Integration is a concept that I first heard frequently when we moved to Denmark. To me, integration seems like a Danish concept because out of all the countries where I have lived, this is the one where integration has such an important role.
I lived in Japan in the late 1990s where there was no discussion of integration. At the time, the Japanese were convinced that their language was too difficult for any ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) to learn. All of our cultural mistakes were quickly forgiven as they thought that a foreigner could never truly comprehend the local ways and customs. There the emphasis was on ‘internationalisation’ as they called it. It was not about foreigners integrating their culture, but about the Japanese becoming more international with the help of foreigners.
This is not the case here in Denmark. We get frowned upon for not using the conveyor belt separator at the supermarket and we need to learn the cycling rules quickly or we risk a real telling-off. We are expected to assimilate into the local culture and become Danish as quickly as possible, whereas in Japan, we were never expected to even pretend to be Japanese. These two views are interesting in their contrast, but they certainly have not prevented me from enjoying life in either country.
Here we appreciate the subsidised Danish lessons, having the same welfare rights as the Danes, and fitting in without standing out as foreigners. In Japan, we were always reminded that we were different and we were treated differently. Ultimately, we are happy to be here in Copenhagen, just as we were happy to live in Tokyo. What is important is that we are always learning something new about the local culture.
Having started an international preschool with tuition in English, I am not promoting integration. Rather, I am creating employment for local residents, including Danes, and am thereby participating in the local economy. This could be considered as some kind of integration, couldn’t it?
Looking back on my experience in Japan, maybe I am helping to internationalise Copenhagen in the hope that more foreigners will enjoy their time here, while also opening their children’s minds to a culturally diverse environment. In its own way, it makes me feel more integrated socially – and I am enjoying every minute of it.