The Integration Puzzle

Given the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and populism that is currently on the march in many nations around the world, the topic of immigration, global mobility, and integration has never been more relevant.

A few weeks ago we had our first podium focusing on the true meaning of being integrated in Switzerland.

The LivingIn Association was founded in 2010 with the aim of promoting the successful integration of internationally-minded residents into Swiss life by providing support, a local community, and other important resources in order to help them connect, grow and thrive. In 2016, we opened the first English-speaking community centre in Switzerland which has grown to include over 400 members from 45 countries and offers a huge array of workshops and programmes addressing the needs of our international membership. As the organisation continues to grow as a strategic partner in the integration process, we decided to bring various stakeholders together to have an open discussion on the evolution of immigration and its ramifications (both positive and negative) on society. We believe that integration is not only down to the individual but that the business sector, employers, and governments also play a crucial role in facilitating and supporting integration.

Our speakers were:

– Mathias Lischer (Head of Promotion & FDI, Luzern Business )
– Carol Ann Riley (HR Business Manager MSD, Switzerland)
– Stina Lundell (Office Manager at EF Education First)
– Dr. Brandi Eijsermans (Founder of Optimal Global Wellness)
– Charlie Hartmann -Lucarotti (Founder of the LiLi Centre & President of Living in Luzern)  
– Sibylle Stolz  (Head of Integration & Neighborhoods, Stadt Luzern Integration Department)

What quickly became apparent is that simply knowing the local language or which garbage bags to use does not mean that a person is integrated. This only means that the person is now a functioning member of society.

Integration is a much more intangible feeling, it isn’t about ticking all the “how-to boxes” it is about having a sense, however small, of belonging in society.

Of course, learning the local language is a good, even crucial, thing to do but it isn’t enough to be integrated. It is taking part in society which helps with integration and this can sometimes seem like an insurmountable challenge. One of the interesting aspect to come out of this panel is the fact that integration isn’t just a challenge faced by foreigners, anyone who gets cut off from society has to (re)integrate in order to belong. We explored how this could be done.

The Swiss have an inordinate love for associations, be it singing, theatre, sports etc.. these associations are very often the nucleus of neighborhoods and the glue that keeps Swiss (and foreigners) connected to each other. Joining an association is a great step towards making contact with locals. Although the language may appear to be a challenge this can very quickly be overcome as practice makes perfect.

Another great way to help with integration is volunteering. Although this isn’t as easy as in some other countries, there is a large social network of volunteers in Switzerland.

Integration can even start on the smallest level by reaching out to your neighbours or Swiss work colleagues and inviting them for a drink or a cup of coffee.

The other point which came out is how important it is for all branches of society to work together. Companies often have great programmes but which sometimes tend to keep employees in their own “bubble network”. It is important for international companies to think of integration as going beyond the office walls.

Luckily for us the city of Lucerne is very open to promoting integration. The city’s motto is that “internationality should be seen as an opportunity” and they offer many programmes that underscore this.

Bridging the gap between locals and international residents is an ongoing process but something which can be a win-win for both sides.

The LiLi Centre offers itself as a third space, a place where different cultures can meet and have shared experiences and discussions helping with integration. We see our role as an important partner in the ongoing dialogue about improving integration in the area, which is bound to enrich everything involved.

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