Research Chat

Supporting the Success of New Immigrants to Canada. Ali Jasemi, Psychology

Episode Summary

In the 4th episode of Research Chat Season 2, Ali Jasemi, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University at the Language & Literacy lab is interviewed by Nelson Graham, a PhD candidate in the Global Governance program of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, hosted by Wilfrid Laurier University. Both researchers study the experiences of newcomers to Canada.

Episode Notes

The episode features:

Episode Transcription


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Shawna Reibling  00:04

Welcome to the second season of Research Chat. In this season graduate students share the details and challenges of their research work at Laurier. In this episode, Nelson Graham will interview Ali Jasemi.



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Shawna Reibling  00:25

Nelson Graham, pronouns he/him, is a doctoral candidate in the Global Governance Program of the Balsilie School of International Affairs. His current research investigates the increasing role that higher education institutions have on the Canadian immigration system. He is starting his active research phase with his supervisor Dr. Margaret Walton Roberts. 


Shawna Reibling  00:47

Ali Jasemi, pronouns he/him, is pursuing a PhD in developmental psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in the Language and Literacy Lab under the supervision of Dr. Alexandra Gottardo. Ali has pursued his master's degree in the same field researching second language acquisition and acculturation. He is also affiliated with the Center for Leading Research in Education (or CLRiE), and the Bilingualism Matters initiative. Since 2012, he has been involved in immigrant and refugee advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, COSTI Immigration Services, and the YMCA. speaking four languages, Ali has assisted many newcomer immigrants and refugees with various aspects of their resettlement process in Canada. 

Additionally, Ali is a rehabilitation therapist who provides mental health rehabilitation support to individuals with traumatic brain injuries. He is starting the active research phase of his PhD research with his supervisor, Dr. Alexandra Gottardo. Welcome to both of you. I'm glad you can both be here today to discuss your dissertation research.


Nelson Graham  02:00

Thank you so much for hosting us, Shawna and Ali, great to see you again, really excited to hear about your research. So to start off, I'm wondering if you could just give us a context for your research question.


Ali Jasemi  02:14

Hi, thank you Shawna and Nelson, good to be here with you. So this is actually a program of the research that I have been involved since my master's education that I had. Basically what I'm looking at and exploring is second language acquisition, immigration, and social adjustment for newcomers. And I have been working on different projects and one of them was, for example, looking at the differences between refugees, and newcomer immigrants in Canada. And one thing to distinguish here is that when you're talking about refugees, sometimes we may be automatically thinking of people who are coming in from war torn countries with some backpacks, etc., but a lot of times, it may not be the case -like the population that I was studying for my master's thesis was about Iranian refugees and immigrants. 

As we know, there are no active wars going on and a lot of individuals who are applying for asylum or coming in as refugees, they are political activists, members of LGBTQ or they are actually in a way intellectual parts of the society as well and who may have had higher SES socioeconomic status. When we are talking about refugees, we may or may not be talking about refugees from war torn countries, and sometimes refugees or immigrants from quieter countries for different reasons. And so given that information, in the past we have found that although certain refugees have experienced trauma in their background, significantly at higher rates compared to people who are born in Canada or economic immigrants, who basically are the ones who chose to leave their country and come to Canada for a better life in comparison to refugees who were forced to leave their country because of the substantial fear of persecution or death in their country. 

So given that information, we wanted to look at the trends of their adjustment in Canada as their new host country, and also learning English as their second language after arrival and see how they differ in this regard. What we found in the past was that, specifically in Iranian population that we looked at, is that despite the popular belief, refugees did not have less motivation to learn English or adjust to the new culture in the new country and they were similar to immigrants. And another interesting finding was that refugees did not really differ from individuals who were born in Canada, their counterparts as a university students specifically in Wilfrid Laurier, in terms of socio-economic status from where they're from. 

Currently I'm working with Dr. Alexandra Gottardo, as my supervisor, and Dr. Nancy Kocovski and Dr. Eileen Wood as my committee members. And we are looking at how mental health, social adjustment, and second language acquisition play and have interplays together for newcomer migrants who are coming from countries where the English is not their official language. So to clarify that, by interplaying, I mean that if I have a mental health issue, or I have depression, let's say, how does it impact my language learning, or social adjustment in a new country, or during the process, I'm in a new country, I'm learning a new language, I'm adjusting to the new country, how it impacts my mental health? So we are looking at these different factors and variable and see how they're connected to each other. Even though there are certain research studies in the past that has been done, there are very few studies that are done on this population and in Canada. So that's basically what we're doing now.


