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  • Writer's pictureRobert Davies

Counselling Children: Culture Shock

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

Mr. Jenkins counsels a primary student newly arrived from Shimla, India. The student soon become quite decisive! Mr. Jenkins encourages all his student-clients to win gold in whatever form that might take; it could be 'learning to make new friends', or it could be 'learning to be brave' enough to sleep in one's own bed after facing those ghosts in the closet!

One Moment, Indecisive and the Next, Confident. You Can Win Gold, TOO!

Robert Davies © 2018

Bob-the-counsellor remembers lots of students who have suffered culture shock. There was little Jessie from India. Her mother had come to the school and spoken to him about the sudden change in her daughter.

“Mr. Jenkins, I don’t know my daughter. She’s only in primary, and suddenly, she is a stranger.”

“How long has Jessie been in Canada?”

“Well, only about a month. Her Dad is Canadian, so her English is pretty good as is mine, having studied in Canada for several years.”

“Well, she might be suffering a loss that is related to where she most recently came from. I imagine that the sights, sounds, smells even the feel of food, clothing and even the air are different. I also imagine people, lots of people in the streets with vendors everywhere. This is in contrast to our quieter Canadian streets with less children playing outside. The Canadian winter also is a factor, even if she had experienced snow in Northern India, Jessie is probably going through the loss of the familiar and the loss of things special such as grandparents, cousins and friends.”

“Do you think so? But she is a strong young girl, sure of herself and outspoken.”

“Well, that would make it harder, if she was so sure of herself and suddenly, she isn’t. It would be shock, don’t you think, culture shock, to be more specific.”

“What can we do, Mr. Jenkins? How do you fix it?”

“Well, I will check in with the classroom teacher to see how her behaviour has been in class. I will also check with her other teachers and the office to find out if there has been any conflicts – just to remove the possibility of another cause. Has she been healthy, otherwise?”

“ She has had trouble sleeping and her appetite has fallen off.”

“Well, those are signs her body is feeling down. Feeling down usually deals with loss. She has gained a lot here in Canada, but she has lost a lot, at least her immediate surroundings that are no longer Indian. She would be in pain without realizing why exactly. But I have a plan.”

“What is it?”

“Well, how I usually handle it is to have the child tell me about the place she has left, the school, the relatives, the family, the food, the surroundings, the things she loved about it.”

“Is that it? Maybe I can do it?”

“We can do it both at school and at home. I use my counselling skills to reach out to my students to create a trusting bond. I let them know that I accept them, even if the student has been in trouble with the office. I let them know that I respect them. If they’re Turkish or Korean, or a Russian Jew or a little girl who knows Hindi, I let them know that I think that is really swell, that they have something very special. I get them to share it with me. I listen intently. I validate their experience.The student would feel alone, isolated and out-of-sync. I show them that I am genuinely interested, that where the student comes from is important to me, and it is important to the student, of course.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, then we compare the differences. How one culture says ‘hello’ or no or ‘how they line up’ or ‘how teachers act’, whatever the student finds different. You see if one culture’s ‘shaking of the head’ means ‘NO’; another culture might mean ‘YES’. It is something to feel sorrow about because a student will miss the other ways of doing things. But also, it can be funny, because a lot of cultural stuff such as ‘how the teacher runs the class’ are so different in Canada that it is baffling. It can be something to laugh about, too. "Yes, we Canadians are funny that way," - I would acknowledge. I would agree with the student that we, Canadians, are odd, bizarre in a lot of ways. This validates the students experience. When they see a real Canadian who understands how his own Canadian culture can be weird, it empowers the student. The student is right in his own way that things are weird in Canada even if his Canadian classmates don’t understand.”

“Mr. Jenkins, how did you learn that?”

“Well, I did live in Germany as a child and in England and also in Quebec for many years. I missed my culture and went through a period of not feeling as happy as I could have been. It is just culture shock. A shock is an abrupt change like a bump. Cars have shock absorbers to absorb the sudden change in direction. As a counsellor, I am a shock absorber for the child.”

“So how can I help?”

“Well, I will bring Jessie to our support worker at our school, with your permission, to talk about India. The worker is Indian and speaks Hindi and English.”

“Jessie speaks some Hindi.”

“Good. What part of India did Jessie grow up in?”

“Shimla, in the foothills before the Himalayas.”

“That’s a famous place. We will use youtube videos to get some scenes, sights and sounds, of her town and visit it that way. I will ask the worker to get her to tell about her experiences and favourite places.”

“What else?”

I will then meet with your daughter and talk about the differences between Canada and Shimla, India.”

“Okay, I will get her to tell me at home about what is happening at school and she will get to talk about it again.”

“That is the right way to go. Don’t forget to tell her how you miss your family and the hill station of Shimla and India, in general, too. Don’t hide your feelings. Share them. Then Jessie will feel less isolated. It is okay to mourn the ‘temporary’ loss of Shimla. It only becomes a problem if you stay homesick and bemoan your stay in Canada. That would make it hard for your child to accept the changes. Can you remember that?” “I will. Thank you so much, Mr. Jenkins.”

“How long will it take for my old Jessie to return to her old self?” “It happens quite quickly, maybe even by tomorrow or the next day.” “Thank you, so much. I am greatly relieved. The school is blessed to have you.” “Why, thank you. We are blessed to have you and your family."

“Well, thank you. Good day!”

Mr. Jenkins sat back down. He thought of last year’s Korean student in grade seven, her nickname was Min. She was so depressed and her teacher came for help. Yes, Mr. Jenkins had listened while the grade 7 student talked about Korea and all the great friends and how hard it was here. Mr. Jenkins had validated her experience to the extent that both of them had laughed about how crazy Canadian culture can be. Anyway, after two visits on two consecutive days, Min had cheered herself up. Mr. Jenkins learnt a lot from his students and about depression related to culture shock. All that is needed is a humble Canadian who can actively listen and agree with the differences expressed by the student from another culture. It does happen here in Canada with going up North and working with the Cree or the Inuit or with the Cree students and Inuit students coming South to study.

Well, Mr. Jenkins would check in on Jessie for a few days as he had done with Min. It is fabulous to see these young people settle down and enjoy their new culture while respecting where they came from.

The next day Mr. Jenkins noted that Jessie was at the front of the Primary line up walking down the hallway. She had her hand wrapped up in the teacher’s hand. Jessie, Mr. Jenkins would note, would hold on to that hand for several weeks thereafter.

Thank God for understanding and flexible teachers. What a help her teacher, Ms. McDonald, would be to that little girl who went on to become a confident grade-one student who excelled in her learning. One day, she'll win gold in some competition, Mr. Jenkins was thinking. He was also thinking that he can't really take any credit. It is the student's courage and persistence and the support of both home and school. It takes a team of school counsellor, (Sometimes private therapy) , home, classroom teacher, support worker, our wonderful janitor, the specialists in music and French and others.

Mr. Jenkins would never bemoan those students he was unable to help because a little good, a small candle-flame lit in the darkness, can be a beginning or at least a part of the greater good that will see the student transform themselves in order to make it through the hard times. Mr. Jenkins never ceased to be astounded by the resilience of children.


Most people like stories, and therapy is all about stories. Telling stories about powerful techniques used in TEAM CBT therapy demystify this therapy one story at a time.

Yet, confidentiality is a cornerstone of all counselling. Without confidentiality, clients wouldn’t feel safe going to therapy to divulge the most painful areas of their lives. To safeguard clients while illustrating TEAM CBT techniques, confidentiality is kept by either having the client’s consent or by distorting the facts, making the client unrecognizable .

Robert Davies

Counselling Therapist

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