Five Stages of Culture Shock
Most immigrants go through the five stages on their immigration journey.
Stage 1: Honeymoon or Tourist Stage
You have just arrived to the country for the first time. You feel like you are a visitor, a tourist, discovering a new place.
If immigration was your own choice (and not your husband’s choice or other family members’ choice), you will feel quite happy, excited, interested and curious.
You walk the streets of your new city, look at everything for the first time: houses, people (how they dress), dogs… Some things you find surprising and other things look strange.
You’re trying Canadian foods and maybe other culture’s foods. You learn to use Canadian money in Canadian stores and supermarkets. You take local transportation for the first time.
You visit places of interest and go sightseeing. Maybe you want to go to a local zoo or visit museums.
Stage one can be several days long, or several weeks long, or several months long – it’s different for different people.
Stage 2: Crisis
You start feeling homesick and lonely. You miss your friends and family – those people who are not in Canada. Some immigrants feel sad, some feel angry.
If you cannot speak English well, you will likely feel shy, confused and insecure. You cannot understand what people are saying to you, and people cannot understand when you are speaking to them. This may be very frustrating. Suddenly you realize that your English is not good enough.
You might get headaches and other body pain. Some immigrants develop insomnia while others sleep too much.
This is the most difficult time for any immigrant. You might start idealizing your ‘back home’ (“In my country, everything is so good.”) You might start questioning your decision to move to Canada. (“Maybe I should return?”) These are normal thoughts and feelings. The only people who might not have them are those who ran away from their country because of war, poverty and discrimination.
The crisis state can be several months long or several years long. It depends on what the immigrant is doing: going to school, studying English and learning about Canada, volunteering, exercising and taking care of their health, working, meeting new people (developing their new network), etc.
Stage 3: Adjustment Stage / Coping Stage
You start feeling a little better and a little more comfortable in your new country. You are learning the language. You are learning about Canada – how to navigate the systems here.
You have already experienced many things and already know what to expect in different situations. You know how to talk to your doctor when you go for an appointment. You know how to talk to your child’s teacher at a parent-teacher interview. You know how to talk to your co-workers and manager.
You are learning about Canadian culture and now understand why people around you behave the way they do. There are few surprises now – most situations are repeated and familiar.
Stage 4: Independence / Assimilation Stage
You start feeling at home in your new country. You are now bi-cultural. This means that you understand and appreciate both cultures – your first country culture and the Canadian culture.
You understand the differences and the similarities between the two cultures.
Also, you are now a stronger person than you were before the immigration. Immigration is not an easy thing and you had a lot to challenges to overcome and a lot of things to learn – and you did it! You are now a stronger person inside. And you have much more knowledge.
Stage 5: Reverse Culture Shock
You go back to your first country for a visit and suddenly you are shocked and surprised – it’s not what you expected it to be! You don’t feel the same – you feel different. You thought it was going to be as before, just like the old days, but it’s not. Because you have changed. The realization that “I have changed” is surprising. You have grown and you have developed – you now know and understand much more than before.
CULTURE SHOCK SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED WITH DEPRESSION
Hundreds of immigrants are unnecessarily prescribed antidepressant medications. These medications are chemicals and they have many side effects, including possible suicidal thoughts in young adults.
Culture Shock – stage 2 – is not a disease. It’s a normal phase of adaptation your brain goes through after you come to live in a new country.
What can you do to make it feel better?
- Your feelings are normal – acknowledge it. Most immigrants feel sad when starting a life in a new country.
- Give yourself time. You cannot skip the second stage. Be patient – it gets better.
- Do NOT stay home. Go to school. Volunteer somewhere. Visit new places.
- Study English and learn about Canada. Knowing English and Canadian culture will help you feel more comfortable in any situation.
- Move your body – exercise, walk fast or ride a bike. 30 minutes a day. Good exercise will get your heart beat faster and make you take deeper breaths.
- Do not eat sweets in large quantities. Sugar suppresses your immune system. You feel good for a short time but then it will make you feel tired and weak.
- Find a hobby or continue with the one you already have.
- Start building a new network. You left your old network behind – now is the time to develop a new one. Meet new people and make new friends in Canada.