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Blog6 Ways to Deal With Culture Shock in a New Country

6 Ways to Deal With Culture Shock in a New Country

Written by Holly on August 18, 2022

At E-QIP, we’re proud to welcome students to our Montreal campus from around the world.

In just a single group class, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find individuals from Japan, Mexico, France, Syria and South Korea—just a few of the countries our students have called home.

Our international and immigrant students’ reasons for coming to Montreal have always varied, and these students have included:

  • those who’ve come here for a new job or to pursue a degree at one of the city’s many postsecondary institutions;
  • those who wish to use Montreal as a base from which to explore the rest of Canada;
  • those who’ve travelled to Montreal specifically to fulfil a lifelong dream of learning French;
  • those who have decided to join family or friends that already reside in the area;
  • and those who have come to Canada as refugees.

As different as their experiences may be, these newcomers have all shared one thing in common: they’ve all had to adjust to life in a city and country that differs in some ways (or perhaps in many ways) from their own.

As such, we’ve gained plenty of insight over the years into the best ways to prepare for—and minimize—culture shock (insights that have been bolstered by the fact that many members of our team are either immigrants themselves or have lived abroad!).

Any move to a new place will inevitably feel a bit jarring at some point (usually after the initial honeymoon period), but by following these strategies, we believe it’s totally possible to overcome many of the negative feelings associated with culture shock.

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Anticipate the shock

Moving to a place where the customs (and potentially the language) are different from what you’re used to is going to be weird; there’s no way around that fact. Sit with that weirdness, and consider the many ways in which your day-to-day life may differ in your new home, from which items are available at the average grocery store to the ways in which the meanings of certain expressions or terms differ from the meanings you attribute to them.

Anticipating these differences ahead of time will soften the blow that comes with the realisation that there are many, many things that you miss about home.

Research your new home ahead of time

Psyching yourself up for major differences will be far easier if you have some understanding of what those changes will be. Reflect on what your daily life looks like now and then explore message boards, blogs and articles online to discover how these things may differ in your destination country.

Some questions to consider:

How do you commute to work or school?

Where do you buy food, and what do you buy?

Who do you live with, and what do you expect of them?

How did you find your home or apartment, and what’s expected of tenants and landlords in your home country?

How do people find romantic partners or make friends in your home country?

Find support from online communities 

As mentioned above, online message boards can be a great place to learn about the country you’ll be travelling to, but they can also be a source of support from both locals in your new home and fellow immigrants who’ve made the same journey you’ll be making.

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Try subreddits on the Reddit website dedicated to your new city, join an online expat community like Internations or simply connect on social media with acquaintances or friends of friends who have lived or spent time in the place you’ll be living. Your new virtual friends can help figure out how to join groups or clubs that interest you, learn where to meet people, find a place to live, buy inexpensive furniture, search for work and so much more.

If you’re moving for work, school or as a refugee, your new workplace/school/government may also offer in-person support designed to help you settle in.

Stock up on comfort foods

Everyone who’s ever faced culture shock has inevitably experienced a mini-meltdown in response to the surprisingly distressing realisation that a favourite snack, beverage or ingredient isn’t available in their new home. Stockpile these comfort foods before the move to ease the transition, or search for sources from which you can purchase them abroad.

Maintain a strong connection to friends back home 

Making new connections is an important part of adjusting to a new city, but neglecting your relationships with loved ones back home will only make you feel lonelier and more out of place. Before you depart, establish a plan for maintaining your friendships back home, which might look like a weekly or monthly Facetime call, a planned reunion trip or even regular letter writing.

Give yourself space to feel whatever it is you may be feeling

Even with all of the aforementioned strategies in place, there will likely still be days when you feel sad, confused, lonely, angry or frustrated in your new home. The good news? You’re almost certainly not going to feel this way forever—cultural adjustment follows a U-shaped model that starts out high with the honeymoon phase, dips down when culture shock sets in, begins to rise as adjustment begins and finally reaches honeymoon levels once again when adjustment is complete.

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Ignoring the feelings associated with culture shock won’t make them disappear any faster. Get your feelings down on paper, vent to friends who have been in a similar position (and who have made it out the other side!) and rest assured in the knowledge that this rough patch will pass.


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