Newcomer Experiences

Just as early newcomers to the region experienced hardship as they worked to establish new communities and homes, so too newcomers to the region today continue to find some aspects of re-settling in a new community difficult. Just as there was a tension between those previously settled, and those trying to join already established communities, at times newcomers today experience tension as they work to join the communities in the Pembina Valley.

Many newcomers are welcomed by their neighbours and co-workers, while others struggle to find a place to feel safe and comfortable.

PVLIP conducted two surveys that captured the experiences and impressions of newcomers to the Pembina Valley:

Discrimination Survey  
Immigrant Survey

It was no surprise that some of the barriers to settlement included affordable housing, access to transportation in communities where there is no public transportation system, access to health care, and finding employment. While these remain concerns for everyone living in the Pembina Valley, the survey also found several concerns or barriers to successful life that are specific to newcomers, including the three below:

1. Culture shock

Causes of Culture Shock – Surface VS Deep Culture

While not directly addressed in either survey, many responses lead to an understanding of what we would observe to be culture shock. Culture shock was a strong influencing factor on both newcomer and employer perspectives in the surveys. When we do not understand the impact of being in a new community, we also do not recognize how that influences personal experience, which may lead to discrimination or harassment, potentially increasing the effects of culture shock. The impacts of culture shock can be difficult to identify because they are often related to those parts of culture that we cannot see.

2. Discrimination

Discrimination can range from the covert and subtle to the overt and violent.

While a large percentage of people in the Immigrant Survey (67.3%) agree that their workplace embraces diversity and that they feel safe at work, 44.8% of the survey participants indicated that they have experienced discrimination in their community.

I never experienced discrimination until I moved to this area. I grew up in a community that had 7 churches of different denomination. I was never asked what church I attended until I moved here. I and my children have felt discriminated against because we are not Mennonite. I feel for people who worship religion other than Christian as I have a small idea of what it must be like. I welcome the diversity I have seen in the Pembina Valley in recent years. We have a long way to go.


3. Microaggressions

Many newcomers share their experience with microagressions –  verbal and nonverbal cues that express that they are not welcome in their new communities or workplaces. These experiences, whether intentional or unintentional, cause harm and hurt to anyone, including newcomers.


These are deliberate and intentional slights or insults that are meant to hurt you through name-calling, avoidant behaviour, and purposeful discriminatory actions. Intentional microassaults could include abusive language, clutching or moving a purse or bag when you’re around certain people, or posting offensive signs or pictures intentionally.

Example: Telling a joke that mocks or degrades a racial or ethnic group, someone with a disability, or gender identity, then commenting “I was only joking.”


These are when someone attempts to discredit or minimize your experiences, usually when you are from an underrepresented group.

Example: A newcomer is sharing a time when they felt disrespected, and you interrupt to say they weren’t discriminated against or start talking about your own experiences to contradict what was shared.


These are rude and insensitive comments that subtly disrespect your identity (heritage, gender, etc.)

Example: Assuming someone doesn’t understand a new process at work because their first language isn’t English.

Nonverbal microaggressions

These microaggressions are conveyed not through words, but through actions and body language.


  • Following someone around a store because you think they’re going to steal something.
  • Eye rolling when someone mentions feeling invalidated.
  • Turning away from or avoiding someone altogether.
  • Scheduling meetings or events that conflict with religious observances or obligations.
  • Ordering food for events and not considering the dietary restrictions of others.
  • Only allowing certain people to work on high-visibility projects.

You speak good English.


Where were you born?


While not overt expressions of racism, microaggressions are more than just insults, insensitive comments, or generalized poor behaviour. They are painful because they have to do with a person’s membership in a group that is discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. A key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually and frequently in everyday life, often without any harm intended. They feel ambiguous; the recipient is likely to feel vaguely insulted, but since the words often look and sound complimentary on the surface (they may seem positive), they cannot rightly feel insulted and don’t know how to respond. As the nature of microaggressions is subtle and indirect, many of us fail to recognize them when they happen.

Download the full Guide & Toolkit to learn more:

  • Get more examples of microaggressions
  • Learn what microaggressions feel like to people
  • Find out how social barriers influence discrimination
  • Learn about the history of immigration to the Pembina Valley (being a newcomer is not new to the region!)
  • Discover the myths and truths about immigration