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Dealing with Canadians: Volunteering the Right Way

How are Canadians like bears? After the holidays, they live off their fat and hibernate for the winter! There is an element of truth to the stereotype of this joke. Canadians tend to be less social than people from many other countries. Still, there are a few events that will get them out of their homes and out into society, even in winter. Community events.


The smaller the community you are living in, the more important community events are. And most of those community events depend on volunteers to make them happen.


The Down Side of Volunteering



Volunteering has gained a bad reputation among some newcomers to Canada, and there is good reason for that! Over the past twenty years, there have been many employment scams that have targeted well-educated newcomers to Canada by promising jobs but only after a trial as a volunteer working for free.


Working in a for-profit business for free is NOT volunteering. It’s exploitation, and, for the most part, it’s illegal. Yes, there are a few exceptions. Training programs might include a short unpaid co-op of no more than 8 weeks. With those exceptions, the college or university must ensure there are insurance and workplace protections in case you are injured while working.


The good side of volunteering


There is a link between gaining some volunteer experience and finding a job as a newcomer to Canada. It’s this link that scammers have been using to exploit newcomers. It’s important to know how to spot the good side of volunteering and make it work for you and your new community.


It is true that Canadian work experience is widely believed to be a better indication of how someone will do in a job here than international experience is. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain Canadian experience, learn how people interact here, and protect your self-esteem while job hunting. Everyone likes to have a purpose. And let’s remember the most important part: Volunteering benefits the community.


Hospitals, shelters for unhoused people, and meal programs for those in difficulty all depend on volunteer teams. These are also emotionally demanding kinds of volunteering. If you don’t have the emotional energy to volunteer with sick and vulnerable populations, don’t worry, the work will still be there if and when you are ready.


What do other kinds of volunteering look like? Well, first, let’s look at what it should not look like.


Say you are a computer programmer who has had a tough time finding a job because you don’t have Canadian experience. A scammer might put you to work as a “volunteer” in a company where you will be coding on a commercial project without pay of any kind. Stay away from these kinds of experiences.


A legitimate volunteer experience would still put your skills to use, but in a way that helps you build a social network and to benefit others. A good example is joining the local chapter of the Canadian Society of IT Professionals and volunteering as an aide at the Older Adults’ Centre free technology learning program through them. You would support the instructor and interact with the senior citizens enrolled in the course. You’d volunteer by supporting them as they learn to use their first cell phone or to install apps without needing to call their grandchildren for help! Joining the association will inform you about the volunteering opportunity and give you access to networking opportunities with other professionals in your field. It’s a win-win situation.


There are also ways of getting involved in your community that don’t require a long commitment and can introduce you to stereotypically Canadian experiences.


You knew hockey would come up


If you’re forty years old and have never worn a pair of ice skates, you are probably not going to become a Stanley cup winning hockey player (but you should try skating). However, your kids (both girls and boys) might like to enroll in a low-cost hockey introduction program like Bauer’s First Shift.



And weekend hockey tournaments always need game day volunteers.


Even in Canada, hockey is not the only sport that needs volunteers at the community level. Soccer leagues, cricket associations, and even community-run curling rinks survive thanks to volunteers’ efforts.


The arts and entertainment


That is also true for community-based choirs, theatre groups, and art galleries! You might not want to act or sing on stage, but painting sets, selling tickets, and helping patrons find their seats are all important to helping the show go on.


The main point is to stay true to your interests, and opportunities to volunteer will appear. With those opportunities comes the chance to meet new people, have new experiences, and learn about new subjects.


There’s one warning newcomers to Canada should heed. It’s that volunteering is such a positive experience you may never stop doing it!


Need a little more help? Contact your local newcomer’s services office to introduce yourself and find out how they can help you volunteer and access other opportunities.




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Kate Baggott

Head of Content and Communications at Edusity
Kate Baggott is the Head of Content and Communications for the Edusity family of companies that includes Edusity.com, TheBabbGroup.com, ProfessorServices.com and Cudoo.com

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