Nelson Graham  07:01

Very interesting, thank you. It's a fascinating project. So Ali, I'm wondering how you plan to explore the state of newcomer mental health and language acquisition?


Ali Jasemi 07:13

So, we are going to recruit over 200 participants actually, and they are going to be from different paths of life. And we are going to have several measures, standardized or sometimes qualitative measures being open ended surveys. So that we are going to look at their mental health and well being, their English language fluency, sometimes even language fluency in their first language, and also their motivation, using certain questionnaires, in terms of their motivation for social adjustment in Canada.


Nelson Graham  07:53

Very, very interesting. So what aspect of your research resonates with you on a personal level then, Ali?


Ali Jasemi  08:03

I bet that you haven't realized it, but I have an accent. 


Nelson Graham  08:08


Ali Jasemi  08:08

So I am an immigrant myself, and I came to Canada at a young age, but I wasn't born in here. Well, this research resonates with me on a personal level in that regard, so that I, myself as an immigrant had certain experiences throughout the process and navigating through and now completing my PhD, for example. And on the other hand, I have been involved for quite some time now, almost 10 years, with different agencies for immigration, or immigrant or refugee advocacy groups. Some of them are Canadian Council for Refugees, as we talked about, COSTI, YMCA, etc. So I have seen many immigrants with different issues and different challenges that they have faced after arriving to Canada, and some of them prospered and some of them did not much. And it all ended up to impact the way I see the world, and even shaping the research program that I have now and I'm working on.


Nelson Graham  09:20

Good for you. It's just so interesting. And I'm wondering, then, what are the next steps that you're going to take with your research now?


Ali Jasemi  09:29

So the next step for now is completing the data collection, participant recruitment, and given the challenges that we have now and after finding this is an exploratory, and all whatever results that we get from the findings or from the study that we have. It is going to help us understand the issues with this population better. So obviously, we are going to use our findings for publications and conferences and basically mobilize the information and the knowledge that we gained from this study and assist others in the process. 


Nelson Graham  10:11

Interesting. And then, I'm wondering, I know for myself COVID is really altered my research. I'm wondering Ali how the COVID pandemic has changed your dissertation project, if it has at all or if it hasn't? 


Ali Jasemi  10:26

Absolutely, it has definitely impacted us. So the fact that even this interview we're having, we are doing it through this tiny little window of our computers, and same thing has applied to my research process that I had. First of all, in terms of getting certain approvals from the ethic boards, in terms of data collection, and also more from the human aspect of it. I know that you're working with similar type of population, and it's very important to have that rapport, that human connection with our participants. And especially like vulnerable groups such as refugees, who may have certain fears, still even being in Canada, and they don't want to basically open up about their background information or their experiences, and also asking them about their mental health status. These all pose challenges for us in terms of doing it remotely and not having that human touch involved in terms of being face to face. 


Ali Jasemi  11:35

And then next thing that has impacted us, I believe, is the type of participants that we may get for our study. So confounding variables are basically the ones, for those people who may not know, are things that we do not plan for and they may impact our understanding of the data that we have. So the sample that we are going to have are the ones who are able to use these online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams, as they're computer literate. And that may be a confounding variable for us and we may not get participants who are not able to use these internet based services.


Nelson Graham  12:27

Yeah, I completely know where you're coming from. So it sounds like you've got a concern around kind of the isolation or the psychological stressors that could arise from your online interviewing with your participants. Whereas if you were in person, perhaps you could be there more for them, correct?


Ali Jasemi  12:46

Absolutely, yes. And also, for example, if I am seeing a participant in person and if I see they are in some distress, I may stop it at that point and also provide more resources to them. But although we are providing certain resources at the end of this study, and at the end of the data collection process that we have, and as I mentioned some of the committee members, especially Dr. Nancy Kocovski, is a clinical psychologist and we are going to bring it to her attention if we see certain distress from the participants. But as you mentioned, very accurately, it is hard to capture it online. 


