Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Survival Guide Arrived. . .A Bit Late

Three things I enjoy very much in life are teaching others, analyzing cultural differences between people of various nationalities, and the mechanics of the English language. While they seem fairly unrelated, I have discovered that I can combine my interest and skill in all three by teaching English as a second language (ESL). I have been a volunteer ESL conversation circle leader for about two years now, working with my local immigrant services organization and neighborhood associations. Canada has a considerable influx of immigrants from all over the world, and a sizeable portion of these immigrants speak little or no English on arrival. Aside from my experience teaching English (which included some ESL training while I was in grad school), I can relate somewhat to those who are newcomers to Canada. But when I found out that my local college offered an actual post-graduate certification in teaching ESL, I applied and was accepted into the program.

I just finished my first course in the program. We had discussions and assignments on cognitive theory, language assimilation, and linguistics. We also spent a fair bit of time discussing cultural obstacles that ESL learners face, as these obstacles must be anticipated by the ESL teacher. One assignment was to read an article about culture shock. I had never read this particular article before, but when I did, all I could think was “I wish someone had told me all of this two years ago!” I was surprised at how accurate it was. I also showed Sarah, who has immigrated to new countries twice now, and she agreed it rang very true.

I have put this text in my blog because it really sums up everything I’ve experienced over the last two years (and am still experiencing). This text used to appear on a website called which no longer exists. You can find this information still on other sites (such as the Migration News website). I am pretty sure it was originally written by the people who write the Culture Shock Guides, which are books than can be purchased about the culture and customs of various nations. See below for the immigrant “survival guide.”


Many new settlers suffer from varying degrees of culture shock, ranging from the odd surprise at differences in local customs to major belts of home sickness. Even migrants from English speaking, Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, are susceptible to vary degrees of "culture shock" as they are often not prepared for any sort of change at all or the "subtle" differences in social etiquette or customs. The key to success is being pragmatic and accepting that you will never "change" your newly adopted home land. It is YOU who must change or at least adapt to the local environment. Most find that they do not have to change a lot, while others may find the task of "fitting in" to be more difficult.

It is important to understand the emotions that you will encounter when migrating. It is not just you. Every new settler feels them. Some say that moving to a new country can be a roller coaster ride, with many ups and downs along the way. These ups and downs have been scientifically proven and are known as the assimilation process. To help you understand the assimilation process, it can be broken down into three distinct stereotypical phases below:


PHASE 1 - Euphoria

The Euphoria phase occurs when you first arrive in your new country. It will be a great adventure much akin to taking a holiday. You will be enjoying your new life and discovering everything that your new adopted home land has to offer. This is the honeymoon period.

PHASE 2 - Culture shock

After 6 to 12 months, the honeymoon will be over. You need to start working, your first tax bill will arrive and the grind of day to day life begins. Although you are largely enjoying your new lifestyle, you discover aspects of your new country that you dislike. You have a few surprises along the way as you encounter differences in social etiquette and customs, especially when developing a group of friends or socialising with work colleagues. You miss some aspects of your home country and most importantly, you will miss your family and friends. You will become a little home sick.

PHASE 3 - Assimilation

Successful re-settlement! It can take up to 2 - 3 years for some people to achieve full assimilation. This is when you fully accept your new home land and ignore the aspects that you dislike. You now fit in and are confident that have you built a good life for yourself. Perhaps you will have taken a trip back to your home country (recommended) and you now realise just how better off you are. You have a much healthier and interesting lifestyle than any of your friends and family back home and they will be envious of your new life. You take a balanced view of your relocation and learn to accept the various aspects that you do not like or that you miss.


To achieve full assimilation more quickly, it is important for you to understand the 80 / 20 rule. This is a well known law of averages. Experience has shown that many new settlers will like 80% of the aspects of their new adopted home land. But they will dislike 20%, sometimes quite strongly. Some people make the mistake of spending 80% of their time focusing on the 20% of aspects they do not like. The 80 / 20 rule. These negative thoughts can be very damaging and can lead to failure. The key to success is spending 80% of your time focusing on the 80% of the aspects that you like. Accept that you will never like 20% of your new country, but since it is the minority, you are still better off.

Remember to remain flexible and open minded when emigrating. View your move much like a permanent holiday for the rest of your life. You will never change your newly adopted country so love it for its differences. And most importantly of all, make the effort to discover all the outdoor pursuits and recreational opportunities that you new country has to offer. And if your work colleagues or a contact invites you for a BBQ, accept! Through one person you will meet 10 and this will ensure you successfully assimilate without delay.

1 comment:

s. said...

Very interesting, thanks for sharing! I made it through phases 1 and 2 in Houston, but during phase 3, I took that trip home (not even home, but to Ottawa for Canada Day weekend) and realized how much worse off I was, and decided while dreading returning in the airport lounge that I would move home again, whatever it took. And here I am. Happy again!