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Thinking differently about equity and inclusion for newcomers

March 15, 2023

A portrait of Jon Woodend, he is pictured outside the MacLaurin Building.

Jon Woodend’s life has been shaped by multiple international moves and career transitions. He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to British parents, and spent his childhood moving between Canada and the UK. He currently works at UVic as a researcher and Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies. Jon’s main area of focus is what he calls ‘international career transitions’, working with people whose move to a new country has influenced or impacted their career.

As a kid, I was constantly aware of how my family existed between two countries. A lot of the time, how we were doing seemed to be tied to my dad's job. For example, when the economy was bad, and he was laid off, we felt our lack of family roots in Canada.
When Jon moved to Japan for work as a young adult, his experience was startlingly different – in a good way. His employer at the time was very supportive, and his international transition felt smooth and overall successful. Jon became curious about how different skilled immigrants navigate international career transitions. We spoke with Jon to learn more about his work.

What are some barriers that newcomers experience in the Canadian work context?
It’s important to set a caveat around the term newcomers. When we talk about a highly diverse group of people in a homogenous way, we risk explaining their experiences in a way that doesn’t account for the diversity of experiences they are actually having.

There is also a perception that those with English as a second language are seen as having different capabilities. That perception becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll find a lot of immigrants in Canada talk about how they’ve limited the types of careers they’ll go into, because they've picked up that others are picking up on their English language ability. They start to believe that they don't have the skills to be successful in those areas.

I know that as a society, we tend to focus our attention on newcomers’ initial transitions and less on how we can support them after trauma to create long-term success. Particularly, we tend not to think about their long-term career development.

Someone coming from Syria, for example, might be highly educated and want to pursue the same career they had in Syria. But maybe they weren’t able to bring their degree with them. Or, maybe the institution that could verify their degree no longer exists. This person now can’t prove their education, so oftentimes they’ll end up in precarious, survival-driven jobs. This perpetuates the narrative that somehow refugees are a burden on social systems.

How do you see your research making an impact in the community?

I am exploring best practices to try and establish a better, more effective feedback loop to integrate academic findings back into the community. For example, students’ thesis projects are usually highly relevant in addressing key issues in society, and they’re usually completed on a short timeline. However, many students don’t publish. Their hard work that could be serving the community is not getting out there. As well, once clinicians finish their training and get out into the field, they usually just try to do whatever works because funding is so limited and the need is so great.

We don't actually have set guidelines for career development practitioners to best to support refugees. I’m currently finishing a project that looks at graduate students who are studying to become clinicians and whose programs include a research component. My question is: How do we support their ability to publish and get their research out to other scholars, researchers and practitioners?

How can the community take positive action to support newcomers?

If universities like UVic, for example, want to make it a priority to recruit international students, we need to work with international students to think about how the campus not just accommodates, but shifts to be inclusive of international students. Otherwise, what we're doing is we're retrofitting services to try and fit people versus thinking about how services include people on a ground level. That positions international students to assimilate rather than be part of the campus community. When it comes to fostering long-term success for newcomers, I think there's an important role that we can all play.

I'd like us all to consider how the UVic campus community can support international students in the principles of equity and inclusion. This includes university services through to policies. There is often an assumption that international students are personally well-resourced, and they're often positioned with an emphasis on their role as a revenue stream to support the university. But this is a highly diverse group with highly diverse needs.