Life is made up of small and big changes to which we have to adapt. Some are associated with events, life stages or unforeseen events. You’ve probably already experienced a few of these in recent years: starting college or university, leaving your home, moving to a new town, mourning the loss of a relationship, living with a roommate, etc. Although everyone reacts differently to change, knowing how to adapt is essential. Stubbornly resisting a change over which we have little or no control can generate its share of difficult emotions and lead to exhaustion. So we can work on developing our ability to navigate through life’s ups and downs.

What influences the ability to adapt to change?

Adapting to change or transition is a complex process that depends on many factors.

  • The characteristics of the situation: Is the change unexpected, desired, or imposed? Does it occur at the same time as other events that place heavy demands on your energy? Are there any features that make the situation easier or harder to cope with?
  • Your reactions or behaviours when facing change: What do you feel when you experience change: excitement, fear, anxiety? What strategies do you see for coping with the situation: controlling the situation, changing direction, managing stress? Do you have confidence in your ability to get through the situation?
  • The resources available to you: Are the people around you (family and friends) available to support you during this change? Do you have access to services at your school? Do you feel equipped to adapt to this change?

The migratION experience: Moving to PURSUE YOUR STUDIES

If you’re an international student, the migration experience has probably been synonymous with major changes and upheavals in your lifestyle. Everyone’s experience is different, but adaptation is generally a gradual and non-linear process.

  1. The honeymoon: this is the period of euphoria and excitement following the arrival. Everything is new, everything is beautiful!
  2. Crisis or confrontation: this period of delusion usually coincides with the start of classes. It’s at this time that the differences between Quebec and your country of origin can be keenly felt. There’s a loss of bearings, leading to feelings of confusion, frustration, powerlessness, isolation, and nostalgia. This is when you may feel a strong desire to return to a familiar, secure environment.
  3. Adjustment: This stage takes more or less time, depending on the coping strategies put in place. Not everything is perfect, but new habits, and a sense of competence is established.
  4. Bicultural fluency: This is the final stage, which may occur after several years, when you know feel at home in both the host culture and your culture of origin.

Transition to adulthood

The transition to adulthood usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 25, but it can start as early as 16 and end after 30.

This period, full of both challenges and opportunities, is a time of gradual empowerment. Becoming more independent can, for example, lead you to leave the family nest, make professional choices, invest in a romantic relationship, learn to manage your finances, have a child, get a coveted job, etc.

This opportunity to make your own choices is exciting, but it can also bring the fear of making mistakes and a certain amount of stress, since the situation is also synonymous with novelty and renunciation. In fact, statistically speaking, a higher proportion of people transitioning to adulthood show signs of psychological distress than other age groups.

Starting College or university

Transitions from high school to college and university come with their own set of academic, social, and psychological challenges. The same is true if you’re going from a master’s degree to a doctorate. What we’re trying to tell you here is that it’s normal to feel a little disoriented during your first semester. It’s a big adjustment period for many things: adapting to a new learning culture, uncertainty about your field of study, developing a sense of competence, and so much more.

And then there’s life beyond your studies, with its own set of challenges. It’s normal to need a few weeks before you feel competent and at ease in your program. Some doubts and challenges may remain, but you’ll still be able to persevere, remaining confident that things will improve over time.

Strategies for a healthy approach to change

Positioning yourself in the face of change

  • List the potential impacts (positive or negative) of the change.
  • Gradually try to create new landmarks for yourself, knowing that this takes time and experimentation.
  • Try to nurture an attitude of letting go if you have no control over the situation.  
  • Assess your level of tolerance when faced with uncertainty (don’t plan for everything, leave some free space in your schedule, etc.).

Experiencing emotions

  • Give yourself time to “digest the news,” to be unsettled and to experience a variety of emotions.
  • Take care of your relationships and spend time with your loved ones, despite the workload and the desire to isolate yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness to help you ground yourself in the present moment, and acceptance.
  • Talk to those close to you to talk about your emotions and get them out.
  • Ask for support if you feel you can’t cope.

Take action

  • Use stress energy to react and take action.
  • If you set yourself a goal, break it down into sub-steps to encourage perseverance and avoid discouragement.
  • Be proactive in implementing solutions and don’t wait for the perfect solution.
  • Allow yourself the flexibility to adjust along the way.

You can also watch the stories of Émilie and Andres, who have shown great adaptability during their studies.

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References

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Consortium d’animation sur la persévérance et la réussite en enseignement supérieur. (2020) Transitions interordres et intercycles en enseignement supérieur

Centre d’études sur le stress humain. (2019) Stratégies d’adaptation

Centre RBC d’expertise universitaire en santé mentale. (2017) Recension des écrits sur la transition à l’âge adulte

Institut de la statistique du Québec. (2015) Portrait statistique de la santé mentale des Québécois. Résultats de l’Enquête sur la santé dans les collectivités canadiennes

Université de Sherbrooke. (2021) Adaptation au changement – Étudiants – Université de Sherbrooke (usherbrooke.ca)

Université Laval. (2016) Choc culturel et adaptation

Credits

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Illustration : Mario Fontaine

Contribution to the article : Isabelle Queval, psychologist

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