Peaceful Multiculturalism in Toronto

Multiculturalism in Toronto

What Living in Toronto Taught Me About Peaceful Multiculturalism

What Living in Toronto Taught Me About Peaceful Multiculturalism

As a linguistics student specializing in research on bi- and multilingualism, it comes as no surprise that I decided to do my research internship not just in Canada but in Toronto – according to the BBC the most multicultural city in the world. Home to 230 different nationalities and 140 different languages, there was no doubt in my mind: I HAD to visit this city. I had traveled and lived in different countries before (Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands) and I grew up bicultural and bilingual myself, but living in Toronto made me realize that nonetheless, I’d always lived in very monocultural middle-sized cities. Toronto was a totally new experience for me. I went to Toronto by myself and living in this colorful and diverse city has enriched and changed me more than I had expected.

The multicultural map at my work

I did my research internship in a lab focusing on the impact of bilingualism on cognition. What I loved about my lab was that our principal investigator was this energetic and ambitious woman who constantly empowered young female researchers of very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The best part of this? Everybody in the lab was proud of this diversity!  Right by the entrance, there was even a map and one of my first duties was to put three pins on the map: one for where I was born and one for where each of my parents was born. This map was full of pins in nearly every part of the world and right there for everyone to see to display that people from all over the world had been and are working here!

Testing bilingual university students had me meet many young and ambitious people with different stories and a great variety of language compositions. There were a handful of languages I had never even heard of before - Toronto was truly the perfect place for me. As a matter of fact, we also had this map of the Toronto Star hanging on a wall. It showed how the map of the city would look like a colorful quilt if the districts of the city were colored depending on the main second language spoken there.

 Map of Toronto and its second languages

Map of Toronto and its second languages

However, it wasn’t my impression that all the groups lived isolated and compartmentalized, side by side. I had the feeling that there was a peaceful and respectful living together. That all the people, no matter their background, shared values which they perceived as Canadian or at least Torontonian: respect, tolerance, and freedom. Obviously, Toronto is not a utopian or perfect place. But wherever I went and especially in my own workspace, all I witnessed was a peaceful multicultural living together.

 Lived Multiculturalism in Toronto

Lived Multiculturalism in Toronto

To visit and live in Toronto means to travel the entire world in a nutshell. The best thing to do on a weekend in Toronto is to discover all the different food places. To go to Little Italy or to the markets in Chinatown. I lived close to Kensington Market, an area full of small alternative shops and many different food places. I loved going on discovery trips there - from the Mexican Taquería to the Kebab place from Berlin to the Swedish Coffee place. If you love food, you will love Toronto for sure!

One of my favorite memories was when a group of the lab went to a Pakistani restaurant. Our colleague with Pakistani background initiated it as she wanted to introduce us to the Pakistani food culture. We ordered many different dishes from the menu and shared everything with each other. Man, was that spicy – but so delicious! We moved on to a Pakistani café in Little India and had a traditional dessert beverage. It was like being in Pakistan for one night!

In a Western world in which many seem to be so scared of losing their cultural identity, my four months in Toronto filled me with hope. Hope that a peaceful living together of different cultures, different languages and different religions is possible. I learned so much from the people that I met in Toronto; from those whose parents escaped Poland because they were afraid of dying by the Nazis up to those who fled from the ruins of Syria and who after two years of living in Toronto were fluent in English and studying to become a doctor. Living in Toronto reinforced me that when we encounter each other with open minds, we can learn from each other. I realized that underneath of our diversity, we go all through the same human experience and that what we all wish for is a free and peaceful life. Living in Toronto, I experienced that in a multicultural society you’re not at risk of losing anything, but instead it will make your life so much richer and more profound

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 Joanna is German-Italian and already lived in Germany, Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands and Canada. She made her passions travelling and languages the subject of her studies and is currently doing a Research Master in Language and Cognition at the University of Groningen, specializing in multi- and bilingualism.

Joanna is German-Italian and already lived in Germany, Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands and Canada. She made her passions travelling and languages the subject of her studies and is currently doing a Research Master in Language and Cognition at the University of Groningen, specializing in multi- and bilingualism.

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