The time directly after immigration comes in five stages. Okay, fine, I made that up. This is based on personal experiences and conversations with many other immigrants from all over the world. Turns out, we tend to have the same emotional responses to this immigration-thing. Each person will experience the span of these differently, even my husband and I didn’t have matching emotional timelines after we moved. Having said that, these are the most common aspects of finding your feet after immigration, the ones that seem to pop up in all conversations on the topic.
First – the wow, we’re here stage. This is pretty self-explanatory. Relief is the prominent emotion and everything is met with a wow. Wow, they have this here! Wow, look at their building style! Wow, the windows open like this! Wow, squirrels! Wow, Tim Horton’s hot chocolate! Wow. Just, wow. This phase seems to have the stealthy ability to make a comeback every now and then, and you find yourself wowing all over again. So maybe it’s actually the umbrella stage.
Second – the mountains of paperwork stage. This right here is when the reality starts to set in. You spend this stage looking at prints of famous artworks in cheap chrome frames, hung just the slightest bit skew on the grey, speckled walls of government buildings. You go here for your residence card, here for your medical card, back here for your social security number, then there for this form and here for that form. You sign your name so many times that you can chant all of your identification details like the rhyme you used to memorise the planets in school–back when there were nine of them.
You have to find a place to stay, a car, a school, a place of worship, start working. You have to learn how the recycling works and which garbage bin goes out on which day, try all the bagels, figure out which makeup brands are cruelty-free, buy winter jackets and snow boots. You’re overwhelmed, but so happy to be here, and the wows haven’t left. The second stage lasts no longer than a month or two (but this will probably depend on the country you’ve moved to) and if you’re lucky, it’ll be followed by more wows, before stage three.
Third – the oh shit, what have we done? stage. They say immigration is equivalent to suffering a trauma, and that many new immigrants suffer from PTSD, or at least something akin to the stages of grief. Any immigrant will tell you that they met a time after their move that was difficult–more than what they had experienced up to that point. It’s kind of like depression, there’s an unshakable hopelessness about this phase. Everything is grey and bleak, and you don’t see the point in trying to continue with this journey. Some will have this stage a month after immigration. Some have it six months after. For some, it lasts only for a week or two. For others, it never really goes away. It will come when it comes and leave when it leaves.
The wows are still there, but they become darker. Wow, some more paperwork, three months into our immigration. Wow, I saw the sun for half an hour yesterday afternoon, for the first time in two weeks. Yay us.
This stage also falls in a weird place in your immigration timeline. You see, up to now, the friends and family back home have been hounding you, checking in on you and sending random messages of encouragement. You’ve been telling them how wow everything is, and that you have so much paperwork, but you’re excited and okay and… well, wow. Then one day, the messages lessen. You’re okay, after all, they have nothing to worry about. So, when the rosy glasses crack, you find yourself cut off and alone. Hopelessness, I’ve learned, feasts on cut off and alone.
For me, this phase hasn’t quite hit here in Canada (holding my breath) but in Germany, it started right around the three-month mark, and it only released me around the time we’d been living there for nine months. I was at my absolute lowest between the sixth and seventh months. Jan experienced this stage much later–as I was starting to recover, he slipped into it. We noticed it clearly in Kayla this time around. She had a phase where there was a nightmare every night and some potty accidents occurred. We’re lucky that starting school helped her A LOT. Making friends and having a wonderful, caring teacher made all the difference. So, as you can see from my little family, different people are affected in completely different ways.
Fourth – the okay, we really are okay stage. One day, the third stage ends. You may not realise it immediately, but your chest hasn’t been as heavy as it used to be. You’re sleeping better, and hey, is that the sun? Wow. And look, I found this cooking item I’ve been going without for the last few months–it’s been here all along! Wow. Hey wow, this place isn’t actually that bad. Who’d have thought?
Fifth – the well-oiled machine stage. At last, you’re really settled. You’re happy. You know how stuff works, and you’re doing what’s expected of you without having to read it from the form you printed to remind you. You’ve climatised. You’re no longer the sore thumb. Your longing for the place you used to live is over. You’re home.
I know it’s difficult to believe, but we reached a semblance of the fifth stage in Germany too. We might not have been excessively happy–we were happy when we were together as a family–but we were okay. We were settled, you know? There’s something to be said for the peace of having everything you need, for each item having a designated place on the shelf, for order instead of chaos. After two years of living in Germany, we stopped having those situations where you planned something for dinner, but don’t own a can opener.
We’re not out of those woods in Canada. 😛 But we’re getting there. Maybe it’s because we’ve done this once already that this time seems to be unfolding without as much drama. Speaking the language certainly helps. Now what we’ve experienced severe culture shock once, the second time feels mild in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still strange, but the transition has been easier.
As always, you’ll be the first to know if that changes.
Have a good one,