By Kasi Sewraj
“I thought I was the only one.”
During one of my graduate courses on career development, our professor asked us to share our personal career journeys that led us to our counselling psychology program. I was very honest about how my family influenced my pathway to medical school, and I only recently re-evaluated my career path. I was shocked when at least 10 of my other colleagues said that they completely related to my experience and had a similar journey.
For many first-generation Canadians, our parents’ native customs and culture become fused with Canadian customs and culture. Acculturation is the process by which immigrants adapt to their new surroundings and incorporate the new culture into their existing cultural frame (Berry, 1997). Research has shown that young people acculturate faster than their parents, and their parents may be less supportive of this process in their children (Berry, 1997; Telzer et al., 2016). This can lead to acculturative stress, where there are gaps between cultures, personal and familial ideals. These experiences leave a lot to consider when it comes to developing one’s career identity (Berry, 1997; Gomez et al., 2011).
Factors affecting career identity
In a longitudinal study examining factors affecting career identity in the children of Asian-American immigrants, various familial and individual aspects of career identity were identified, such as: familial cultural values, parental pressure, family obligation, cultural capital, individual identity style, locus of control and one’s personal motivation (Polenova et al., 2017). The study found that Asian-American culture dictated that students had strict obligations to their parents, and parents often preferred high-status careers that provided high incomes, such as medicine (Polenova et al., 2017).
Children of Asian immigrants also stated that there was a complex interplay of factors that affected their parents’ roles in their career choices. While parents often weren’t forcing their children to go into one career stream, their children noted that their parents made influential childhood comments about joining these careers (Polenova et al., 2017). My parents did the same. In my personal experience, although it may be an outright wish of your parent, it’s delivered in more of a subtle implication that this career choice will make you and your parent the happiest.
Getting the parental perspective
While the above research was specific to Asian Americans, I was shocked when myself and many of my colleagues of all races and creeds had almost the same story. One thing is common in the literature – the perspective of the children of immigrants. My question is: Why does this seem to be a common factor among many immigrant parents? When I asked my own father about this, he said:
“I pushed you and your sister so hard because your mother and I had to struggle when we were younger. We didn’t know what we were going to do in terms of our careers. All we ever wanted was for you both to succeed and live comfortable lives. Being a doctor was the most prominent reflection of that.”
My father’s response indicated something to me – as immigrants, there is a lot to learn about your new culture and surroundings. My sister is currently enrolled in an engineering program, which an excellent field to be in. However, my parents had no idea about engineering and what that would entail and, at first, discouraged my sister from that path. But after they did some research, thankfully they changed their minds. Maybe there is something to the idea that certain careers that seem to be more discussed in public discourse are more accessible to newcomers.
Kasi Sewraj is currently a Master’s Counselling Psychology student at the University of Ottawa. Kasi has her BSc and BA from the University of Toronto, and currently works for Christian Horizons, providing community supports for those with disabilities. Kasi’s research explores the usage of online mindfulness programs in post-secondary education.
Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. International Journal of Applied Psychology, 46, 5–34.
Gomez, J., Miranda, R., Polanco, L. (2011). Acculturative stress, perceived discrimination, and vulnerability to suicide attempts among emerging adults. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1465–1476.
Polenova, E., Vedral, A., Brisson, L. & Zimm, L. (2017). Emerging Between Two Worlds : A Longitudinal Study of Career Identity of Students from Asian American Immigrant Families. Emerging Adulthood, 6(1), 53-65. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167696817696430
Telzer, E. H., Yuen, C., Gonzales, N., Fuligni, A. J. (2016). Filling gaps in the acculturation gap- distress model: Heritage cultural maintenance and adjustment in Mexican–American families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 7, 1412. doi:10.1007/s10964-015-0408-8