“So, here you are. Too foreign for home. Too foreign for here, never enough for both”. The first time I read this quote, feelings of sadness and confusion splashed over me and I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong. At that time, it would’ve been my second year since I had left my home country, where I now felt like a visitor. It took over four years to find my own place, that happy medium that combined elements from my native culture and from the new culture that I’m still trying to call my “home”. Feeling out of place was one the most challenging experiences I’ve had to endure but it certainty taught me some valuable lessons along the way.
If you’re someone who recently left home in pursuit of bigger and better opportunities and struggling to find your place, here are some things to consider to help you cope with feelings of loss:
Recognize the symptoms. Is it loneliness? Homesickness? Sadness? Nostalgia? Recognizing and naming your symptoms can help you understand where these feelings are coming from and allow you to have control over how they affect your daily functioning. It’s important to understand that feeling sad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed. Recognize that this feeling can be situational and doesn’t have to impact the rest of your day. It’s okay to feel sad and nostalgic when thinking about your past life; in fact, it’s expected. However, know that you can also move past it.
Be present. Oftentimes, you may find yourself daydreaming about your old life and won’t realize how much we’re missing out. It’s true that going back in time brings us a sense of comfort and induces a familiar feeling but it also keeps us from enjoying our new surroundings. Practice living in the moment and keep an open mind. Rather than fearing the differences, welcome them and think of much you can grow. As someone who enjoys the routine and isn’t particularly fond of change, this was a challenge for me as I had to train myself to live in the present. It’s incredible the things you learn when you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
Find a purpose. Setting daily goals will help shift your focus and enhance feelings of productivity. These can be anything that will make you feel like you’re working towards something. For me, it was choosing to focus on my health and incorporating a daily workout routine while tracking and monitoring my results. Did it help me fall in love with the new environment? Probably not but it was a reason for me to get out of bed every morning and distract myself from negative thoughts.
Get involved. Definitely easier said than done. Personally, this is something I dreaded. I kept being told to involve myself in social events and improve my network but what does that even mean? Do I show up at random places and initiate a conversation? Do I connect with someone on LinkedIn and hope for the best? It took me months before I had the courage to sign up for an event I had found on the internet. Did I make new friends and kept in touch? Not really but I saw it as a personal achievement back then and overtime, attending events and talking to people had become a less torturous task. If you’re someone who doesn’t naturally blend in well with people, it’s okay. Don’t let that be a reason to keep you away from new opportunities and instead see it as a way to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone; even if that means forcing yourself to attend an event at least once every two months.
Keep familiar things around you. As we integrate into the new environment, we may find ourselves slowly stepping away from our cultural roots. That’s totally normal! If you’re ever feeling homesick, do something that reminds you of home (i.e. listen to music, eat your favorite meal). As you make new friends, try introducing your favorite foods to them to strengthen the connection between familiar sources of comfort and new sources of emotional support.
Allow times to take its course. Be patient. You’re not expected to adapt right away and it may take you a few months to a few years to find your place. In the meantime, try to enjoy the differences and accept the hardships. Allow yourself to grow and recognize the changes you’re making. Remember that change also means growth.
If there’s one thing to take away from this blog post, it’s realizing that finding your place is a combination of time and hard work rather than one or the other.
Are you an international student who’s been struggling to find your place in Canada? Have you been feeling overwhelmed with the changes and have been finding it difficult to adjust?
If so, you’re not alone! Adjusting to change is hard, let alone starting over in a new country.
You’re probably going through different emotions and trying to establish yourself in a place that doesn’t really feel like home. If that’s the case, you’re probably going through stage 2 of your cultural adaptation journey.
Let’s look at these stages in more depth:
Stage 1: The Honeymoon Period
The honeymoon period is sort of like the beginning of any new experience, such as starting a new job or going into a new relationship. You are thrilled about all these exciting changes and are looking at things from a positive lens. You are probably intrigued by both the differences and similarities between the new culture and your home culture and you have lots of interest in learning and motivation to meet new people. You sort of feel like a tourist and can immediately imagine yourself staying here long-term…until stage 2 kicks in.
Stage 2: The Cultural Shock
By now, the excitement would’ve worn off a little and you’re starting to miss your friends and family back home. You’re likely putting a bigger emphasis on the differences between the two cultures and possibly thinking about how much you were taking things for granted when you were still back home. You may be starting to feel irritated and frustrated with having to constantly change your habits to adapt to these new norms. Little do you know, you start to search out your Canadian friends and focus on connecting with people who share the same values, language and probably the same taste in local foods and music. These new friends remind you of home and this becomes your new comfort zone. At least you now have a support system to go back to when you’re out exploring the Canadian context and little do you know, you find yourself in stage 3.
