Perhaps some immigrants have a unique mix of courage, naivety and resilience that enables their smooth transition to a new homeland. But it’s not easy for everyone to integrate into a new culture.
What makes one newcomer’s integration more successful than another? Shifting one’s cultural identity with new roles, values and beliefs in the new society is a start. Also, engaging with people outside of your own ethnic group work helps that adjustment.
Stages to resettlement
There are three stages to an immigrant’s adaptation in a new country: loss, transition and adaptation. These stages can be further divided into four more stages as well: the first is joy and relief, the second is post-decisional regret, the third is stress with dealing with psychological symptoms (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety) and the fourth involves acceptance, adjustment and reorganization. In last month’s issue, Kaberi Chatterjee talks about her personal journey of ‘falling in love’ with her new (homeland? or country?). Like Chatterjee, many newcomers may feel a sense of regret and stress when coming to Canada, but thankfully when people go through acceptance, adjustment and reorganization, these negative yet important feelings can be overcome. The success with which an immigrant gets through these stages is what determines how easily he or she experiences resettlement. At some point in Chatterjee’s journey, she will adapt by shifting her cultural identity, she will gradually transition by finding a new role, and she will hopefully adapt by creating new values and beliefs and by engaging with other groups outside of her own ethnic group.
For many, that success directly ties to their ability to adapt their perceptions of their identity in a new cultural context. When my parents and I first moved to Canada, my father’s beliefs, values and customs made it more difficult for him to initially adapt and create a new cultural identity. He began to realize that although he had his PhD, he would still have to receive further training and attain Canadian work experience even after he took a survival job to feed his family. This realization was a shift from his previous perceptions, expectations and actions he initiated toward(s?) resettling. He had to transition and adapt the way he understood himself in the new environment. It is this kind of transition that newcomers will experience throughout resettlement.
Part of that adaptation also means connecting with new types of people. It is, of course, a human trait that “like attracts like,” and many immigrants prefer to hold onto their previous cultures and traditions by surrounding themselves with those of similar backgrounds. But wanting to stay in these ‘comfort zones’ tends to isolate immigrants from the dominant culture, perpetuating stereotypes of various ethnic groups and creating a silo effect.
When newcomers live in ethnic silos, whether they are geographical or social, it separates them from the outside community and isolates them. In a multicultural country like Canada, this assuredly is not the right path to being Canadian. That’s certainly why many non-profit organizations support programs that encourage diverse communities to interact with other each other. Leaving one’s ‘comfort zone’ into a new country is half the journey and an achievement in itself, but this journey is completed only when we also interact with these ‘outsiders’. And connecting with other cultures is a message that we hear time and time again from those immigrants who have “made it” in Canada.
So back to the question: “What makes one newcomer’s integration more successful than another?” Yes, it likely takes a unique mix of courage, naivety and resilience, but even more important it takes a willingness to accept that with immigration comes some loss, some transition and definitely some adaptation to the new country.