Did you know that Canada welcomes about 200,000 immigrants and refugees per year? Well, now you know. I hereby invite you to join me in my real-life experiences, both as a permanent resident and as a student, in Canada.
It has been almost a year since I moved to Canada, and since then I have learned and collected information about what issues newcomers normally face upon their arrival. Thanks to SODS (Saskatoon Open Door Society), I was given a golden opportunity to volunteer and interact with some of the immigrants as a volunteer. Through SODS, I’ve connected with different people from different cultural backgrounds and diversity that have helped educate me about immigration. It means a lot to me.
They told me that many of them experience culture shock. I can define culture shock as the experience of “foreignness”. It highlights the mixed feelings of anxiety, disaster, and the frustration that new immigrants/refugees feel when they are still newcomers. It takes quite a long time to come out of this physical and psychological effect. I can relate to it because it happened to me too when I moved to Victoria from Kenya. It’s real.
Coming from a conflict zone, newcomers have very high expectations as they are resettled into a new country. A chain of questions run up and down their minds. Yes, they expect their new home to be different from their old home and they expect that the move will be a breakthrough in their life. Their backgrounds of life range from professionals to students, families, and children, you name it, they have it. To help explain the feelings of culture shock, I’ve divided it into four different stages of what new immigrants in Canada go through to be able to integrate and connect in their new home.
This is the period that kicks in immediately after arrival at the airport. This stage is characterized by how open and curious a newcomer is. It normally goes very fast, 3 to 4 weeks after arrival. This stage feels as high as the global maximum point of a function in Calculus. For me, I was fascinated and very enthusiastic to see everything. Fresh air, new people, food – almost everything is different. I was ready to adventure and explore every cultural aspect of Canadian day to day life. This period didn’t last as long as I had expected it to. For me, it felt like a month before I transitioned onto the next stage.
This is the real culture shock stage. It normally lasts for 6 to 8 weeks. Sometimes it takes more than this period depending on different variables subjected to the newcomer. Some of the signs and symptoms of this stage are severe homesickness, feelings of frustration and depression. Wow! This stage can feel as low as a global minimum point of a function.
This is the time when I realized that not everything is as I expected. Social life, money usage, and clothing changed dramatically after my arrival. Not everyone was social and talkative as back home. For me, Money was a bit tricky at first. I used to mentally convert any price at the store to my local currency before buying any stuff. To my surprise, prices were much higher than back home. Also, the mode of dressing was more or less ‘exposing’, quite different from my culture that practiced mostly full-body covering clothes for all. It was all still new and fresh to me; so I had to take it as it was because I couldn’t change it nor ask why they did so.
The new education system that I was enrolled in (IB) was quite surprising and different from my local one which I was used to. It was quite challenging to have a normal conversation with fellow students or even listen to my professor in class. I had a very strong Kenyan English accent, contrary to some ‘fancy’ Canadian English accent that most people had.
I also wondered why everyone was either listening to music or playing with their phones on the bus.
The food was different and tasted strange.
When winter finally came, I was surprised by experiencing snow for the first time. Eventually, it was too harsh and cold to bear. The coldest was -40 degrees. This is the opposite of where I was before, where it normally gets as hot as 40 degrees.
These anxieties and confusion made me feel depressed and I dealt with withdrawal. I had a nostalgic feeling now and then. I kind of got frustrated from the way I had to take a lot of time to get people to listen to me or even me listen to very fast English speakers. I felt so down, occasionally cried and wishing to go back home. So sad!
These differences put me in a state of bewilderment as I transitioned onto the next stage.
This is the stage of acceptance. Newcomers now try to familiarise and improve their language skills and relationships with their hosts. Many make friends and start to create connections. This stage normally takes 2 to 4 weeks to adjust from the previous stage. Drastic changes that occur feels like a turning point or a point of deflection of a function.
I made strong and open relationships with my host family, students and members of the staff. I learned a lot from the previous immigrants who came from the same place as I did and they helped me with some disturbing questions that I had in mind. Outside my classes, I became active in co-curricular activities and sports. I developed a spirit of adventure and exploration; to move around different cities, acknowledging and appreciating different aspects of their people’s culture. I also got a privilege to volunteer with an immigrant and newcomers in an NGO in the summer, many of whom I could help get through the stages of culture shock I’ve just described. I got involved in different sessions that made me learn more about teamwork, listening skills, and personal boundaries.
4. Adjustment and adaptation
Finally, the last stage. This stage is characterized by a sense of belonging and self-assurance. Some newcomers do acculturate and embrace new cultures and share theirs as well. They also accept and adapt to habits that were new to them in the beginning. It is a relatively shorter time before getting fully settled and start leading a normal life like any other person in society.
Right now, I feel happy to be a part of the community. I’m proud of myself for being able to move through all these stages successfully. I’m looking forward to learning more, both from the perspective of a student as well as from that ofa permanent resident- ready to carry on and be open to new adventures and experiences. The future is luminous and promising.