What can be learnt from previous generations? I was asking myself this question while heading to Wiltz (a town in northern Luxembourg), to take part as a peer researcher in a focus group in which the participants were migrants from previous waves of migration. We interviewed three people from former-Yugoslavia, who came to Luxembourg in the 1990s. I was convinced that I would hear many useful things, and considering that I come from Serbia, I was also happy to be able to speak my mother tongue with them.
Some of the things that they said did not surprise me. For example, all three emphasized the importance of family support in the integration process. I believe that this has not changed even today. Multiple interviews that I have attended touched on the importance of family and on how their support can help with overcoming difficult moments. This is something that I absolutely agree with as my family always stood by me in every step that I took. This proved to be my strength in overcoming the challenges I encountered.
In addition to family, the participants underlined the importance of education, as well as work. These contribute significantly to the whole process of integration, by learning and accepting the culture and customs of a society. And not only by those who came to Luxembourg as immigrants, but also by the locals, who are described by the participants as quite open in accepting diversity, as well as in learning about the culture and customs of others. One of the participants stated that the sports activities he undertook constituted the turning point in not only connecting with people, but also getting familiar with the language. I agree that sports activities can be of great importance when it comes to integration. A lot can be learned from members of the local population, but what I think is that sometimes it is not easy to be in a group with them, because there is a tendency in Luxembourg for people to be grouped on the basis of nationality - e.g. Portuguese associate with Portuguese, which makes it difficult to 'join' the group if you are not of that nationality. Of course, this is not the rule, and there are a lot of jobs or sports activities where there are people of different nationalities. The language is also a barrier when it comes to being in a group with locals.
When it comes to education, I can see the difference between theirs and my own experience. I have not finished primary or secondary school in Luxembourg, and given that the University of Luxembourg is quite international, I do not consider it to be a real source of learning about society or culture. Or maybe it is ?! Today, this is a country whose half of the population is foreign nationals. In that sense, not only the University, but the whole society is so diverse that we may stop talking about the local society, because it also largely depends on migrants. I think that this diversity can even make harder the integration process, because there is no single pattern to adopt, but it needs to be adjusted depending on the situation we are in.
Availability and accessibility of resources is what differentiates today’s generations from the previous one. Nowadays, there are many sites (e.g. guichet.lu) available to citizens to conduct their own administrative procedures, where multiple information can be of interest. That was not the case before, as access to information was much more difficult. I think we should be more grateful for all the opportunities we have today that make our lives easier, which was not the case before.
What particularly surprised me was one story told by one participant. Although she came to Luxembourg when she was still a child, and Luxembourgish is practically her mother tongue, one seller told her ‘You speak Luxembourgish perfectly’. She wondered 'Why wouldn't I speak Luxembourgish perfectly, from which he concluded that I was not from here?' So, even though this country is her home, this situation was understandably uncomfortable for her. This is an example of discrimination based on appearance, because how else to conclude that a person is not from here if she speaks the language perfectly. This was surprising to me, because if she, who grew up in Luxembourg, does not feel fully integrated into society because of this and similar situations, how can an average immigrant ever feel integrated and accepted?
This leads me to one another question I have never asked myself before - is it possible to complete the integration process? Or is it an ongoing process? I am not sure what the answer to this question is, but I will undoubtedly find out in the future. In any case, if we look at the process of integration as an ongoing process, I think that at one point it may become a burden, depending on how the person perceives it. On the other hand, who decides when the process is completed, the person himself or the society?
Although the things we rely on are often the same (family, work, education) then and now, I think we should appreciate the fact that today's generations have more resources than previous ones, and that, although the challenges are similar, previous generations had to put in a lot more effort to achieve a certain goal, such as language learning. In any case, despite the fact that society can greatly facilitate the integration process, I believe that much depends on the person and the circumstances in which he finds himself, as well as his determination to achieve certain goals.