When I meet people who have left their native country to live in Canada I am impressed by their courage and I hope that Canada will be a home where new lives will make their sacrifice worthwhile. The decision to emigrate to Canada triggers enormous change from familiar customs, people and systems to a land where everything will feel strange and many established assumptions no longer hold true. An immigrant’s two-fold challenge is to make both the changes demanded by their new circumstances and the psychological transition from disorientation to a sense of comfort and confidence in their new home. I hope there is abundant guidance to help immigrants find a job, enroll for health services, learn to speak French or English and learn to participate in Canada’s democratic institutions because I’m not going to discuss any of that. This will be about transition.
William Bridges, who has written extensively about helping employees of large companies to make the transition required when corporate structures are changed, identifies three phases of transition. Phase One is an Ending, Phase Two is the Neutral Zone and Phase 3 is a New Beginning. Bridges’ insights apply beyond corporations and can help immigrants adjust psychologically to life in Canada.
Ending. “Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something.” (Paul Valéry). The greatest fear triggered by change is the fear of loss rather than fear of what lies ahead and facing the loss brings strength. What will go from you previous life? What features of your life have led to the decision to move to Canada? Be absolutely clear in your mind why you are making this major change and totally honest with yourself about everything in your past that now must die. Secondly, bring from the past the seeds of your future – the education, skills, values and character traits that you will draw on when the going get tough. These need to be as clear in your mind as the reasons for leaving. “The secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep.” (from “The Gambler” recorded by Kenny Rogers).
“Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be born.” (Matthew Arnold). The challenge of The Neutral Zone is to learn to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Transition is hard work and it will take time to feel at home in Canada. Expect to face two dangers as you wander. The first will be the temptation to turn back. When my ancestors emigrated from Scotland and England in the 19th Century there must have been longing to go back but no real temptation. The voyage back was too dangerous and too expensive. In this era of jet flights do something to burn your bridges to the past until you know in your heart that Canada is your home. You might affirm your determination to make your home in Canada in a written declaration to yourself that you can review when memories of you previous life take on the golden glow of nostalgia.
The second danger will be a desire to force your way beyond the neutral zone too quickly. It is in the neutral zone that we are all at our most creative, freed of old ways that no longer work and not yet settled into routines that stifle new ideas. Avoid any rush to adopt permanent arrangements or attitudes too quickly. Keep your goals general rather than specific. A goal of fully embracing new experiences, new ideas and new possibilities is much better than setting a target of being fully settled in a high paying job within a year from your arrival. Never set a deadline for personal growth.
Phase Three, a New Beginning, will sneak up on you. You realize one day, after countless changes and transition steps, that Canada is home. Welcome home!