Diary of an International Student

Diary of an International Student

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!

How To Learn From Life’s Transitions

How To Learn From Life’s Transitions

Many of us have a list in our minds of the things we want, and most of us go through life trying to get these things. Sometimes we rely on our beliefs as a roadmap on this journey –follow these rules and you’ll be enlightened, be happier and have healthier relationships. I used to think that there was a secret recipe to life, and when things are going great, I do tend to think I have it all figured out. However, reality eventually sets in when we realize that’s not always the case, and when that reality hits, we turn inwards and think that something is wrong with us because if nothing was wrong, we’d be getting what we want. Right?

When life isn’t easy or when we are dealing with a major transition we often look for the ‘bad guy’ and sometimes blame ourselves or our partners instead of turning towards each other or asking for help. An all-too-common negative dialogue emerges where we think, “I must be a bad person or a failure because [insert reasons here].”

That ‘looking for the bad guy tendency arises during periods of transition when we are overwhelmed, scared, or uncertain. However, I want to remind some of you that transitions are hard because they are opportunities for growth and growth is hard.

“Life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.” — Jim Carrey

Marina Keegan wrote a wonderful article on her perspective of what her university experience meant for her. Although graduating university, much like starting university, can be a difficult period of transition; it is both natural and expected. It should, in fact, be something we aim for.

Some transitions are marked as natural development for many of us unless interrupted and then problems can emerge with some sort of pathology. Some transitions happen unexpectedly: loss of child, being diagnosed with Cancer, losing one’s job. Then sometimes that “find the bad guy tendency” arises and we need to deal with it.

No matter the type of transition you are struggling with, I find it helps to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what is happening before moving forward. Whatever that new you or situation looks like: Stop, Breathe, and, Reflect. By reflecting we help clarify how far we have come and it helps to recognize our own strengths and areas of growth and future growth. Reflection can also allow us a time to see if we are moving in a direction that corresponds with our values. Many of us fail to reflect and end up having a life based on being reactive and non reflective vs living life inline with our values.

Some tips to help navigate transitions and avoid ‘finding the bad guy’ tendency:

1. Go back to get to the future

Sometimes we need to think about passed struggles we have dealt with and how we overcame them. What skills or resources you’ve used that helped or didn’t help you. And then think about your current situation and see if these same character strengths or skills may help you deal with your current situation. Con with this technique: some people keep using the same strategies and don’t try to develop new ones.

2. Remember to ABC which means: Always Be Curious.

Things that help us be curious is having an open mind. Another thing that helps us to be curious is asking ourselves questions that force us to think about alternative solutions and ways of doing things. Noticing emotions and really questioning where they are coming from and what they are telling us may help us deal with the current situation. Con with technique: Overusing this technique so that you end up navel gazing and it prevents you from taking the leap or making a choice.

3. Learn to ride the Wave

You may not be able to change your course or whatever event you are dealing with and you may need to grab onto some coping skills and hold tight. Some may find learning mindfulness or learning to connect with the support system as 2 ways that help people ride the wave when dealing with a particularly hard transition. Con: Some people will ride the wave and end back at the same place they started at. When dealing with transitions sometimes we have to accept things will not go back to how they use to be.

Moving from one of life’s milestones to the next can be exciting, but if you are struggling with it, remember that it is a normal reaction and there are ways of managing it. For example, if you are unhappy with your job and are thinking of taking a leap to something new, you may be interested in Barbara Hagerty’s article here that talks about the upside of making a mid-life transition. If you like the article I would suggest you read her book, Life Reimagined. Instead of relying on finding the bad guy try one of the above techniques, read Barbara’s article or book and see if it helps or perhaps considering booking a session to process your life transition in counselling.

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