September 21, 2020 5 min read

Sometimes a professional career move might be exactly that: a physical relocation from one end of the globe to the other. Despite the ongoing pandemic, immigration to Canada is slowly but surely increasing with many international professionals and international students ready for their new chapter in their professional journeys. According to the IRCC annual report, in 2018 there were more than 721K international students at all levels of study in Canada plus 186K economic immigrants. For any newcomer to Canada, establishing your professionalism is one of the many things on the to-do list. However, the adjustment period isn’t as easy as unpacking one luggage at a time. How does an international professional find their footing in their new environment?

 

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Meet Your New Best Friend: Culture Shock

Young professional with backup walking in cherry blossom park.

Picture this: you’ve relocated to another place and are filled with the hope of endless opportunity. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at once. As a newcomer, you’re ready to move forward no matter the obstacles in your path. You want to make this your new home, and professional success is the cherry on top. This is often referred to as the honeymoon stage; everything is great at first glance! However, as you start to get your bearings, you’re met with an unexpected travelling companion who is here to not only show you around but also set the record straight. Meet culture shock.

Culture shock is defined as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”. This experience is to be expected when you’re relocating for a job or school. It’s normal to miss what was once familiar to you. Homesickness hits hard here and with it, all those negative emotions might make it hard to put your best foot forward. It’s an experience that happens in small and big moments in both personal and professional circumstances. As a newcomer, you’ve been shaped by the culture you left behind and are now faced with a new one – even in the workplace! Everything that once seemed natural to you is suddenly not the right reflex in your new home. This frustrating stage  is easy to get stuck in.

So how do you stop your new friend, culture shock, from completely overwhelming you? Loretta Lam,  Chief President & Strategist at Focus Communications, sums it down to accepting the changes and being open to learning. Many newcomers describe feeling like they’re starting from scratch, like a baby so to speak, learning everything all at once. You’re not changing as a person; you’re adjusting and adapting to your surroundings accordingly. As a marketing professional hailing from Hong Kong, Loretta encountered this in the way she communicated. “When I first came here,”, she recalls, “I remember people said that I speak too fast, walk too fast, do things too fast, and I [learnt] to slow down.” It wasn’t that Loretta wasn’t a good communicator. It was merely learning how to adjust her communication style to the Canadian professional culture she found herself in.

Text: There's a struggle in terms of learning the Canadian culture. It's a lot of learning so that you'll be able to work well with colleagues and clients.

By not allowing her culture shock to stop her in her tracks, she kept moving forward in her career without missing a step. Sure, she may have made a few mistakes along the way, but that’s part of the learning process. Suddenly she was a pro at small talk which she claims is essential for any international professional. She also made it part of her routine to stay informed of the media and marketing landscape so she understood how to fit her skills effectively.

Building Your Online Network: Support & Connection

Any professional knows the importance of networking and for international professionals and students, it’s vital. Through networking and meeting new people, that sense of isolation from culture shock will slowly melt away. The key here is to be genuine and vulnerable by sharing your story with others. Some will connect with you and bit by bit, a support circle of colleagues and friends will surround you. We recommend online networking as a way to test the waters and also as a means to keep safe during these socially distanced times. Plus, we’ve put together a blog on successful techniques for online networking here for you. Brush up and get ready to introduce yourself via Zoom!

Phone being held in front of city landscape.

Soon your network will begin to recognize you thanks to your efforts, and your professional reputation will start to grow. You’ll be amazed at how quickly people will begin to think of you when those unexpected jobs pop up. Loretta experienced this firsthand thanks to all her networking. As a marketing professional, she was a natural people person and wasn’t afraid to make the rounds.

 

Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and jump into different roles at any time? —Loretta Lam

So where exactly could you flex your networking muscles? Here are a few avenues worth exploring:

  • Online Networking Platforms:  LinkedIn is the biggest professional network platforms for a reason. Ge your profile set up and start making those connections!
  • Volunteer Work:  charities and non for profits always need a helping hand. It’s a rewarding enough experience but the added benefit lies in meeting those who like helping as much as you do!
  • School Clubs & Organizations:  if you’re a student be sure to tap into all the opportunities your school offers. And if you’re an alumni student, reach out again to see what’s available.

Don’t Play the Comparison Game

It’s easy to allow genuine curiosity to become a comparison game between you and your colleagues or friends. Especially if that person has similar circumstances like you. How did they get 3 steps ahead while you’re back here? It’s harder than ever to not fall into this routine with social media being such a normal part of our lives. For a newcomer, playing the comparison game can lead to triggering the effects of cultural shock all over again. Are you doing it right? Is there a right way? The questions can spiral out of control.
So, avoid the game entirely. No one will even notice if you take a step back. Limit your social media time. Or if you still want to play the game, compare yourself to well, yourself. By doing this, you’re examining your own results and validating your progress. That feeling of achievement you manifest each day is the fuel you’ll need to push it a little further the next day. Each day that you strive to be a better version of yourself is a winning day in our books!

Culture Shock or Not, You’re A Pro

With all that said, experiencing culture shock in the workplace is uncomfortable and takes time to process. All those feelings are natural and normal. Remember that being an international professional or international student isn’t a job title. You have so much more to offer with your unique talents and background. You’re here to pursue your professional dreams and there’s no boundary to that unless you set one yourself. Don’t let anything hold you back from finding success in your new home!



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