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This image is a fond memory of a meal shared with someone.

For many in our refugee community, they have left loves ones behind and arrive in Canada alone. As they live their new, independent lives in Vancouver, the lack of family is immensely challenging. This fresh start is not any easier for those who come as a family.  

The culture shock of Vancouver’s individualism is jarring and isolating. In their upbringing, every aspect of life was done with together. Homes may host different generations of family on each floor. And if this wasn’t the case, they certainly lived close by. One friend shared that dinner is eaten together; if it’s 9pm and one member is still not back, they continue to wait. And now they live physically separated from their loved ones. Such radical changes are difficult to adjust to.  

And yet, people persevere. Refugees have created their own unique families in Vancouver. As I connect with newcomers, I have unintentionally joined other family units. By saying ‘yes’ to opportunities – whether it’s to teach someone how to take transit in Vancouver, or accepting invitations for meals, or wandering through a grocery store together to understand the products on the shelves – I have been graciously welcomed into these extended families. 

With this, my definition of ‘family’ has broadened. Family can be one that you create yourself. Intellectually I’ve known family is beyond blood. And now there is lived experience to complement this. As I share life with my unexpected family, here are three things I’ve learned along the way:  

  1. There is still much to learn about my personal cultural background. For example, as a second generation Canadian, I celebrate Chinese New Year because it’s family tradition and I rarely questioned it. But as I invite my friends to celebrate with me, I have needed to learn about the nuances of what I celebrate to better welcome them into what’s important to me. (Interestingly enough, celebrating with family appear to be at the crux of many holidays and festivals.)
  2. Speaking of celebrations: when we celebrate my friends’ holidays and festivals, we’re going to dress our best; no business casual here. This was my personal culture shock.
  3. I can deepen my expression of hospitality. I’ve had the honour of being welcomed into numerous homes and sharing many, many, meals. With each experience I continually realize there is space to grow. Hospitality isn’t an aesthetic to accomplish or a set of rules to follow. Rather it is an expression of welcome, in making people feel known, comfortable, and at ease. 

Ultimately, it’s not about the activities that we do together (albeit fun). It’s about showing up and being present. As with any relationship, it is valuable because time is spent with one another. 

Interested in knowing more? Email Hannah