New NorQuest program trains students to help newcomers

Romanian-born and Canadian-raised NorQuest College program developer Alexandru Caldararu might be one of this city’s most worldly residents, despite barely being outside of Canada since birth. 

“I tell people that I have been hit hard by the travel bug. And I haven’t even been able to scratch that itch yet. But working at NorQuest is the next best thing because the whole world comes through our doors.”

It’s true. Student diversity at NorQuest features 62 per cent of the population born outside of Canada. Overall, 77 languages are spoken on campus, representing 131 countries of origin. 

Caldararu is a former settlement worker with Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, and after a few years teaching at NorQuest, he is the proud parent of the Settlement Studies diploma program, a first-of-its-kind in Western Canada that will hold its inaugural classes this September.

Caldararu worked closely with colleague Angelica Quesada to meet with community members, immigrant services agencies, and internal stakeholders to develop the program.

“Although [the program] combines elements of social work, immigration consultation, and community development, the outcome is something greater than the sum of its parts.”

Caldararu says existing practitioners already serve newcomers. However, after years of being in the field of immigration services and education, areas of specialization were lacking. 

“If you look at some of the literature between 2000 and 2017, particularly when the Syrian refugee wave hit, there were a lot of gaps identified by researchers who analyzed the settlement sector, researchers who indicated that more work needed to be done to equip settlement workers with the skills needed to engage in trauma-centred care, intercultural conflict management, or other strength-based practices.”

When people transition into settlement work, they don’t necessarily have specific training; they learn as they go. Mistakes made during that process could have been prevented with training.

Newcomer or immigration agencies are often the first contact many newcomers have with the broader public. Presenting clients with an air of confidence and compassion for what they have gone through, and what lies ahead, is important to helping them develop their own trust and confidence. 

“A settlement worker can work in an intercultural space and meet people at any given point in their lives,” says Caldararu. “Simply put: they work with people on their journey to integrate into Canadian society.”

That journey is a personal one for Caldararu. His parents arrived in Edmonton from Romania in the 1980s when he was very young. 

“I distinctly remember growing up and feeling disconnected from my ancestral homeland, and the culture of where I now lived. My parents did speak English but it wasn’t the primary language in the house. They were trying to pass on their traditions but at the same time I had a real collision with what my friends were experiencing, which was much different.”

Caldararu’s parents worked hard and didn’t have the opportunity to connect with resources that could have helped ease their transition to Canadian society.

“I can’t imagine that what they got when they arrived in Canada is necessarily what they envisioned when they left Romania. They really struggled at times with the language, with the culture, and the fact they had to work three or four jobs to make ends meet,” he says, explaining he’s never forgotten their sacrifice. “My way to honour that is to use whatever capacities I have to try and make it so people don’t have to sacrifice like that when they come to Canada.”

Caldararu says these services for newcomers in no way take away from Canadians as a whole. Creating healthy, happy, and confident newcomers helps everyone.

“Immigrants are the backbone of the Canadian labour market and economy. If we want to continue attracting the best and brightest the world has to offer to our shores, then we have to recognize that it is not solely up to newcomers to ‘fit in’.”

He adds: “We have a responsibility to adjust the way we relate to one another to create communities that are welcoming and inclusive for others who may be very different from us. If we are able to do that, then I believe we are setting ourselves up for a more prosperous and equitable future.”   

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Featured Image: Alexandru Caldararu (pictured) developed NorQuest’s Settlement Studies diploma program. | Supplied