Learn about what to expect, what’s normal, and how to manage when you start a new life in a new country.
When you move to a new country, and especially if you are immigrating to that country – starting a new life and making a break from your own home country – then change is a reality and it happens quickly. Even if you are well prepared, you will experience some culture shock. At the same time, if you expect and prepare for culture shock it will be easier to recognize and handle.
People with culture shock feel anxious when they lose familiar signs and symbols, for example… when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, when and how to give tips, how to make purchases, when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and when not. In our own cultures, we grow up with these signs and don’t think about them. In a new culture, the social signals are different so often we can be unsure how to respond to a particular situation.
Culture shock has six main elements:
Symptoms of culture shock can vary from simple anger to serious depression or even thoughts of suicide. A change in diet and weather, stress, or general anxiety can also result in physical symptoms like hair loss, sleep problems, weight gain/loss, headaches, and other illnesses. Anger and depression are common emotional responses when a person is having difficulties adjusting.
There are several stages of adaptation to foreign cultures, and understanding them will help you deal with the feelings you experience as you adapt to life in Canada and Whistler. Most simply, there are four distinct phases, so be prepared by knowing how to identify them.
Also known as the honeymoon period, this is when you see your new surroundings as a tourist would. You are excited at finally being in Canada. The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly and you are happy to try some new and different foods. Everything is new, curious and interesting. Life is full of exciting possibilities and surprises.
Characterized by irritability and hostility, after a few weeks to a few months newcomers are immersed in survival issues such as housing, transportation, and learning a new language. There is often a loss of prestige; many newcomers are professionals and were capable providers for their families in their home country, but the only work they can find in Canada may be low paid and low skilled. The stress of this stage may manifest feelings such as anger, apathy, and hopelessness, which can lead to depression and other physical symptoms such as weight gain/loss, insomnia, tiredness, and headaches.
By this stage a normal routine has developed. Everyday activities such as housing and shopping are no longer major challenges. English skills are good enough to communicate basic ideas and feelings. Gradually, newcomers begin to accept their new home and make friendships; they discover there are good things about their community.
Newcomers have been away from family and friends in their home country for a long time, and may feel lonely and homesick. If they haven’t gained mastery of English, they might experience continued frustration at not being able to participate fully in many aspects of society. They may also feel frustrated with unsatisfying jobs, and lack the confidence to and question whether they will ever reach the social and economic level they were at in their own homeland.
Acceptance and Integration
This is the period in which learners and their families realize they are in the new community to stay. The newcomer has accepted the habits, customs, foods, and norms of Canadian culture. Learners probably have enough English to feel comfortable interacting with native speakers, and they are able to participate more fully in Canadian society. They may also have developed a sense of belonging through ongoing acts of welcome by their new community.
Remember, though, that culture shock and this process of adaptation and integration is not straightforward. There is no clear length of time it takes to adapt and integrate. Be prepared to move between stages for a long time. Even once you are feeling more comfortable and in control, you can come across another situation which causes the stress of adaptation and acceptance of a new situation to come back. At those points, you may want to go back into your own cultural environment, relying on those who speak the same language and come from the same home country; and the process of acceptance and integration starts all over again. Don’t worry if this happens – it is normal – and you will get better at coping with it.
WelcomeBC Newcomers’ Guide – Chapters 11, 12 and 13 talk about Community and Culture, Environment and British Columbia.
Welcome to Canada guidebook – Chapter 2 gives a brief overview of Canada.