Culture shock

Coping with culture shock at 75+: New multicultural coach aims to help families with immigrant grandparents

Each year, thousands of recent immigrant families use the Super Visa and Permanent Residence programs to sponsor grandparents.

But navigating a foreign culture during this last stage of life can be difficult.

Nepali grandparents Ram and Bimala Sharan Aryal saw it. They are over 80 years old and say Canada is a beautiful, well-regulated country with fantastic health care. But the isolation was too much.

After three years, they packed their bags and returned to Nepal. Bimala says this is where she wants to be when she dies.

“Everything is easier in Canada,” Ram said, in an interview arranged with the help of his daughter in Calgary. “In Nepal, it’s a bit difficult. (But) mentally, we’re happy and calm here. My friends and my religion are here, so we’re connected to our culture.”

Before the pandemic, Canadian immigration officials say an average of 4,100 people aged 75 and over moved here each year under these two programs, along with 23,000 people aged 60 to 74.

Many of them join families who have recently immigrated themselves.

Shobha Joshi is the daughter of Ram and Bimala. She says they even had trouble getting to a grocery store because they weren’t driving. Then her mother had surgery for cancer and she wasn’t comfortable letting home care help her recover because she doesn’t speak English.

“(Also), she didn’t want to show other people how she felt,” Joshi said. “My dad was the one who took care of everything. I could see that burnout in my dad.”

Ram and Bimala Sharan Aryal enjoy a day in a Calgary park while staying with their children in Canada. (Submitted by Shobha Joshi)

Now they miss her and her children. She worries that her dad has to get oxygen so her mom can manage her COPD and calls every night. But they seem happy at home.

Also, she has a new project. Joshi was recently hired as the first multicultural caregiver coach at provincial nonprofit Caregivers Alberta, where she hopes to help other families face the same challenge.

New help for immigrant caregivers

“Anyone who needs our support, they are always welcome to connect,” she said. “I’m really passionate about it because I’m also a new immigrant to Canada. I had a lot of challenges in the initial phase, and I would love to help others who are new to this country.”

The provincially funded organization offers free one-on-one coaching and workshops on how to navigate Alberta’s home care system and other challenges. They help nearly one million adult children and spouses in Alberta caring for frail and aging loved ones.

Karen Cuthbertson, manager at Caregivers Alberta, said the multicultural coach position was created because some ethnic communities face barriers to finding resources and help. People may be uncomfortable talking about the challenges that arise with the family.

She says new immigrants may find Canadian culture to be individualistic.

“That sense of community that a lot of other cultures have – that extended family and that community that’s there to support each other – that’s something in our Western cultures that we don’t have as much. When someone comes in Canada, he loses that.”

“Shobha is great, with everyone reaching out, to understand as best they can that they’re an immigrant, that it’s a different culture they’re dealing with, and just connecting them with other resources Really, a lot of the work is just letting them know they’re not alone.”

Unlikely to learn English

At the Center for Newcomers, Vice President Kelly Ernst says the organization also tries to keep a close eye on this population, immigrants settling in Canada in their later years. He says immigrants are expected to learn English, but in reality many of these older adults never will.

In some cases, they have been brought to Canada to help with child care, but their role changes as the children get older. When hard times come, families may struggle to support themselves, which may require the older person to find paid work without being able to speak English.

“We see it too often,” he said. “The caregiver support programs in Alberta are terrible, and for the people we work with, they are (nearly) non-existent.”

The center has an outreach team and various programs focused on welfare, transportation and language for seniors.

give care

The CBC team in Alberta is focusing this month on family caregivers – husbands, wives, children and others who care for loved ones. Follow news and personal stories at cbc.ca/familycare.