How to deal with the stages of adaptation and come out on top

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Moving to a new country is hard.

Most people go through these four stages of adapting, with varied lengths and intensities. Knowing what you’re going through can help you get ready and deal with the challenges.

The Stages of Adaptation

Stage 1 – Euphoria Period

“Canada is such a beautiful country! The air is clean, nature is alive and everyone is so friendly.”

Your first few months in Canada is called the honeymoon period. You’re excited and curious. You see everything in a positive way, even if it’s not always easy.

You will feel:

  • happy and lucky to be in Canada. It’s a big achievement to move here.
  • excited because everything is new. You compare Canada to your home country and focus on the good things.
  • positive and hopeful about your future.
  • motivated to start your new life and take the first steps to settle.

This is the best time to:

  1. Learn about the culture and your new surroundings.
  2. Make friends and connect with people who can help you. Connect with settlement service providers, your neighbours and community, and other newcomers.
  3. Use free services and training to help you settle and find a job. The government pays for these services, so they’re free. They’re offered to help newcomers like you.
  4. Talk to people and learn about their lives. It helps to be open and understanding of others. Learn about life in Manitoba, find out about jobs and services, and get access to resources.
  5. Be realistic about your expectations. It’s good to have big dreams, but things may not go exactly as planned. Success takes time and effort, no matter where you are. Set achievable goals and work towards them. Be open to options in case your original goal doesn’t work out.

Stage 2 – Disenchantment Period (crisis or culture shock phase)

“It’s too cold here. It’s so hard to go from place to place. I wish I was back in my home country. At least my friends and family support and understand me there.”

This is the hardest stage in your settlement journey. The excitement goes away. You start to see that everything is not perfect. You might have problems with transportation, learning the language, or finding a job. You also see bad things about the culture.

What you will feel:

  • You may feel disappointed, anxious, and frustrated. You might also feel tired or bored.
  • You may become irritable and even angry. It feels like everything is going wrong. Small problems seem big. You might also start to think that everything is always bad. For example, if the bus is late today, you might complain that the transit system is always bad and it’s hard to get around the city.
  • You might think that you made a bad decision. You start to think that moving was not a good idea.
  • You might feel tense and stressed. This can make you sick. You might get headaches, colds, or allergies. This happens because stress and sadness affect our immune system.
  • You might feel alone and helpless. You might miss home a lot.

Ways to cope

  1. Remember that this is normal and it will get better.
  2. Join support groups. You can talk to others who understand and can help you. Immigrants often lead these groups because they have been through the same things.
  3. Get help and resources for newcomers as soon as possible. This will help you feel better faster.
  4. Try not to be too critical. Be open-minded and patient. Don’t make quick decisions right now.
  5. Manage stress. Get a massage, exercise, pray, meditate, or find a hobby.
  6. Find a mentor.
  7. Remember that simple things like eating well, going for a walk, or talking to someone can help you feel better.
  8. If it’s too much for you, talk to your doctor. They can give you more ways to feel better and recommend counseling.

Read Loneliness, culture shock and disappointment. 5 ways to get over settlement stress for more tips.

Stage 3 – Gradual Adjustment

“Winter is manageable if you check the temperature and dress properly. I learned that wearing the right jacket and shoes made all the difference.”

The place you live and the people around you start to feel familiar. You might still miss home and feel sad sometimes, but things don’t seem as bad as before. You start to see things more objectively – the situation is not bad, just different. You start to have routines and habits that help you cope.

What you will feel:

  • You will have a more realistic view of your plans for the future. It’s hard to deal with change, but you know where to get help.
  • You will feel more confident using the language. You understand Canadian culture better and can handle difficult situations on your own.
  • You will feel like you have a better perspective. You start to feel more optimistic and see that things are improving.

This is the best time to:

  1. Keep learning and improving yourself. Don’t stop learning English and gaining skills to stay competitive.
  2. Be open to new adventures and explore the country. The more you learn about Canada, the more you’ll love it.
  3. Help others by volunteering. Listen to newcomers and their stories and share your experiences.
  4. Stay social. Keep building your social and professional network.
  5. Keep practicing effective coping strategies (e.g. positive thinking, meditation, yoga, etc.) to build your resilience.

Stage 4 – Acceptance

“The kids are adjusting very well in school. My wife and I are happy with our work and we are volunteering in our community. I’m proud to say that Canada is my home.”

Suddenly, everything makes sense. You realize that you can now go around the city without using a map or GPS, and you know where to find things you need. You now give winter survival tips to a colleague. Just like other Canadians, you complain about potholes, construction, and people who don’t take care of their yards. Winter is tough but it’s just a matter of wearing the right clothes.

This is the point in your adaptation where you see that everything is not perfect but it’s okay. Poutine and perogies are not exotic anymore, they’re just really delicious food. Life is good.

You will feel:

  • a sense of belonging. You have made some new friends and feel that you are a part of the community.
  • that your perspective and priorities have changed. You may also notice that some of your values have been tested and changed for the better.
  • homesick every now and then but you know how to handle it.
  • that your decision to stay was wise. You don’t have doubts anymore about where to settle.
  • more hopeful and positive about your future.

This is the best time to:

  1. Be a mentor to someone else, especially to other newcomers. Help others succeed as you have.
  2. Appreciate what you have and be grateful.
  3. Keep strengthening your ties to the community and serving others.
  4. Start a journal to reflect on your experiences. It’s a great way to see how far you’ve come and review all the lessons you have learned.
  5. Plan on going back to school, getting promoted or moving to a better job.

It’s important to note that these stages don’t always happen in this order. There is also no set amount of time for each phase. Some may overlap; you may experience homesickness again after being adjusted for some time.

But whatever stage you are in, know that you can overcome the difficulties and help is available. There are important lessons to be learned at each step, so embrace the experience. You’ll become a better person for it!

Sources: Mental Health and Wellness series, ISANS; The 4 stages of cultural shock, Global Perspectives; and Culture shock stages: Everything you need to know and how to deal, Rebecca Murphy, Go Abroad. Accessed June 21, 2019.

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