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

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Moving to a new country has its share of challenges. For some, it could be getting used to the weather, food, or surroundings. For others, it could be learning the language, figuring out the culture or the new environment. To be sure, newcomers can experience different things depending on where they came from and the circumstances that led them to move to Canada. However, these four periods of adaptation are common to most regardless of past experience. Being aware of what you are going through (or about to go through) goes a long way in helping you prepare, understand and cope with these 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 stage”. This is marked by high hopes, fascination and discovery. Much like a tourist, you will tend to examine everything with rose coloured glasses. Everything seems to be great; even things that can be inconvenient (for example, the weather) are charming to you.

You will feel:

  • happy and fortunate to be in Canada. You feel like you have bagged a major achievement for having hurdled the immigration process successfully.
  • that it is an exciting time because everything is new and fresh. You will tend to compare your home country with Canada and focus on the similarities.
  • positive and optimistic about your future.
  • highly motivated to start building your life and taking the first steps to settle.

This is the best time to:

  1. Immerse yourself in the culture and learn more about your new environment.
  2. Build healthy support networks. Connect with settlement service providers, your neighbours and community, and other newcomers.
  3. Avail of free services and trainings for settlement and career-building. Some newcomers do not trust these services, especially if these were not available in their home countries. What they should know is that the government funds agencies to provide newcomer services (that’s why they are free). The services programs are designed specifically to help ease their transition.
  4. Talk to people and know their stories. This is the best way to become more open and understanding of others. It’s also a great way to know about life in Manitoba, learn about services, jobs and other resources.
  5. Manage your expectations. It’s good to dream big but recognize the possibility that things may not go exactly as you planned. Success takes time and effort – this is true anywhere you are in the world. Set realistic goals and work slowly towards achieving them. Be open to other options when there are roadblocks in your way.

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 most difficult stage in the settlement journey. The excitement wears off in this stage. You begin to see that everything is not perfect. You may experience difficulties in getting around, learning the language, or getting a job. You also see negative aspects of the culture.

You will feel:

  • disappointed, anxious and frustrated. Fatigue or boredom sets in.
  • irritable, some may even become angry and violent. It feels like everything is going against you. You start to see small inconveniences as big problems. You will also tend to generalize. For example, if the bus didn’t arrive on time today, you complain that the transit system has always been inefficient and that going around the city is terribly hard.
  • that you have made a bad decision. You begin to think that moving was not such a good idea after all.
  • tense and stressed out. This can manifest as an illness. You may get headaches, colds and flu often or allergies develop. This is because our immune system is affected when we are stressed or depressed.
  • isolated and helpless. This can lead to bouts of homesickness and longing for home.

Coping strategies:

  1. Remember that this is just a phase – you will get over it. It is a normal part of this experience.
  2. This is the best time to join support groups. These provide an outlet where you can vent, ask for help and listen to others. Group members can provide solace and advice. More often than not, immigrants also lead these groups so they know what you are going through since they experienced it themselves.
  3. The sooner newcomers access support and newcomer resources, the faster they get over this period.
  4. Try not to be too critical. Be open-minded and patient. Do not make rash decisions at this point.
  5. Manage stress. Get a massage, join a gym, pray or go to church, meditate or take up a hobby.
  6. Find a mentor.
  7. Don’t forget that simple things like eating right, taking a walk, or talking to your spouse or friend can bring relief.
  8. If it’s getting too overwhelming for you, consult your doctor. Your physician can recommend more strategies to help you feel better. The doctor can also refer you to appropriate counseling services.

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.”

You will feel familiar with your environment and your community. There will still be periods of homesickness and sadness but things do not look as bleak as before. You start to be more objective – the situation is not bad; it’s just different. You begin to establish routines and pick-up habits that help you cope.

What you will feel:

  • more realistic view about your plans for the future. Coping with change is hard but you know where to get help.
  • more confident about using the language. You understand Canadian culture more and can navigate difficult situations on your own.
  • that you have gained a little bit more perspective. You start to regain your optimism and see that things are getting better.

This is the best time to:

  1. Continue 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. Volunteer to help others. Listen to newcomers and their stories and share your experiences.
  4. Stay social. Continue building your social and professional network.
  5. Continue practising 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 clicks. You realize that you can now go around the city without using a map or GPS, and you know where to find the best sausages in town. You now give winter survival tips to a colleague. Just like other Canadians, you complain about potholes, construction and people who don’t maintain their yards. Winter is harsh 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. Continue 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 periods don’t always happen one after the other. There is also no set amount of time for each one to end. Some may overlap; you may experience certain periods again after feeling adjusted for some time. But whichever 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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