A new culture is an acquired taste, like escargots or single malt whiskey.
There is no one correct way to adapt to a new culture, but there are ways to carve your niche within it. You can assimilate the culture because you’ll find common grounds between your culture and the new one you’re stepping into.
Picture this: you’re an international student coming to Canada with your hopes, dreams, and luggage. You’ve just arrived in your new home, and whether you’re living by yourself or with roommates; in campus or off campus, your environment is unfamiliar. How do you fit in?
When I first arrived in Canada, I was lonely. I didn’t know anybody, but I had joined many Facebook groups in hopes to find some friends ahead of the start of school. While I wasn’t taken aback by any of the cultural differences, it took me some time to adjust to the differences in taste. For many of my peers, the cold was a shock. I, on the other hand, welcomed it with open arms. I let the snow kiss my face and breathed the chilled air freely.
The beginning of a school semester, generally fall or winter, is usually when it starts to get cold in Canada. No matter where you’ve come from, the Canadian cold will feel different. The first step to finding your place is adjusting to what’s jarringly new – the cold, and maybe the food.
It gets cold quickly, and there is little time to adjust, but proper preparation will ensure you’re comfortable. Most retail outlets have sales in September and October and with your student identification card, you might be able to get student discounts on warm clothing.
Your warm clothing however may not take away the loneliness that comes with international studies. One of the biggest challenges international students might face is making friends who aren’t from the same cultural background. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it might be the case if this is your first exposure to a diverse group of nationalities.
Don’t despair! Making new friends is much like getting through middle school by finding people who connect with you.
Connect with Canada
There are many ways to make friends, but the best way to start is by connecting with someone who comes from a completely different cultural background. This means taking the time to learn about them and their unique culture. Ask them questions to learn about where they come from, their cuisine, and try to find a common ground. As you ask questions, be cautious of how you express your curiosity. Be sensitive to the fact that what is known as “Canada” today was built on colonized lands and a violent history.
Take some time to learn about Canada’s colonial history and the way it affected the Indigenous peoples. As you learn about Indigenous history, think about how you can be an ally and how you can immerse yourself here as part of the decolonization movement. As an immigrant, it’s your duty to do so.
While people are the best conduit for you to learn about and adjust to a new culture, you can explore your neighborhood and city by yourself too. Go for a walk in your neighborhood when it’s safe to do so. Explore parks, restaurants, food trucks, and museums. Do the big, noticeably Canadian things, but also note the subtle differences between the way people do things here and how people might do things where you’re from. For instance, people here are very polite and express their gratitude often. It’s a good idea to take to that habit. It makes people feel good and you’ll feel a part of your community. Eat poutine – a delicacy of fries, gravy, and cheese curds – on your walks. They’re available almost everywhere!
It’s unusual to see pedestrian signs and dedicated sidewalks in many places outside North America and Europe. Remember to look around for pedestrian signs to know when and where to cross the streets. It’s a small thing, but it can keep you safe. Being cautious of your surroundings and aware of the emergency services available in your neighborhood are also important for your safety. While Canada is one of the safest countries to live in, awareness and precaution are always better than unpreparedness.
So, you’ve done all that you need to initially fit in. The first few weeks of your stay in Canada have passed but something still feels off. Are you feeling a little out of place? I did, for a very long time. Here’s how I found my niche.
- I retained little parts of my home culture by getting in touch with cultural groups in my city. This meant finding the nearest Hindu temple and the nearest Buddhism center where I could find a sense of community. To you, this might mean finding the nearest dance group which practices your national dance or finding the nearest church where you can attend mass. Always retain a little piece of home with you to suit the yearnings of your heart.
- Take part in events by other cultural groups. I lived in residence on campus during my first year of university. I took part in events that catered to cultures from countries other than mine and that’s where I met some of my closest friends. Such events are not restricted just to university or college campuses. You can find them at City Halls in your city or in parks and theatres. These are cultural hubs that can help you find your groove.
- Step out of your comfort zone. By forcing yourself to interact with traditions, people, and customs that challenge and intrigue you, you’re setting yourself up for success in an international and culturally diverse society. As the saying goes – get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
There’s no monolith to finding your cultural fit in Canada. It is, after all, a “multicultural” nation. There is a community for everyone, you just need to find yours.