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City scope: cold shouldered

Petti Fong in Vancouver

 

It's a cold place, Vancouver, and not just weather-wise. A recent survey found it the least friendly city in Canada for immigrants.

When Viola Liu moved here three years ago, from Xian, Shaanxi province, she thought her outgoing personality would help her assimilate.

"It's easy to meet people here, but not that easy to make friends," she says. "It's very hard to break in with strangers, into their circles here in Vancouver."

The survey, conducted for HSBC Bank Canada, asked 607 adult immigrants who had arrived in Canada in the past 10 years, to score cities on friendliness. The most welcoming city was Montreal, which scored 89 per cent, then Calgary and Edmonton, each with 84 per cent, followed by Toronto with 79 per cent. Vancouver earned a stand-offish 73 per cent.

Liu, who was a college English lecturer back in China and now writes business plans for small enterprises, says she's not sure why it's so hard to make friends in Vancouver, although the grey, rainy weather seems to isolate people.

When Mario Canseco arrived in Vancouver 12 years ago, as a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, he thought that, with a few years of hard work, he could achieve the success he would have had in his native Mexico City.

"You arrive here thinking, 'I come from an 'A' background back home, and I'll start at a 'B' or 'C' level and work my way up.' But you have to struggle for years to start at 'D' and have to work many more years to get to B or C," he says. "You think, 'I'm an oncologist, my wife is a nuclear scientist; we should at least be able to find work in a lab.' But for many [immigrants the only available] jobs are in retail stores or the 7-Eleven."

Canseco, who was recently named one of the 10 most influential Hispanic Canadians, is vice-president of polling firm Vision Critical, which conducted the survey for HSBC Bank Canada. He thinks the reason Vancouver ranks so low on the friendliness scale is because newcomers are overwhelmed by the high housing and living costs. While immigrants appreciate the quality of life in the city, they often begin questioning whether the sacrifices they are making are worth the cost and loneliness of being apart from friends and family.

"There's a disconnect," says Canseco. "There's this idea that in a country with only 34 million people, if you arrive here and have skills and can speak the language you can hit it out of the park. It's not as easy as that. A lot of people end up choosing to go back."

 

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