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Loss and grief as a result of immigration

Patricia M. Arredondo-Dowd (1981), whose father was a Mexican immigrant, shared her memories and insights about living in an ethnically diverse community in the United States. She observed that, very often at the beginning, newcomers experience joy and exhilaration that later change into disappointment and experiencing grief and loss. She used a metaphor that immigrating to a different country is like “closing the door on a part of their lives” (Arredondo-Dowd, 1981, p. 377). No matter if the immigration was a voluntary decision, immigrants have to face a settlement period that often elicits difficult feelings. It often happens that people idealize their homelands and previous life. Born to Finnish parents, a Canadian anthropologist, Kalervo Oberg (1954), coined the term of culture shock. It is a situation when a person from a different cultural background has to face a new culture. Oberg (1954), distinguished five stages in this process:

  1. One feels euphoria about the exciting new culture.
  2. Normal daily activities seem more like crises. As a result, immigrants direct feelings of hostility toward those around them. This is a period of psychological transition from back-home values to host-home values when failure to succeed can lead to extreme dissatisfaction with the host culture.
  3. People begin to understand the host culture and feel more in touch with themselves.
  4. The host culture is viewed as offering both positive and negative alternatives.
  5. The immigrant returns home and experiences reverse culture shock in readjustment (as cited in Arredondo-Dowd, 1981, p. 376).
There are additional theories on acculturation and assimilation. Foster (as cited in Arredondo-Dowd, 1981), distinguished four stages of adjustments that are: fascination, hostility towards the host culture, adjustment and genuine biculturalism. He claims that one can benefit from experiencing these stages through getting to know themselves and another culture better. As a person who experienced moving to a different country myself I highly recommend counselling to deal the difficulties that may arise as a result of culture shock.

Arredondo-Dowd, P. (1981). Personal Loss and Grief as a Result of Immigration. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 59 (6), 376 – 380. Retrieved from: Oberg, K. (1954). Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments. Retrieved from:
author: Agnieszka Kulczycka-Dopiera

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