Moving to a new town can be difficult. Moving to a different country with new cultural norms and traditions can leave newcomers looking for a slice of home, and a feeling of belonging.
For many newcomers to Chatham-Kent, that belonging, and the first step toward community integration comes through sport.
“Many of us are familiar with being in a situation where you don’t feel like you quite belong,” said Victoria Bodnar, project co-ordinator at the Chatham-Kent Local Immigration Partnership (CK LIP), an organization aiming to strengthen Chatham-Kent’s capacity to welcome newcomers.
“Becoming involved in sports is a great way to help newcomers start to make connections within the Chatham-Kent community in order to develop a greater sense of belonging,” continued Bodnar.
Luis Miguel Aguirre, who moved to Chatham-Kent from Ecuador when he married Chatham resident Laura Penner, agrees with Bodnar’s assertion on the importance of sport for newcomers.
Living in Chatham since 2007, Aguirre remembers his initial struggles. For him, getting involved locally with soccer, a sport he loved in Ecuador, made an immediate impact, easing his transition.
“Soccer was a big part of my life in Ecuador and I did miss playing it when I moved here,” said Aguirre, who works in Windsor at InCycle Automation in Control Design and Engineering. “It helps me relieve stress and relax, and helps me feel a little less homesick.”
“Continuing to participate in activities that a newcomer did before moving to Canada would surely make the transition easier since it’s one aspect of life that would be familiar to them,” said Bodnar, commending individuals such as Aguirre, who take the step to get involved in familiar sports.
“A lot of times, the best way to overcome culture shock from all the new experiences is just to take time doing activities that you are already comfortable with.”
Aguirre isn’t the only newcomer to Chatham-Kent using soccer as a way to meet people and develop a sense of community; he’s part of a group of both newcomers and locals, who now come together each summer to play soccer, and annually participate in the “Kick For A Cause” soccer tournament, which supports Chatham-Kent Victim Services.
“I play soccer with a team of other Spanish-speaking guys from various Latin countries,” explained Aguirre of his soccer involvement.
“By playing soccer in Chatham I have been introduced to many other people my age through new players joining our team and by playing other teams,” continued Aguirre, who has two children, Tiago, who is five months old, and Bela, who turns five years old this November.
According to Bodnar, her group at CK LIP has a vision of fostering a welcoming community, and helping to integrate newcomers and celebrate diversity in Chatham-Kent. She believes this vision can in part, be achieved by encouraging newcomers’ involvement in sport.
“Becoming involved in sports and physical activity helps all members of a community develop a greater sense of belonging, but for newcomers and new Canadians, it’s also an opportunity to learn subtle elements of Canadian culture such as humour, how to handle conflict, and local terminology.”
Bodnar encourages newcomers to play familiar sports, and to also try more traditionally “Canadian” activities. Although this concept may seem simple to natives of Chatham-Kent, according to Bodnar, there are numerous barriers that could deter a newcomer from getting involved.
“Canadian sports are relatively expensive to join, knowing how to access sport communities can be confusing, and the highly organized nature of our sports clubs makes it difficult to try out a new activity,” explained Bodnar.
With these barriers in mind, Bodnar said welcoming newcomers to Chatham-Kent, and into our sports organizations is something with which we can all help.
“This is an area we can all become more involved in to help reduce barriers,” said Bodnar. “Simply inviting new neighbours to join in community activities is a great way to make them feel more welcomed. Local organizations and community members alike can help by teaching newcomers the rules of the game, playing a trial game before committing to a team, inviting them to watch a game, or connecting them to the information they need.”
For Aguirre, participating each summer with his team has helped him feel at home in Chatham-Kent, and he hopes other newcomers will see the benefits of sport.
“Being on this team makes me really feel a part of the community,” said Aguirre.
“We hope our team can encourage other new immigrants to come out and play, and meet some new people who know what they are going through.”