Immigrant Adaptation Stages

I’ve had the great opportunity and privilege to help expatriates and immigrants who move abroad to restart their professional life in their new country. I work in the job searching and professional development field, but I end up also helping with the psychological aspects of cultural adaptation. I have realized that knowing the immigrant adaptation stages brings a lot of comfort to people going through that process. That’s why I want to share this knowledge with you so that you can feel comforted and encouraged along your journey. 

The adaptation process is not easy! And why isn’t it? For two main reasons: losses and radical changes. And what are those? I will mention some of them.

One of them is the loss of social support. When you leave your country, you lose the interaction with your family, friends, and a whole professional network. You lose bonds, support, and the opportunity to have pleasant chats with people you know and trust. That is one of the most significant losses an immigrant suffers: the loss of their social support. 

Another loss is status. Sometimes, the person already had all their life settled as an acknowledged and respected professional and had an established network. After arriving here, they have to prove themselves all over again and restart, sometimes, in initial positions without the same prestige. Before becoming fluent in English, understanding the market, and achieving the professional development necessary to work in their area (requirements may be different), the immigrant has to deal with the loss of status. And it can cause a lot of pain. 

What else does the immigrant have to fight? Cultural shock is a critical factor that causes stress, anxiety, and identity crisis. We come from a culture where people have a way of being, thinking, and acting, and the people in the new country are not like us. The eating habits, raising kids, and social interaction rules are different, to name a few changes. But, as you keep yourself open, you may decide you like some of those differences and even adopt some new practices.

Another point of pain is the change in expectations concerning gender. If you move to a radically different country, the expectations can be highly unusual for you. If you marry a native, you may realize that the expectations for a woman are not quite the same as those in your land, and the same works for men. You will need to adapt to this reality gradually. 

Therefore, all those losses and radical changes make the adaptation process complex and challenging, affecting your identity and emotions. And as they add up, they can increase tension, develop in us a sense of inadequacy, and generate an identity crisis.

But I have good news for you! You’re not the only one to go through all that; many other people have already been there. That’s normal! All those weird feelings are natural under such circumstances. You don’t have to feel like an E.T.! Every immigrant goes through all that adaptation process.

To help you be successful and overcome all that, I would like to detail the adaptation process and explain the adaptation stages for the immigrant, hoping it will help you to better understand what you are going through.

The first stage of the immigrant’s adaptation is the honeymoon – You arrive at your new country and are amazed at everything. “I’m going to start a new life, and everything will be wonderful.” You look at something and say, “Wow! How cool that is!”; “Wow, this is so different!”; “Wow, this is so much better.”; ” Wow! Look at the supermarket! There are so many exciting things I’ve never seen in my country!”. You get fascinated, everything is new, and you want to go sightseeing everywhere. It is a stage of enchantment.

After that comes the rejection stage – After the first phase of amazement and admiration, you start to see the dark side of things. All right, there are much better and more fascinating aspects about it, but, at the same time, there are many new habits that are difficult for you to understand and accept. There are many rules and ways of doing with which you can’t agree. You struggle with principles and values.

Besides that, you are also starting to experience the realities of everyday life, developing your daily routine. The pressures of survival kick in. Your thoughts turn to ideas like how you will make ends meet and make money, how you will settle down here, getting furniture to your home, obtain a driver’s license, enroll kids in school, etc. The pressure is high! It is overwhelming to think about so many details. 

You suddenly realize that you are an immigrant, and maybe you can’t speak the language or don’t have the fluency needed. And you get to the conclusion that you’ll have a long way ahead until you get adapted. The dream is possible, but it’s not so easy as you imagined.

At that moment, you start to miss your country, the people you left behind, and you get nostalgic. It seems that, after all, your country is so much better than here. You start to feel like going back. It is too much! And some do. But, if you resist this stage, victory is right ahead!

The third stage is acceptance – You start to see that, yes, there are differences. Yes, there are difficulties. But after some time, you get a little more adapted, the kids get used to school, you already know where the supermarket is, how some things work, what you can and can’t do, you overcame some of those cruel feelings of missing home, and you start to think: “Ok, I can survive here.”; “Ok, I can carry on.”.

After that comes the fourth and last stage, the adaptation –you start to be happy here and feel more integrated. You are not who you used to be anymore; you ar a new person with new values, principles, and customs. You probably have preserved some of your own cultural identity, which is good, but you are not the same person. As you suffered the influence of the new culture, you adopted some of the new ways of the culture. You can be happy here, even though you know that you will always miss home and you will never be totally like a native. You have learned how to interact with the new reality and have established a more extensive support network with new friendships and social groups. You are adapted.

Everything will be all right for the vast majority if you can make it to the critical stage. Some people may decide it is too much for them and go back. But, if you are struggling, I encourage you to keep going! If you persevere, it will get better!

Here are some solutions for you that may help you in the process:

  • Seek support in the immigrant community – Don’t go through this process alone! Look for people who have gone through the process. They can point to easier ways, to resources, and be a source of encouragement for you.
  • Seek professional help – This process may be too much to handle emotionally. Seek a psychologist or a Coach to walk this journey with you working in your mindset, encouraging you, and keeping you accountable in the middle of so many necessary tasks and transformations.
  • Learn to be comfortable in the unknown – the more information you get, the more your anxiety levels will go down. The more you know, the more comfortable you will feel with the situation. But in this long adaptation process, you will need to develop the ability to stay calm in the middle of the unkown.

Finally, I would like to invite you to be a member of our Facebook group called “Seasoned with an Accent,” a group of global professionals trying to figure out life abroad together. Here is the link:

And if you need professional support, we are here to help! Book a complimentary meeting:

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