Rethinking 'Us' & 'Them': Integration and Diversity in Europe

Chapters 3 › Unit 3: What does 'integration' mean to you? View instructions Hide instructions

What does 'integration' mean to you?

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Tell us: What does 'integration' mean to you?

In this chapter, we've provided you with a fundamental understanding of the various facets of integration and how the debate and approaches vary in Europe and Canada. While it's important to understand how governments manage (or don't manage) this process, integration is something that doesn't start and stop with policy. That's why we have included views from those working in the field, either supporting or circumventing integration policy, as well as voices from the public to get a taste for how people actually understand this term and what ideal they wish for in their societies.

Now, the 'Us' & 'Them' course community wants to hear from you:

Here are some guiding questions to draw from:

  • What do you think of Prof. Dr. Naika Foroutan's four fields of integration (structural, social, cultural, identificative), and which do you feel are emphasized most in your society?
  • Would you prefer to see integration as a top-down, bottom-up, or another directional process?
  • What ways do your societies and governments support or not support integration and multiculturalism (e.g. through resources like integration courses or symbolically through representation)?
  • Who in your societies needs integrating, from your point of view? Does integration stop with refugees and immigrants?
  • How do you think we can best measure integration? What counts most (e.g. numbers, personal encounters, building networks)?
  • Where do you think Europe is headed when it comes to integration? Do you think Europe can learn something from the Canadian example?

Now what?
Click 'Start in Journal', and fill out the entry. How you do this is up to you: You can use just words, or add pictures or links to articles or videos to highlight your point!

Is this journal assignment required?
No! Nothing in our course is 'required', and there are no grades, but we encourage you to reflect on these topics and share if you feel comfortable, so that others in the course can benefit from your experiences.

Why Integration Matters to Me


Growing up, I didn’t know anybody who looked like me.

We lived in Saint-Petersburg, which is a fairly diverse city, but it’s also very segregated along socio-economic and ethnic lines. I went to a public school and I was the only girl of colour in my year group.

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I did well at school and I had many friends, but I always felt a bit different, like I was looking into a world I wasn’t really part of. My grandfather’s Armenian but the rest of my family is white Russian, so I’m mixed race.

Let me say upfront: I’m extremely lucky to have had the education and opportunities that I had growing up. I’m aware of the need to check my privilege.

But I remember developing an acute awareness that I was different to my friends around the age of 12 or 13. There were a couple of incidents around that time that caused this. First, I was teased by boys in my year for having ‘strange’ hair. As a young teenage girl this made me self-conscious and suddenly very aware that I looked different from my friends. Second, my best friend at the time said to me: ‘I would never marry someone who’s black. Because then my children wouldn’t look anything like me and I wouldn’t want that.’ My 12-year-old brain found this hard to process - does that mean I don’t look like my dad? Does that bother him? Do I really look that different? And if I do is that a bad thing?

I had high hopes for university, and imagined it would be a diverse place where I would meet all sorts of different people. I did make a couple of black and mixed-race friends and found it liberating to find others who’d had similar experiences as me growing up. But as recent research has shown, Russian universities are increasingly segregated along ethnic lines, and my university was not a diverse one.

After university, I moved back to the same part of south London where my parents met 30 years ago and I found myself surrounded by people from all different races. It’s true that London is becoming increasingly segregated. But, for the first time, I walked down the street and saw lots of people who looked like me, and lots of couples who looked like my parents. For the first time, I didn’t feel my difference - because I was surrounded by all sorts of different people.

I worked as a mentor on our National Citizen Service programme a few years ago and saw young people from different backgrounds working together and becoming friends. I wish I’d had the opportunity to do the same.

Getting to know people from different walks of life help us understand what shapes our identities and beliefs. We learn to understand and appreciate differences and, importantly, to recognise that we are all not quite as different as we’d imagined.

Social integration matters to me because no one should grow up in this wonderfully diverse country feeling that they don’t belong in their own school or neighbourhood. We need areas and spaces that enable people from all sorts of different backgrounds to meet, mix and develop meaningful relationships.


about 1 year ago

Olga, I greatly appreciate your comments and observations.

Having lived in two countries as you have - Russia and the UK - I would be interested in how you have experienced the difference, if any, in how those respective societies have embraced "integration"?

Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Olga. Your words remind us all that ideas like "race" and "fitting in" are very much dependent on context, given that Armenian-Russian would not count as mixed race in a place like the United States where heterogeneity is the norm but would in a more homogeneous country or region. These relative differences can make it difficult to have a common conversation about what counts as belonging to one category or another, but personal stories help ground these conversations in lived experience, thus opening up new possibilities for empathy across the boundaries of one's own understanding.

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