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Moving to a new country is a unique experience for everyone but it can also be described through the following five steps. 

  1. Excited expectation – Honeymoon

Arriving to a new country is often a very positive and hopeful time. Cultural diversity does not disturb but fascinates. Most often the expectations of the newcomer are high, and one has a strong belief in learning a language and finding a job.  Expectations and hopes can be partly unrealistic. For example, it may seem that the new country has no problems at all. This is because difficulties are denied, or we close our eyes to them. You are looking for evidence that departure was the right choice and you want to see everything through “heart shaped glasses”. An example of this could be that “Malta is a place where the sun is always shining, and you don’t need to worry about anything”. 

2.  Conflict of Desires and Opportunities – Crisis

Attitudes towards a new country become more realistic once a person has been in the country for a longer period.  There are always some problems no matter where you live. The home country starts to feel good in every way whilst the new country starts to feel bad. At this stage, one often feels unwell and suffers from a variety of ailments. Feelings of loneliness and disappointment are common: “Maybe it wasn’t worth coming here after all?” “Did I make the right choice?”

3.  Adjustment Stage – Strong reactions and emotions 

Uncertainty of the future and lack of routines are stressful. In the new environment you need to concentrate on every single thing which takes power and energy. This is psychologically heavy. At the same time, you should find and build some new relationships. Suitable jobs might not be found right away. This arouses particularly intense reactions and emotions, which means that you may feel scared. Many say they are surprised by the intensity of their own feelings. Even intense emotions are a normal part of the readjustment process. 

4. Moving Towards balance 

Little by little, things are starting to sort themselves out in the new country and the attitude towards the future is more positive. You start to trust your chances to survive despite difficulties.  You may start building lasting friendships or making plans for the future. 

The strongest emotion at this point is usually grief that also feels like home sickness. Grieving is natural and even necessary. You must abandon some old things to make room for the new. Grieving is a sign that you are ready to move on. Your own life story becomes a strength and memories become riches. 

5. Independence / Assimilation Stage

At this point of the process, one begins to notice the positive aspects of immigration. You are proficient in two cultures and can act in both. Two cultures enrich lives and provide new opportunities. One has adapted. Ordinary joys, sorrows, and serenity will come to life again.

Bonus Step:   Reverse Culture Shock

You go back to your first country for a visit and suddenly you are shocked and surprised – it’s not what you expected it to be! You don’t feel the same – you feel different. You thought it was going to be as it was before, just like the old days, but it’s not. Because you have changed. The realization that “I have changed” is surprising. You have grown and you have developed – you now know and understand much more than before.

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Finnish psychologist, who moved to Malta 2018 and has been slowly but surely adjusting to the Maltese environment and culture. She works at Willingness as a Clinical Psychologist and she is specialised in offering support to individuals from different age groups, couples and families.  You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or 9944 9910.