The integration of migrants is a major challenge to countries and has been high on political agendas for many years, especially more recently. The Swiss Mass Immigration Referendum of 9th February 2014 highlighted this all too clearly.
Having looked at the approach to integration and the importance of languages for immigrants, I want to redirect my focus somewhat by looking at the more transient expatriate.
The report states that a minimum sample of 100 expat respondents, including at least 30 expat parents, is required for a country to be included in the league tables. As a result, 39 countries qualified for inclusion in the report.
The survey examined 3 keys areas: economic, experience and family. In each of these areas 9 issues were questioned and an average score calculated. Switzerland’s overall ranking was 10th out of 39 countries.
So what is dragging Switzerland down in the ranking?
By dissecting these results further, it becomes evident that integration is a major issue. In the Experience league table lifestyle is examined. Although physical health and quality of life fares well, ranking 13th out of 39, when expats were questioned about the ease of integrating with the local people and forming friendships the results are radically different, with a ranking of 29th out of 39. The situation deteriorates further when looking at the Family league table where Switzerland secures its lowest ranking of 37th out of 39 in response to questions concerning social life, relationships and how welcoming the country is from a diversity point of view.
It is curious to note, however, that the situation does seem much more positive for the children of expats. In the Family league table, the impact of raising children abroad was considered: their health and wellbeing, ease of making friends and overall quality of life, which resulted in Switzerland being positioned 10th out of 39.
So, why do children apparently integrate more easily than adults when living abroad? It’s at this point that I would like to come back to the issue of languages. Language is not only in economic terms a barrier to entry, but also in a social context. For children, when put into a new environment and surrounded by a new language, they instinctively observe, listen, repeat and, more often than not, embrace their new environment. Naturally, some support is necessary, and, fortunately, the many educational systems in Switzerland facilitate this, whether state, private or international.
Case study: Shinri Furuzawa’s story
I was born and brought up in England. My parents were Japanese, so I didn’t learn English until I started school when I was 5. At school, I studied French as my second language and did an A level in French literature. I also studied a language and civilisation course at the Sorbonne, and did a Paris Chamber of Commerce certificate in business French, when I lived in Paris. Having said that, my French has never been more than “passable”! I would hesitate to call myself fluent, but I get by in my daily life here in Switzerland.
I would say the knowledge of French I have has been very useful. It helped me get part-time work in Switzerland, as a volunteer at the local ludotheque, and at an Italian international school. I also have been able to handle the logistics of settling in here, dealing with doctors’ offices, insurance companies, banks, schools, garages etc. without great difficulty.
Despite some knowledge of French, however, I have found it difficult to integrate into Swiss society. I don’t blame local Swiss people for not wanting to invest time befriending someone who might leave within a few years. Fortunately, I find the large expat community here to be friendly and welcoming. I have met people with very exotic and varied backgrounds and such interesting stories to tell. I am quite happy in this social milieu. Perhaps if I had a different personality, I would be able to befriend more locals. I know some people who are fortunate enough to be able to make friends with anyone wherever they go. I am regretfully not one of these people, being shy and a bit introverted. Having children does force you to be more social, and I have always made an effort more for my children’s sake than my own!