How to cope with missing your country: a guide for new immigrants in Montreal


The first year after settling into a new country is the hardest in terms of adaptation, as the immigrant is caught between two worlds. At the same time as having to deal with new situations and make a new life from day to day, one tends to idealize all that's left behind, regret familiar comforts and miss loved ones back there. While time is the great healer, and integration will help ease the cultural shock, here are some basic steps meant to guide newcomers through the nostalgia and inevitable false starts of their first few months in Montreal.

1) Have an action plan beforehand, and stick to it.

  • Make concrete plans for your next visit home. Having a return plane ticket or a scheduled date allows you to look forward to something in the short/medium run.
  • Set up regular times for communication with your family or friends in the old country. Take into account time differences and work schedules.

Caution: While those closest to you are not out of your life just because you are away, it is important to not reduce your life to keeping contact with them.

  • Keep yourself busy. Follow through with the actions required to settle in Montreal/Quebec. On arrival, you will be given a list of governmental organisations and NGOs that offer workshops and information sessions to support immigrants in their process of settling and integration. More information on this can be found at the Ministry of Immigration website (in French only).

Note: If at this stage you are unemployed and have a lot of time on your hands, it is advisable do something toward integration and wellbeing: take the free French courses offered by the Ministry of Immigration; practice sports or other activities for free at your neighbourhood community center.

  • Channel nostalgia into something concrete. Everything that you actively produce is a step forward toward building a new life - but this does not have to involve cutting all ties or repressing your feelings. You may be cooking traditional dishes of 'back home' or decorating your new place to mark continuity with the old one. If you are so inclined, you can express yourself in a poem, a painting or a diary detailing your transition.

2) Explore the new place

  • Find solace in sameness: look for and enjoy the elements of the place that are similar to those in your old country. If the climate is the same, delight in the seasons. If churches, parks, open markets are familiar spaces, incorporate them into your new routines.
  • Find excitement in difference. In the beginning of your stay, you have the luxury of being a tourist in Montreal. Enjoy discovery of its most celebrated attractions: the Old Port, the view on top of Mont Royal, the Saint Joseph Oratory. Gradually take in the atmosphere that makes the place unique - elements of architecture; history of Montreal/Quebec; multiculturality; local cuisine.

Caution: Do not pit this new environment against your old one, in terms of either loving or hating it. Your impressions are still fragile. Comparison is inevitable, but it is recommended to make it in terms of "different", not "better" or "worse".

3) Talk to new people

  • Seek out your native cultural community. You are not the only one or the first of your country to have made it to Montreal: no matter how small, there are groups of people here who speak your language and are trying to preserve your common traditions. It is not mandatory to get involved in their activities, just know they are there as potential resource.
  • Share with other new immigrants. They are probably the ones relating the most to what you are going through. New immigrants are easy to meet, in French classes or integration workshops. Some NGOs, like for example La Maison de l'Amitie or Le Collectif des Femmes Immigrantes, offer programmes of social get-togethers for immigrants alongside regular workshops.
  • Talk to locals. In the first stages, locals are harder to form relationships with, especially outside of a school or workplace environment. However, you can, without having high expectations, make small talk at the grocery store, laundromat, community center, or strike up a conversation with your instructors after a workshop. Use this as an opportunity to test the language and create ties to your new neighbourhood.

Caution: Terminology may feel tricky at first, in communication. You may feel you should declare allegiance to Canada, or that you are not entirely Canadian yet, or that your old country is not your country anymore; these internal grapplings will be resolved in time; rest assured that your old country is still your country if you choose to call it so, for as long as you choose to, irrespective of citizenship status.

Note: You will be asked "Do you miss your country?" a lot. While to some it may be a triggering question, keep in mind that people probably don't mean harm, on the contrary, they want to show empathy. If this is a sensitive question for you, it would probably help to come up with a neutral, stock answer.

4) Know that setbacks are normal during this time.

One day you may feel full of hope and energy, the next day you'll be lying on the floor catatonically or fantasizing about taking the first flight back. Allow yourself these feelings, they are natural; it should get better in the long run.

5) Ask for specialized help.

If you feel continually depressed and homesick a while after arrival, and the decision to return is ruled out, you can seek the help of a professional.Your local center of community services (CLSC) provides psychological care for anyone in need. Some of the integration centers for immigrants may also offer informal services of counseling. In situations of extreme stress, you may appeal to one of the crisis centers in Montreal.

Remember: the very fact that you are living here now represents a great achievement on your part, an act of patience, ambition and courage. Your life is wherever you choose to be - good luck making the best of it!

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