“The first two weeks I was very excited. Everything was new. Then I found out that it was not easy to find a job. It was very difficult.”
Chatura, from Sri Lanka
Culture shock is the stress caused by living in a new culture. It is a normal part of adjusting, or getting used to new foods, language, customs, people and activities. Culture shock can affect the way you think, and the way you feel emotionally and physically. For example, you might feel irritable, sad or angry. You may feel that you cannot trust anyone, or that you are uncomfortable or homesick. You may have headaches or stomach aches and tire easily.
Many newcomers experience culture shock. There is not much you can do to avoid it, but there are ways to cope with it. The first thing is to recognize that you are going through culture shock, and know that it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a normal reaction to the strangeness of everything around you.
As you adjust to living in Canada, your experience of culture shock will change. Culture shock runs in a cycle of several stages, which you may go through more than once. In time you will begin to feel more at home. Your experience of culture shock may include:
Excitement: When you first arrive, you may be excited about living in Canada and the adventures that are ahead. Everything may look wonderful and perfect. You may be busy with finding a place to live, finding work and trying to make friends. This exciting period may last anywhere from a day to a few months. Sadly, it may fade away with time.
Anger and sadness: After you have been in Canada for a while, you may find that things are not as easy as you had hoped. You may have to wait for a work permit, wait for your refugee hearing or wait to enter English language classes. The education and skills that you gained in your home country may not have the same value here. When you are looking for work, you may be told that you lack “Canadian experience.”
In this situation, it is natural to feel angry and frustrated. You may even wonder if coming to Canada was the right decision.
Speaking and hearing English all day may make you feel tired. Even if you are a native English speaker, you may have to concentrate to understand the Canadian accent. This can be tiring, as can having to repeat yourself several times for others to understand your accent. You may feel sad as you remember life, friends and family from your homeland.
Struggling to cope with everything, you may have less energy and tolerance than usual. You may have problems with eating and sleeping. It may be harder for you to be active or to spend time with people. It is important to remember that what you are experiencing is normal.
Feeling more settled: Eventually the anger and sadness will fade too. You will begin to feel more settled as you learn more about Canadian culture and as you get used to the food, the weather and the language. You will start to make sense of the things that puzzled or hurt you before.
Living with two cultures: It takes time to become comfortable in a new culture. It may be many years before you feel that you can call Canada home. You may find that, even if you are happy here, life is still challenging. In some situations there may still be conflict between the values of your original culture and the Canadian one. At times, you may wonder where you belong. This is normal too. Some people seem to adapt easily, but others take a long time to settle into a new place. Culture shock may fade quickly, or it may return again and again, but it does not last forever.
Here is an exercise that may help you to understand your feelings on culture shock.
- Which of the following do you feel most: excited, sad, angry or content in your new home in Canada?
- What people, things or experiences have made you feel like an outsider in your new home?
- What people, things or experiences have made you feel comfortable in your new home?
- Is there anything you could do to make yourself feel better?