Stage 3: Adjustment
You’re now pretty familiar with the context and although you may still be experiencing the occasional lows, you’re starting to feel little more hopeful and optimistic. Cultural cues are now easier to read and you’re beginning to feel more integrated into the new environment. You may see your sense of humor slowly return and find yourself enjoying activities outside of your comfort zone. Since you’re now past the “emotional stages” of cultural adjustment, you can now enter a stage of “deeper learning” and enhance your understanding of the world. You may even start to question some assumptions resulting from your own culture and begin to look at things from a new perspective. Next thing you know, you’ve reached the final stage.
Stage 4: Acceptance
Welcome to the final stage where the “new” culture is no longer new but is starting to feel like a second home. You are now focused on reaching your full potential and may be thinking of staying here long-term and planting some roots. You probably don’t want to go back home as much anymore and instead, you’re encouraging those back home to come visit you. You’ve finally reached the stage of biculturalism and have found your place between the two cultures.
A Last Thought
Can I share a piece of advice? Don’t rush it. Try to find meaning in every stage and know that each one has its own time. Be cognizant of the different stages and explore where you locate yourself. Know that if you’re feeling “foreign”, it won’t last forever. There’s probably thousands of other international students walking on this same path trying to find their place. And you will soon find yours.
If you missed this week’s webinar “Stranger In A Strange Land” on integrating in a new culture, make sure to watch the rerun here!
‘Tis the season! .. and no, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s EXAM TIME!
But as exam period approaches, our anxiety is escalating. Right? We hear you and more than that, we understand you.
Over the past months, we’ve been in contact with many of you who haven’t been feeling too optimistic. That’s right, if you’re reading this, you are not alone! In fact, we’ve gathered 3 of the most common negative thought patterns experienced by students during exam period.
1. “If I don’t pass this exam, I’ll definitely feel like a failure”
In the therapy world, this is called a cognitive distortion. To put it simply, your mind is playing tricks on you and giving you an “all or nothing” perspective without leaving much room for a grey area allowing for the complexity of most people and most situations.
Our Suggestion? Take a breath, ground yourself and try to locate those shades of grey even if they seem overtaken by the black and white. Work on maintaining realistic expectations and remind yourself that there will always be room for improvement. Ask yourself if you remember that time when you failed an exam in high school. Did it suck back then? Sure. Did it keep you from being where you are today? Probably not. Think that in a few years from now, you’ll look back and this time in your life and realize that it probably wasn’t worth all the anxiety.
2. “If I get a grade lower than x%, then my GPA will be affected, which means that I may or may not graduate, which will impact my chances to get good job, which will put me in a financial strain meaning that I won’t be able to pay my student loans, etc…”
The classic snowball effect. We’ve all been there. We imagine that our path will be drawn a certain way based on how this one event will go. Read this last sentence again. Doesn’t it sound a little irrational? To think that our whole life is defined by one outcome?
Our Suggestion? Stay specific and start small. Examine the things that you have control over at that moment and search for ways to improve them. Most of the time, the higher percentage of your anxiety is linked to irrational thoughts, aka things that you want to have control over but cannot (i.e. predicting every question in the exam or thinking that your whole life will be impacted if you don’t score a certain grade). In those situations, notice that a lot of your energy is wasted on things you can’t control- which may be why you’re left wondering why you’re feeling so exhausted at the end of the day when you haven’t really done much. Try to identity irrational thoughts so you are better equipped to handle them. Always look for the evidence and compare it to your negative thinking (i.e. what are the clear signs indicating that I will fail this exam?).
3. “School is not looking good for me anyway and my chances of graduating are low so what’s the point of studying?
This is one of the most common thought patterns experienced by all students. It’s easy to get unmotivated when there’s been a build-up of past events that have led to this moment.
Our Suggestion? Remember that it takes less effort to dwell in the negative patterns than to challenge them, so you will be tempted to just give up and you will find yourself in a negative spiral. Rather than just assume the worst, review your academic history and get a rational sense of where you stand today. You might be surprised that it’s not as bad as you had thought. If you’re still feeling pessimistic, reach out for support to get different opinions, whether that’s a therapist or an academic advisor. As hard as it can be, take that step and ask for help!
Building on that last piece of advice, no matter what you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you’re having doubts about your future, or worried about your level of confidence or just concerned about your overall experience at school, there’s always someone you can reach out to. In fact, that’s what Real Campus is for. Real Campus offers you the chance to book a consult with an academic advisor or to speak to a clinical therapist for unlimited sessions, and all of that is free of cost!
Want support now or in the future? If you’re looking to gain new perspectives and improve your negative thought patterns but feel like you need support with that, we are here to help! There are different ways you can reach us: Chat with us using the chat bubble on the bottom right of this page, click on Get Support Now at the top right or simply call us at 1-877-390-REAL (7325).