Solved Challenge: 5 Options to consider when thinking about integration into a foreign country

Challenge Description:

My girlfriend and I are together for 4 years now. We met in a “neutral country” as we were both studying here as international students. After getting our diplomas we both found jobs here and decided to stay.

Everything is ok so far. We are having a good life and we are happy with our lives but lately, we started to think about our future. We have realized that due to a couple of important factors (good jobs, good social conditions, convenience) we will most probably stay here for a couple of more years. We also consider having our first child here as the country we live in provides really good conditions for working parents.

So what is the problem?

We are not really integrated. After all these years we still live in a “pink international bubble”. Our friends are all foreigners. We don’t speak the language, which is quite difficult to learn (but if there is a will there is a way). We are not much interested in social life, politics or cultural affairs.

It worked well so far, but now when we think about staying hem re longer and starting a family, we are not sure if we can maintain the status quo and live the international life. We started considering to integrate better but we don’t even know where to start. The country’s culture is rather closed and natives stick together (they are quite relaxed though). We asked for advice from the natives and all of them jokingly answered: “You should find yourself a partner from here, that’s the best way to integrate”. Well, that is obviously not an option.

Is it worth integrating at all? Perhaps better invest time in learning each other culture and language instead?

You both live in a foreign country, do you have any tips/options on what to do?

 

Dear Thomas,

That’s a challenge where we have quite a vast variety of experience. While Marta has attempted to integrate, Anna has decided to remain in the “pink international bubble,” and we have close friends who represent all the 50 shades of grey (pink?) on the integration level, so…. it was not that difficult to come up with 5 options.

The first three options are on the DO integrate side, the remaining two are on the DON’T integrate side

Well, you don’t seem to be completely convinced that it is indeed a place you truly WANT to live in. On paper, it looks like a great deal, very reasonable choice. But if you’ve been listening to us for a while, you know that we like to scratch the surface and we always encourage people to dig deeper both into their feelings and thoughts. Sooooo, we will simply ask you to engage both your emotions and your mind, so that you can select the truly best option for YOU.

Have a look at the previous Challenge of The Week: 5 Ways to deal with an Unsatisfying Work situation & to get Your Dream Job, especially Option 1 if you want to support yourself in finding the answer

Whether it’s worthwhile integrating or investing your time in getting familiar with each other’s countries and cultures… in our minds, it’s not an “either-or” question. You can do it all. And it’s definitely a great idea to get to know your partner’s cultural background before you have kids. We differ as people, and where and how we were raised, impacts us as future parents greatly. So, yes, we’d recommend doing that no matter if you choose to integrate into a third country or not.

 

So how do you move on? 

Of course, you need to ask yourself the mother of all questions: Do you really want to stay here for good and integrate?

If the answer is “OH YES”, then the first three options are for you (for best results, bundle them). If the answer is somewhere close to “Hell No” have a look at the final two options. If it’s “oh well, I don’t know yet” read it all. You can listen to our discussion in Ep09 of our podcast and read your 5 Options below

 

Ready for Your 5 Options?

Option 1: Get familiar with the language & the culture
Option 2: Find out what locals do & join them
Option 3: Integrate through the kid.
Option 4: Stay in the “comfy pink international bubble” 
Option 5: Consider moving to another country

 

Option 1: Get familiar with the language & the culture

learning new language

Getting to know the language and the culture is a prerequisite to integrate. It’s never too late to start. And those days it’s actually quite easy. You can sign up for a live course, Skype classes, download audiobooks, podcasts, videos. You can even find a mentor or do language exchange.

If that’s so easy, why haven’t you done it so far? Especially that you yourself know: “If there is will there is a way.”

Maybe you simply haven’t until now considered staying where you are, and it’s only now that you’ve realized that it indeed is a good choice for you. If so… just do it. Sign up for that course, start watching TV, reading books, get a mentor or a Danish friend/ colleague and go ahead. You are living in the country so you get the opportunity to practice the language in real life (if only you invest your will and some time and effort :-)).

If it’s the procrastination that has been your show stopper, you may want to have a look at our previous challenge.

If you are still not 100% sure that you will stay in the country for good and you lack the motivation to start learning the language, you can read about the benefits of learning languages (there are way more than 5 benefits). It’s actually an amazing asset- Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism)

As for getting to understand the culture, there are also endless possibilities: reading books, watching movies, visiting museums, traveling the country. And as culture & language are inseparable when it comes to integration, you need to invest time in both.

 

Option 2: Find out what locals do & join them

ikebana

 

If the majority of your friends are foreigners (including your partner), and you have routed yourself in the “pink international bubble”- meaning you know how to have a good & comfy life without knowing the local language, you may need to think out of the box. You basically have to change your ways, observe the locals and find what it is that they do, that could be of interest to you & join them.

So if you were living in Ireland and you wanted to integrate with the locals, you’d need to start going to the Pub (you’d have to ditch your foreigner friends though- unless they too want to learn the language).

In Denmark, where we live, apparently, people sign up to different clubs and do activities together.You select what you like to do and join the club (obviously, you should choose an activity that requires talking, signing up to a fishing club may not do the job).

You get the point, right?

The benefit of joining the locals is that you get the language and the cultural learning all at once.

 

Options 3: Integrate through the kid

integrate through the kid

 First of all, if you choose to have them educated in the local institutions, you get plenty of opportunities to practice the language (and the additional benefit is that those people working in Daycares & Kindergartens have really high linguistic skills, both in regards to understanding & conversing with people with very low language skills, i.e. a 1-year-old kiddo and you at the beginning of your journey).

