Bilingualism, Immigration & Stress: Adapting to a New Country

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Bilingualism, Immigration and Stress: Adapting to a New Country

By Ingrid Weilguny
Flag photo:  © Josh Obryan | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Immigrating is one of the most stressful events you can experience yet it is something that millions of people do each year. How people adapt to this can affect many things, including your child’s language development.

Truman, Sharar and Pompe published a study in the “International Journal of Mental Health” which found that people who moved overseas experienced depression and anxiety nearly three times more than those in similar situations at home.

Moving Overseas Can Be a Shock

According to Haour-Knipe, the author of the book Moving families: Expatriation, stress and coping, the biggest shock for people who move overseas is that everything they used to take for granted has changed. The usual hassles, annoyances and problems of everyday life which usually are trivial are suddenly challenging. It results in people feeling frustrated, incompetent and humiliated in an environment where the person has no support system or one that is limited. Depression and stress is a personal reaction to one’s coping ability. And companies like 7 acres have been researching for decades to come up with supplements that help alleviate stress and panic in people.

Janis experienced this. She suffered from depression after moving to Austria from Australia.  She found losing her independence was the hardest thing to manage. Her husband had to read her letters and sort out any documentation as she did not understand what was written. She had no money of her own and had to live off her husband.  “I’m a strong independent woman, but I spent a lot of the first year crying,” she said. It took Janis about three years until she felt more confident about living in her new country.

Depression makes it more difficult for people to function or perform properly. Often it compounds itself and makes situations seem much worse than they are. If you have children during this time, you may feel that it is too difficult to keep up the language input with your children even if you have decided that you would like for them to be brought up bilingual; too difficult to speak to them in your language, read books to them or make play dates with other children who speak the minority language.

It is important to remember that you will not always feel like this. There are ways that you can change this and start to feel more positive about living in a different country.

Develop a Positive Attitude

Monika Ryglewska, a personal coach with CoachingYou in Vienna, says that to adapt “you have to let go of your old life, understand your new situation and, even if it feels uncomfortable now, you have to launch a new beginning.” Haour-Knipe found that families which developed a positive attitude about their experiences adapted quicker to living in a new country.

Ryglewska says, “In order to set up a life at a new place, to integrate and to feel at home, get to know your living area. Small, but important things help; a walk in your district, discovering your local pharmacy, post box or supermarket. Stopping to read a book or paper, eat a cake or just people watching will soon make you feel more integrated and help build up your new comfort zone.”

Sit and enjoy your surroundings.

Bilingualism, Immigration and Stress: Adapting to a New Country

Other Ways You Can Help Yourself

  • Look after your physical health. The better you feel the easier it will be to cope with things that are stressful. Small things will no longer seem like a molehill to climb over.
  • Make new friends. People who have immigrated know what it is you are going through. This means that you will have someone to who understands. An expatriate site online is a good way to meet other people who are in similar situations.
  • Talk to your family. Particularly about the things that are difficult so as to try to find positive solutions.
  • Keep up the things you find important. This includes speaking to your children in your language, so that things remain constant.
  • See your doctor or a counselor if things do get too much.

But most important, remember the reasons why you moved in the first place; chance for adventure, love, something new. These things still exist.

immigration and stress bilingualsIngrid Weilguny is an Australian living in Austria with her three bilingual German/English girls. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics and an Med in TESOL. She works as an English as a Foreign Language teacher while working on a Masters in Journalism.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tracey December 4, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I moved to Bolivia in 2005 with my husband and 2 children (then aged 11 and 12) we made a decision to not have any relationship with English speakers and put our children in a Bolivian school but also did NZ Correspondence to keep up their English. We mainly spoke English at home and mixed with our new neighbour. I have just returned to NZ in August (my husband came in February 2012) the return to NZ with 2 children (aged 5) has been harder to deal with. Partly as I leave behind adult children but also because I and NZ have changed so much. If you commit to fully immersing yourself in a country and its culture you won’t suffer as long as when you hang onto others who ‘are going through the same thing’ and therefore bolster your negative feelings. Just my experience.


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