There are times in life when we are left baffled by events, actions or people. To make some sense out of these, our brain tries to match them with something in the past. People are more often left confused when they first meet individuals from outside of their community (cultural, professional, geographical, etc.) or when they take themselves out of their comfort zone. Deciding to live abroad for example, provides an endless number of opportunities to feel just like this. The first week after I arrived in Vancouver, I felt confused and unsure of what to expect and also of what was expected from me.
It is a challenging and conflicting time for a newcomer: on one hand, the wish to start your new life and become independent is getting stronger every day but the normal reluctance in front of a foreign society and its yet unknown rules and regulations forces you to stick close to your community, the people you know and trust by association to your former life. There was a certain protocol in my community: neighbours of the same nationality, friends and acquaintances would visit and give the advice they considered necessary to help you start making sense of the new land. Imagine every evening having anywhere between two to seven people coming over with drinks and a heart full of good intentions. Once the wine started flowing, the advice would begin on where to find certain foods, on how to find a good job or where to find a nice a park to relax. The problem was always towards the end when we were forced to take sides on who had the better choice. But this is a different story! Although contradictory and most of the times subjective, one piece of advice seemed to be consistent: as a newcomer you have to renounce your former life, give up everything you know and start from scratch. Change had happened, now you have to manage the transition from the former life to the new, unknown future laying ahead.
In his book Transitions, William Bridges deals exactly with this: change and transition as two different concepts. Change is sudden and situational while the transition process is psychological and happens over time. All transitions, he says, are composed of an ending, a neutral zone and a new beginning. The problem I had experienced and I am sure most of you will agree is that it is easier said than done. Theoretically we all know that as a newcomer we need to let go of our old life in order to move on into the neutral zone of the transition. In a time when you have lost your trusted network of friends and relatives, and when even the way you see yourself is changing, letting go or ending the connection with “life as you knew it” is the most difficult. “[…] ending is making us fearful. They break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves [..]” says Bridges. How can one overcome this fear?
I think that the most important thing is to reach out of your community. Get out of your community and ask the help of professionals. Most of the people within your community are extremely nice and willing to share their settlement experience. But their opinions are biased and emotional based on their subjective, unique experiences. By reaching out to a newcomer settlement service you will be able to polish your language skills, learn reliable information about Canada and the specific area you live in, and most important of all, gain confidence and start understanding the Canadian way.
Experience and have fun with something new every day. Except for few basic things, nothing will ever be the same. From the way you used to drive back home to the way the bed sheet is designed, from the way people interact on the streets to the way people address each other, everything needs to be re-wired. Such a process of replacing habits and common knowledge with new habits and concepts can be overwhelming. In the classic action-reaction model, our minds will go into that resistance mode and will fight back as hard as possible to change. Trick your mind! Be open and instead of criticizing or comparing with what you used to know start having fun with change. Begin with small steps: what about a new way of setting the table? Find a new park or a new place to discover at the end of the week! Try to use the very Canadian “eh” at the end of a sentence and join into the smiles that will follow, eh? It is not necessarily about what you do but about the attitude that in time will change, and you will become more accepting of the new ways.
Develop a new habit: asking for help! Well, what do you do when you are lost in the middle of a new city and have no idea how to go back to your hotel? Ask for help! When you are new to Canada, or any other country, city, place, there will be more times when you have no clue how to do things or where to find things. From not being able to find the right word when you need it the most to not knowing how to change the colour at the pedestrian crossing, life in a new country will provide a huge number of opportunities to get upset and lost. Ask for help! Instead of wasting time trying to solve something or to find certain information by yourself, develop this very healthy habit of asking for help!
Stop talking and start listening more! We all have been there. There are times when we get frustrated in the process of settling. Maybe because we are lacking the understanding of how things are done and why things are done in a certain way. Or just because we got hit with a not so rare moment of nostalgia and instead of breaking down and crying, we go on the offensive and start explaining how things are done much better in the old country. Sometimes we remember similar situations that happened back in the old life and we feel compelled to tell the story out loud! Well, not only that it makes us sound very pretentious but for most Canadians is boring as there are usually cultural references and jokes specific to our mother language that are difficult to translate. When nostalgia hits, I have learnt to bite my tongue and start asking questions! Showing interest in the way things are done, in people I meet or places I visit, not only engages them but also provides a very good way of learning new and interesting things about the Canadian way that otherwise would take time and effort to discover.