Mental Health & Wellness

Stages of Adapting to Life in Canada

Unsplash_city_viewMany people go through several steps, or stages, in their adaptation process to a new country. Some take longer than others to adapt and this may be related to having lived life under very different conditions and circumstances than those experienced in Canada.

The following information will provide you with some understanding of the process you and your family might go through. In some instances, adaptation can appear to be long and painful. At the same time, all the years adapting to a new country can help you grow and strengthen family bonds. It is a period of learning new things. Sometimes people discover skills and qualities that they never knew they had.

(Sometimes people call this “culture shock”, although that term talks more about visiting another country, not living in another country.)

Stage 1: Euphoria Period – Fascination

When you first arrive in Canada you may have great expectations about the new life you are about to start. You may have high hopes that everything you dreamed and heard about Canada is going to make your life much easier.

At the start you may:

  • feel this is a very exciting time
  • feel everything is new and interesting
  • feel very confident you can easily cope with problems and stress
  • tend to focus on similarities between Canada and your own culture and country

Stage 2: Disenchantment – Frustration, Irritation and Hostility

After a time, you may face difficulties because you can’t communicate well, and things are different than in your country. This makes it difficult for you to solve everyday challenges, like opening a bank account, renting an apartment, or visiting a doctor. You may miss your friends and family left behind.

During the first six months you might:

  • have good and bad experiences
  • feel very happy about the challenges you have overcome
  • feel very frustrated, confused and disappointed
  • feel depressed about the difficulties you are experiencing
  • feel very positive one day and very negative the next
  • focus on the differences between yourself and Canadians
  • miss your family
  • feel no connection to Canada
  • have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning

You may also have different complaints with no medical explanation, such as:

  • finding it hard to go to work or to look for work
  • developing problems with your partner and children
  • feeling guilty about leaving family members behind

Stage 3: Gradual Adjustment – Recovery

During the stage of adjustment you begin to understand how services and programs work in Canada. You may be able to communicate better.

During this stage you might:

  • start to feel that you are gaining control of your life as you get a better understanding of Canada, Canadian people and culture
  • feel more confident in your language skills, if that is a barrier
  • gradually get involved in the community
  • have a better understanding of how to adapt to life in Canada
  • have a better idea of what you need to do to get what you want
  • find that your sense of humour returns

Stage 4: Acceptance – Adjustment or Acculturation

During this stage of adjustment you feel more relaxed and you find yourself thinking that this place is your new home.

During this stage you might:

  • feel more comfortable in your new culture
  • have made some new friends
  • get more involved
  • understand the new system better
  • no longer regret coming to Canada
  • develop a balance between the values you want to keep from your culture and those from your new culture
  • study, plan to return to school, work, or plan to get a better job
  • feel content most of the time

Although most people go through these stages during the first years of settlement, many people can experience them at different times in their lives, regardless of the number of years living in a new country.

Encounters with new cultural experiences, changes in your family composition, and aging can affect the adaptation process. For example, you might feel fully adapted, but you might experience the feeling of being a complete foreigner again when you attend a funeral for the first time, or you might start questioning your life in Canada after your children have grown up and they have moved away.

The stages of adaptation are not always linear, meaning you don’t always finish one stage and move to the next. Instead, the stages of adaptation are more like a spiral, where you might progress in some areas while still experiencing challenges in others.

In any case, every new challenge might become a good experience to learn about yourself and to build your capacity to deal with stress and change.

Adapted from: Refugee children and Families: A model for Successful Integration By Edna Sutherland in Partnership with Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS)

Useful Links

Settlement Organizations in Nova Scotia

Settlement organizations offer programs and services to support your family to settle in Nova Scotia. They help you to connect with services and community organizations.


ADAMS - Support for African Immigrants and their Families -

Halifax Refugee Clinic - Legal and settlement services for refugee claimants -

Immigration Francophone Nouvelle Ecosse - Support for francophone immigrants -

YMCA Newcomer Centre for Immigrant Programs - Support programs for immigrant children and their families -

Other Resources

Newcomers Guide to Halifax

Recreational Services - Recreational programs and services in Halifax -

Libraries - In Nova Scotia, libraries are places to read, to connect and to learn. Find a library near you by visiting

Community Health Teams - Offers free wellness programs and services in your community

Family Resource Centres in Nova Scotia - help families and individuals in the community. Their programs include parenting workshops, parent and child groups, academic upgrading, health and wellness, individual counselling, and stress management. The programs are free. There is free childcare at the centres for most programs.