A doctoral student at the University of Windsor has spent the last four years studying seven Windsor students who immigrated from various Arab countries, examining what it was like for them to adapt to a new culture and way of life with a focus on their education.
Nasreen Elkord is an immigrant herself and is finishing up her PhD in education. She studied two men and five women who came to Canada from countries such as Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia and Syria.
“Their current experiences are very much influenced by their lives back in their home countries,” said Elkord.
According to Elkord, the way the teenagers came to Canada affected how easily they were able to adjust over the years she studied them.
“There were those who came as refugees and those who came as immigrants,” she said. “Those who came as immigrants were a little more prepared for the move… those who came as refugees were really forced to make the move with their families.”
Religious and cultural differences
The men expressed more of a sense of freedom in terms of integrating with their school communities compared to the female students.
“I think this has to do with the Arab culture imposing a little bit more restrictions on the female daughters,” said Elkord.
The PhD candidate noted that some differences split along religious lines.
“For those who were Christian, they both attended Catholic schools and expressed a great sense of belonging in their Catholic schools,” she said. “They didn’t feel like they were very different.”
The Muslim students had more difficulty participating in school activities and Elkord suggested that could be explained by different restrictions linked with their religion.
Two of the students in the study wore hijabs and said they felt shunned by their schoolmates initially. They were inclined to make friends with other immigrant students.
Improving the integration experience
Elkord noted that things are better for these students than when they immigrated to Halifax more than twenty years ago.
“Schools in Windsor are already doing a lot for accommodating newcomer students,” she said, but noted that English language classes may sometimes serve to actually isolate newcomers from the broader student community.
Elkord’s recommendations to make integration easier include more partnerships with community centers and external groups, and trying to increase representation within the school community itself.