As a part of my degree I’m participant-observing an integration course in a small town. The course’s length is about 4 weeks and the purpose is, well, to introduce the newcomers to the Finnish society and Finnish and Swedish languages. It is unbelievably rewarding and eye opening – made me realise how hard it is to draw any kinds of conclusions: political decisions, personal opinions,
Two participants caught my eye, and I cannot stop thinking about them, and about how integration policies and other integration efforts on national and local levels leave out these groups of immigrants: the elderly. Typically the parents and grandparents of the ordinary immigrants in productive age, people who have been living all their lives in traditional ways. Now they find themselves in safe environment, for the first time ever maybe, for the first time abroad. Their only living link to the society are the translators who assist them in contact with the authorities and their children and grandchildren.
These two course participants, an Afghani couple in their sixties (?), were not at all opposing the idea of learning a new language and settling down in a new society, quite the opposite, but realistically, how… how can we (yes, we, all of us) do this?
What are their chances of getting “integrated”? If our integration policies are heavily labour market orientated, what does integration of the elderly entail? What can we offer them? How can they feel integrated in our society? And what can they offer to us if not work force?
I’m sure that they would love to continue living as valuable citizens in their new home, give and enjoy life and their families. They are thankful for having found a safe place and people willing to help them, and surely they would like to give back. But how? Has anybody at all thought about these groups who fall between the categories?
An individual integration plan has been the most efficient solution so far, but of course it had to be adjusted to the ordinary immigrant: a healthy person in productive age, speaking some English, no higher education completed, with prospects to learning Finnish or Swedish to B1 level at most, work prospects typically in transport and housekeeping… every single person who has relocated to Finland knows who am I talking about. They must have been referred to as one of those on numerous occasions – and guess what, the ordinary man may not even exist! But the reality is that the further one is from the definition of the ordinary immigrant, the harder it gets to receive suitable assistance in the process of integration into the host society.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
I hope that we as people lucky enough to have been born into a secure society can make the ‘tweeners fit in in one way or another. Culture bearers and specialists? Reliable and positive people you would enjoy to live next door to and possibly let babysit your children now and again? Sources of cultural knowledge and an asset for us to learn how to live differently, better, how to assist those who seek security and reasonable life prospects.
In order to contemplate a bit more on this topic – and to get over the fact that I received an unjust parking fine!! – I took a little ride to Kråkö, a lovely little island about 15 km south of Porvoo. Houses, fields, boats, water. A little paradise for those who enjoy living in small, safe communities (still for my liking too far from the city) of Swedish-speaking people;)
Oh and a little piece of news:
Ha! Cannot wait to get this beauty serviced and going ❤