Ali Jasemi  13:32

And also, the other thing is sometimes we may provide these questionnaires - well, not necessarily in this study but some other studies that they had done in the past, when we are doing it online, we may provide them with surveys that they can complete at their own time. Because there is no human factor involved and researcher or the person who is collecting data is not present, the participants may not complete the survey as they were going to do it if somebody was present. And also the quality of responses may not be the same in comparison to in person data collection. So these are all the challenges that we are dealing with now.


Nelson Graham  14:17

Well, I think that it's great that you're taking these precautionary measures and considering what kind of possible issues could arise. So now that we've discussed the concerns about it, I'm wondering, what would the benefits be that you'd like to see from your research from, say a policy maker standpoint?


Ali Jasemi  14:34

Well, absolutely. There would be many benefits hopefully, for not only policymakers, but also different sectors in our society, for example, academic institutions, language courses, or community support services. These could all benefit from the findings in a way that we would get better understanding that what is helpful for the population that we are working with, as I mentioned, we are going to have refugees and also immigrants and we are going to have people with different or varying levels of mental health and well being. So we can see all these factors and if anyone needs further support, we are going to have this scientific evidence showing that this is helpful for them and this is not. And on the other hand, we have different types of support systems in place. 


Ali Jasemi  15:36

For example, we have language classes, government funded, such as ESL classes in the community, we have privately funded by the individual themselves at ESL courses at universities or colleges. And we have linked classes, which are a combination of language and culture, again, funded by the government. And we have some participants or newcomers who may not participate in any of these classes, and they just want to learn English through work or through their interactions outside of the academia or classes. So we are going to ask them, what are they finding useful? And which of these streams that they have gone to, or which of these classes has been more helpful for them? So it is going to inform policymakers or these institutions as, in a way that it's kind of like an evaluation to see if it is working or not? And what to people who are actually using these services think of the methods that they're using?


Nelson Graham  16:50

Yes, I think these real lived experiences are such an important and informative way to understand what is working and what isn't when maybe if you're kind of on a more of a government level, it kind of looks a lot more like a data point. Whereas if you're speaking to an individual, you hear their stories and their struggles and their successes. 


Nelson Graham  17:08

So, I'm wondering, do you have a specific population that you're hoping benefits from this research? Maybe that's your participants individually? Or who are you targeting? I guess, with this research and the benefits that could come of it?


Ali Jasemi  17:22

Absolutely. Well, something to add, maybe also, it would be related to the context, as well. Over 80% of the population growth is due to immigration and immigrants who come to Canada. This is based on the data that is provided by the government of Canada, and in 2020, based on the report, there has been over 340,000 newcomers who came with permanent resident status to Canada. So obviously, finding out what is helpful for newcomers: First, it is going to help them to navigate their way and put them on the path for success. But also, in the long run, it is going to help Canada as a nation, because we are depending on immigration for the future. And to have a more prosperous country and a nation, this is going to be helpful in a broader sense for everyone.


Nelson Graham  18:32

Yeah, I think you're completely correct about that, because Canada relies on immigration for so many different reasons, but demographic and economic concerns are one of them. And I mean, if you're servicing these individuals needs you have a more likelihood of retaining them, and also having their lived experiences benefit them more than if they don't have access to what sort of services they need. So I think this is really important work that you've identified, and I think it's great that you're doing it. 


Nelson Graham  19:00

So the final question I have for you here, Ali is how does your rehabilitation therapist work that you currently practice inform your research?


Ali Jasemi  19:12

They are related to each other in terms of certain aspects, but also at the same time not directly related to each other. But one thing that I can say is that as a rehab therapist, I assist individuals who had traumatic brain injuries and I help them reintegrate to the society whereas in my research studies that I do, I am interested in social integration for newcomers. So the similarity is that in both cases, I am working with individuals who want to improve the quality of their lives and get into society and for a newcomer, its integration and for people with traumatic brain injuries it's social reintegration.


Nelson Graham  20:05

Well, Ali, I just want to thank you for sharing this research. I think it's inspiring and fascinating and it's been a pleasure to hear about it. So thank you so much.


Ali Jasemi  20:14

Thank you. It was really good talking to and I'm looking forward to hearing from your research when interviewing you. Thanks, Nelson.



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Shawna Reibling  20:30

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