Adapting to a new culture

Life in Canada may be different from what you are used to in your home country, but it’s a new adventure and even the most exciting and positive experiences in our lives can have an element of stress, which you may experience as culture shock. This happens in stages, it’s different for each student, and you may not realize when it's happening to you.

You may arrive in Canada full of energy and excited about your upcoming studies, but after a few days or weeks, you may begin to feel lonely, disoriented, frustrated, homesick, or depressed. You may feel overwhelmed by the change in weather, language, culture, and the time zone. It is normal to feel this way while you get accustomed to your life abroad, this will change as time passes and you familiarize yourself with your surroundings, meet new people, and feel more comfortable in your new home. If you’re experiencing culture shock, try these strategies:

Strategies for dealing with culture shock

Keep an open mind.Keep an open mind

You will find differences and similarities between your home culture and Canadian culture, which will give you an opportunity to grow as a person, learn other ways of doing things, and experience new perspectives.  The most important thing you can do is keep an open mind and resist thinking of one culture or country as  better than the other. Take it as an opportunity to expand your horizons! 

question mark iconAsk questions

If you are unsure or confused about something, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Canadians are generally very willing to help and asking about Canadian life can make your transition smoother.

handshake iconMeet other international and Canadian students

The International Peer Community and International and Canadian Student Network (ICSN) are here for you — whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, or on exchange. These groups offer an opportunity to meet new people, build your support network, explore Ontario, and learn about Canadian culture. If you're nervous about making friends, check out Life Skills in University for tips. 

smartphone iconStay connected with home

Keep in touch with people at home! If you call, video chat, email or write to your family and friends on a regular basis, you'll feel less homesick. Remember it’s normal to feel homesick at first, talking to your peers will also help you share experiences and find support in one another. 

thumbs up iconTry something new

Trying a new activity or pursuing a hobby you love in your new setting is a great way to adjust to a new culture. Join a club, play sports and music, or take recreational classes, which are all available on campus. Doing this will also help you meet new people and build your campus network.

explore iconExplore the region

The more you get to know Kitchener-Waterloo and all it has to offer, the more at home you'll feel here. The Tri-Cities area has year-round events and activities for you to enjoy, and an array of restaurants to explore.

Look after yourself. Your wellbeing is important! 

knife and fork iconEat a good meal

Staying nourished and hydrated will help you settle into Canadian life. There are many international food stores and restaurants within walking distance of campus and you may find some of the same foods from home. Experiment with new foods slowly as not to upset your stomach.

sleep iconGet enough rest at night

Get enough sleep, especially during your first days in Canada. You may need to recover from the “jet lag” (fatigue and disorientation) brought on by travelling. Try your best to wake up and rest during regular hours so that your body can adjust to your new environment.

person saying helloTalk to someone

Share how you feel with a close friend, your Residence Life don, academic advisor, or someone else you trust. You may also want to consider speaking to a professional. Counselling Services offers a variety of confidential services at no charge to University of Waterloo students, and there are many peer support and mentorship opportunities on campus. 

Pay attention to how you feel.Pay attention to how you feel

Although it is normal to feel out of place and perhaps out of your comfort zone at first, it is important to understand how the changes around you may affect you. Pay attention to what your body needs and if you are ill reach out to Health Services for help. 

Reflect on your challenges.Reflect on your challenges

When you feel you are struggling, think about what is making you feel frustrated. Why is something challenging or not going how you expect? Does this have to do with cultural differences or difficulties with your studies? Reflecting on your challenges will help you find a way to solve an issue or think about the help that you may need. Remember there are resources on campus ready to support you.

clock iconGive yourself time

Give yourself extra time to accomplish things and adjust to your new routine. Life will be less stressful if you do not try to complete too many tasks in one day. If you still feel overwhelmed after a few weeks, visit the Student Success Office. We're here to help!