STU research project brings newcomers together

Still of the team for the event 'Stories of Home' this past Tuesday, March 14th at St. Thomas University's Brian Mulroney Hall. (Jacob Moore/AQ)

Promise of Home highlights not only the difficulties that newcomers face — discrimination, navigating a new country — but also a sense of belonging since coming to Fredericton. 

As a community-based research project, led by St. Thomas University sociology professor Gül Çalışkan, it allows immigrants to share their stories about whether or not Fredericton feels like home.

Daniel Abreus Santana, one of the project’s three research assistants, was proud of how hard everyone on the team worked. 

Santana joined the project after one of its participants reached out to him. He was looking for job opportunities at the time. Once he learned more about the project, it “spoke” to him because he could connect with it.

“I’m an immigrant myself. I moved here when I was young from Cuba,” he said. 

During a phase two launch event on March 14, Sophie Lavoie, project co-lead, said Promise of Home wants to expand into other cities and increase the number of participants. 

Santana hopes the project attains these goals, but he also hopes for some social impact. One of the recurring themes of the videos, he said, was underlying or blatant racism towards newcomers.

He hopes the videos can encourage “some introspection.”

“In order to change your mind about something, it’s very important to see it from a different perspective,” said Santana. 

“Hopefully, if they watched the video, they can put themselves in the participants’ shoes a little bit and see what their lives are like and the adversities that they face.”

Ilkay Silk, one of the participants whose story is titled “‘Home Is…’ A Play In Three Acts,” had two immigrant experiences in her life. First, she moved from Turkey to the United Kingdom then from the U.K. to Canada.

Still of the event ‘Stories of Home’ presentation this past Tuesday, March 14th at St. Thomas University’s Brian Mulroney Hall. (Jacob Moore/AQ)

Silk explained that, in a way, she moved from a very privileged place, coming from London to Canada, but her parents didn’t come from privilege, moving from Turkey to the U.K.

“There’s a duality to the story. [There’s] a very successful one. Why is that successful? And [there’s] a very hard one. And why was that hard?’ she said.

Ameri Suzuki, an international student at STU, was born in Japan and went to high school in Australia for two years. She sat in the row in front of Silk during the presentation. 

During the question period at the end of the presentation, Suzuki asked if any of the newcomers dealt with identity crises when they came to Canada.

“That’s something I’ve been having to deal with over the past three years,” she said. “I’ve never felt a sense of connection to a certain place.” 

Silk said that she has different rooms in her mind. One is British, one Canadian, one Turkish. She can use these rooms to really experience those identities. Silk considers that an advantage and a gift.

“What I used to say to international students when they came to St. Thomas — I taught there for 36 years  —  that you’re here to teach us as well,” she said. 

“You are welcome.”