globe and several countries and charitable organizations began to fund-raise, donate relief materials, deploy search-and-rescue teams and send medical personnel to assist this country, best known as home to Mount Everest.

As an expat living in Kathmandu who was here during the earthquake, and watching this small country rebuild itself over the last 12 months, I’ve been asking myself, “What’s actually happened?”

Billions of dollars were donated and put into the hands of organizations in the hope of making a difference. So, why a year later, are people still living in displacement camps and tents?

To provide some perspective, the average person in Nepal lives on less than US$1 dollar a day, which means for US$10, I can comfortably feed myself for a week and have extra to splurge at the movies. So, if billions of dollars were donated for relief, why are people still struggling to get food and living under tarps? The monsoon season is almost here, meaning three to four months of pouring rain and little relief work.

Distribution of aid

The Nepali Prime Minister directed that funds sent from outside Nepal for relief must be re-routed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, as this would ensure proper distribution of aid, especially to the neglected and most affected communities. Although the government has vowed to fight corruption related to earthquake relief, reports indicate that funds are being used for political considerations. And given the country's history, it’s difficult to assume corruption hasn’t played a role.

Over the past year, I’ve spoken to several foreign volunteers who came to Nepal at their own expense to bring relief themselves. The issue I’ve heard most often is that government and relief organizations are not working together. In addition, one volunteer from Canada working with All Hands in Sindhupalchowk, one of the worst affected districts, expressed his frustration about how this disaster is not being utilized as an opportunity to develop and educate the people.

He asked to remain anonymous but said, “We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”

“We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”

High-rise buildings

In Nepal, it’s a status symbol to have a ‘tall’ house, and it’s common for homes to be four storeys or higher. I spoke to Rabina Gurung, a local registered nurse living in Kathmandu, who said she believes the earthquake itself was an opportunity for education: “Before earthquake, people used to make and design their own house. But now they want a plan and to hire the right people. I think now people see a tall house is a bad idea and they need a good foundation by professionals.”

Bimal Osti, a father and manager of the Moonlight Children’s Home (MCH) — an organization that provides housing to abandoned girls in Nepal — agreed and shared, “After the earthquake, people started to see the benefits of a small house. Smaller is better, and now they see that. People are proud of their small houses.”

But what about the Nepal government?

As Sam Adhikari (pictured), a hotel owner in Pokhara, said, “It’s not the government’s job to teach and educate people. We need to be more serious and conscious ourselves. We need to be more responsible. We should not wait for the government. If the government is not going to do anything, then the people need to prepare themselves.”

As the months pass, relief organizations continue to work and assist those in temporary housing, while the government attempts to centralize authority over relief funds.

So where does that leave Nepal?

"Nepal has no problem"

Over the last year I’ve become very close to the culture and the people. After learning more about Nepal’s history and living the ongoing struggle of earthquakes and aftershocks, fuel shortages, and daily scheduled power outages which can last for more than 12 hours, I believe the country and its people are slowly developing.

As Adhikari put it, “The problem with Nepal is Nepal has no problem.”

The culture and of in Nepal are very relaxed, calm and unruffled. While this is something that makes Nepal special, it doesn’t necessarily allow society to progress and develop.

As Akash Sarki, a local business owner, mentioned, “We just try to minimize our costs and stay with what we have; never reaching for anything more and never having a problem about anything.”

While the shift has been gradual (post-quake), I believe things are beginning to change for this small, landlocked country since the signing of a New Constitution last fall, after many years of debate.

Bikash Gyawali, a local IT entrepreneur, believes a lot of change has come because of the Internet.

“The Internet world is beginning to make its mark in Nepal. It’s giving people access they never had before. Seeing what’s on the outside is reason itself to want to grow and develop.”

While I agree with Adhikari that we all need to take responsibility for ourselves, I also believe the local government needs to implement an education campaign so people can adopt new daily practices, especially in the villages where electricity and the Internet are not always available. The Nepali government could help its people faster if aid can be transparently administered, working hand-in-hand with NGOs and other relief organizations.


Canadian-born Laska currently lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, writing, life-coaching, and pursuing her passion for mountaineering. She arrived in Nepal in April 2015, days before the quake. Over the last year, Laska has volunteered her time in schools, offering counsel and motivational workshops to assist students dealing with post-traumatic stress caused by the earthquake. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image