Added Pressure: Students of immigrant parents feel the pressure

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By Raizel Harjosubroto

It comes in conversations about your career. What are you going to do after graduation? Where are you going to do your internship? My middle-class immigrant parents don’t express this in front of me, but I’ve always felt pressure to do well in school. They came all the way to North America for a “better life,” so how could I let them regret their decision?

The pressure doesn’t necessarily come from my parents. It comes from me. It’s common for immigrant parents to dive right into work when they arrive in their new home countries. In some cases, that could mean shelving their legitimate credentials of a doctor or lawyer for who knows what. They find jobs that fulfill their financial needs and in turn, believe they are creating a better life for their children.

Being right in the middle of Toronto, Ryerson has a population of about 43,000 students, according to Ryerson Admissions. Of those 43,000, the school’s website mentions that around 146 countries are represented within the student population. As of 2016, Statistics Canada found that around 7.5 million folks came to Canada through an immigration process. That’s almost one in every five persons.

If a fraction of those 7.5 million people came here for a “better life,” how many children actually fulfill their parents’ dreams?

For anyone who has parents who moved to Canada for the sake of their children, they’ll know this feeling; a hovering pressure that follows us in every decision we make, an obligation that exists whether our parents express it or not. Fortunately for me, my parents have been supportive of my decision to pursue a degree in journalism, a career path that isn’t so common or even looked up to in Indonesia.

Though not all immigrant parents are like mine, many other students at Ryerson—and I’m sure in Canada—feel the same pressure.

“I still remember the look on my dad’s face when I refused to pursue a medical career, rejected my University of Toronto offer and chose to come to Ryerson instead. I can’t describe it in words,” Amir Abdi said.

This first-year engineering student puts a hardship on himself the way I do. Abdi’s father was a very well-respected engineer and successful businessman in Iran, while his mom was a surgeon. His family decided to move to Canada from Iran when they realized that there seemed to always have something to stress about, whether it be the falling of the currency rates or a potential terrorist attack.

“There is a pressure for me to do well, not just in school, but in life in general,” Abdi said. “But unlike common stereotypes…the pressure isn’t coming from my parents. It’s more like I’m forcing my best to make them proud.”

Although the pressures of doing well in school go unsaid by our immigrant parents, and in most cases they are supportive no matter what, the feeling creeps up on us, anyway. Abdi feels it and so do I.

The stress begins when we start applying too many expectations on ourselves to do well. “We can become paralyzed,” Sydney Tran of Student Learning Support. said. “Essentially, our bodies and minds become a rubber band pulled quite tightly; we’re afraid to move because we know we’ll snap.”

“When appropriately balanced, this pressure might double as ‘motivation,’ in which case we see positive consequences,” said the learning and transition facilitator. “(The) drive to do well is what helps to keep students interested and even acts as a source of personal encouragement when things get tough.”

This is seen in how a third-year media production student wants to make her parents proud. Phelisha Cassup puts the pressure on herself to do well in school. But not because she has her parents to compare herself to—in fact, neither of her parents got a post-secondary education.

“It’s kind of hard to go through university when there’s not really anybody in your family that can relate to you,” Cassup said.

Cassup’s mother, who is the daughter of immigrant parents, prioritized her children at the age of 20 instead of pursuing a post-secondary education. Cassup wants to make her mother proud, especially because she put Cassup and her sister before herself.

“It means a lot to me that my mom chose to be a mom instead of another option,” Cassup said. “[She] didn’t go to post-secondary even though she would have excelled at it.”

Cassup’s father, on the other hand, does not invest himself in his daughter’s academic life. Instead, she wants to make him proud through her athletics. As he received a track scholarship in Jamaica before moving to Canada, he became one of the main reasons she joined the track team at Ryerson this year.

Tran said unfortunately, there’s no way of getting rid of external pressures. “However, we can reconsider our strategies for coping in an academic setting. Take control of those things that will influence your success: your time, efficiency in studying and personal care.”

Our parents don’t say it, but it’s there. Knowing that they sacrificed their old lives so that you can have good ones lingers over when deciding a degree or career path to follow. And even though they came to this new country because of you, you end up wanting to make a better life with them.

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