Second of all, you’ll find yourself being a part of the educational system, that you’ll most likely want to (or need to) understand, you’ll be participating in meetings. Your kid will sooner or later start to get visits from “mini locals” with whom you’ll need to communicate. And as your child grows, you’ll need to embark on the “doing the homework” journey. Ergo you’ll become part of the system yourself. 

 

New Friendships

Additionally having kids gives you plenty of opportunities for new friendships with other families.If integration is important for you, from now on you can decide to open up to local families.

If you are seriously thinking about having kids where you live and it is your wish to integrate, if you bundle all the three steps, in a couple of years you may find yourself well-integrated.

I actually spent the first few years in the “pink international bubble” myself. I did try to learn the local language, but because a vast majority of my life was lived in English, Polish & Spanish, I didn’t give enough attention to the Danish language. It was first when I went on the maternity leave, that I really started to practice the language.

I am also gaining a broader and broader understanding of the cultural and social life through the participation in the school life of my kiddos. Am I fully integrated? Surely not, I’m actually still quite far from that. But I am integrated enough for all the members of our family to feel at home here, and I know exactly what I need to do if I decide to deepen my integration level. I am probably somewhere on the level 25 in the 50 shades of pink. And I am slowly climbing up the ladder. With every school meeting, homework, social event, local book or movie I am gaining more knowledge and understanding.

There is no “right or wrong” action when it comes to the level of integration, you just choose what resonates with you and work your way to get to that level.

Option 4: Stay in the “comfy pink international bubble” 

international bubble

If you know that you don’t want to stay in the foreign country for good, or for any other reason you have decided not to integrate, but you do want to stay where you are, you can live an expat life. In most of larger cities, there’s an International school. So, you can hold on to your good jobs and have your first kid and you don’t have to learn the language.

We assume that if you have survived 4 years without the local language, it should be possible to have a pretty good life with the kids as well. That’s the option Anna has chosen and she’s been happy with her decision for at least 11 years.

Many countries offer really good conditions for the expat communities. You can raise the kid using international institutions, hang out with international families and do a variety of activities in English. Additionally, if you are from EU and live in EU, you can even get your kids educated in your native language for free (that’s just additional classes though).

 

Join an International Community

in your area and find out what your options are. Talk to other international parents and see what the pros and cons of raising an expat kid locally are.

There probably are some cons, like international education is usually more expensive and usually, there is more logistics to manage, as there’s probably a limited number of international institutions and you’ll have to drive your kid around to play-dates and birthday parties. International kids don’t usually live in a cluster around the school like the locals do around the local public school.

 

Option 5: Consider moving to another country          

moving

If after 4 years you still haven’t learned the local language and integrated, and you mention that you’re not even interested in the cultural and social life, chances are that the current country is not really for you.

This is where you ask yourself questions like: Do I really want to stay here? Will I be happy living here in the long run?

Try to imagine yourself staying where you are, raising your kid here. Imagine that your kid speaks the local language and that your home is full of kids speaking that local language.

Does this image give you a good feeling? Do you feel happy/ proud/ excited? Or is it more like BLEH, I’d hate it. I really don’t like the language, let’s get the hell out of here before that shit gets real.

 

Go through your feelings with your partner

Well, you need to sit down with your partner and you need to go through the feelings and through the facts and if you find out that, even though the decision looks good on paper, it’s not really the one for you, it’s time to look around for other opportunities.

And considering one of your countries is definitely a good idea. If you select one of your homelands, you’ll get to have the family back-up, you’ll have one of you understanding the language and the system, and therefore the integration may be easier. But there are certain pros and cons of selecting one of your countries

Please have a look at Maria’s challenge, where we go into details of pros and cons living in your, your partner and a neutral country

A good idea could be to do a research on what your family and career life could look like in the countries you come from. You can read about it, look up forums and articles where internationals in your countries assess the advantages and disadvantages of living in either of your countries.

You should definitely go through pros and cons of the educational, health-care systems, safety and opportunities for the international families in a given country. The next step is to prepare a simple table for each country of interest and note down all the key aspects respectively as advantages and disadvantages (e.g. good educational system, low feeling of safety).

Then you rate each pro and con for in terms of importance, as usually some of the aspects are more significant for you than others. You can use a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is the least important. Apart from leading you towards selecting the best country, it will also be a great exercise for you as future parents, to see the comparison between your ratings. Some good discussions will most likely arise (hopefully not fights ). In the end, you just add up the points and see what the most significant factors are for you as a future family.

 

To Sum Up...

The is no “right and wrong” when it comes to deciding on how much you should integrate into the country where you currently live.

To a large degree, it depends on how likely you see yourself staying there for good. Is it worth considering moving to your partner’s country? It sure is. A way to guide yourself towards a good decision is by imagining yourself and your future kid in a given country, speaking the local language and seeing what kind of feelings it brings. It’s definitely important to get to know your partner’s cultural background, either way. Raising a kid together requires a lot of alignment and compromise, and both your cultural backgrounds impacts how you behave.

Or maybe you are both actually on a completely new adventure? In a country where you’d be more likely to want to integrate? Until your kid goes to school it’s actually quite easy to move around. So, if you still don’t know where you want to stay for good… you can try a couple of the most tempting options.

Good luck and if you have any follow-up questions, just let us know!

 

Much Love,

Anna & Marta