Flying in the face of tradition and making a difference

How an Ishøj after-school club, The Flying Suitcase, is helping Turkish youth adapt to their new life in Denmark

The staff at Ishøj Ungdomskole have one core objective: to help people from different cultures function in Danish society.

Located in a council area where 32.7 percent of the inhabitants are of an immigrant background, according to 2011 figures, the school runs programmes specifically tailored to the diversity of its students.

Every Danish council area has an ungdomskole – a place young people attend of their own free will, which encourages them to develop life skills and become active participants in society.

Ishøj is home to 85 different nationalities, and its ungdomskole’s activities are determined with that in mind. One of the school’s clubs, ‘The Flying Suitcase’, was started to help Turkish youth adapt to their new life in Denmark.

An Ishøj Ungdomskole teacher, Erkan Cakmak, said about 95 percent of those attending the club came from immigrant backgrounds and had different cultural identities at home and in public.

“Integration is not about leaving behind your Turkish culture and moving away to the Danish way of doing things,” he said. “But while they are here, we try to set them free to be themselves. You don’t have to have a mask on to be here.”

The club currently opens every day, but funding from the Social Ministry (Socialministeriet) will run out next summer, after which ‘The Flying Suitcase’ must reapply. A rejection, although considered unlikely, would force them to cut back their hours significantly.

Among other things, the programme teaches participants how to behave politely, refrain from using bad language and respect one another, and Cakmak thinks taking it away might have negative consequences.

“If the ministry pulls the funding, it could cost them a lot more at the end of the day,” he said.

Because going to the ungdomskole, which operates outside of regular school hours, is totally optional, the school’s headteacher, Gunnar Thulin, said it was important to let the students dictate what they did there – from riding mopeds to ‘yogalates’ and graffiti.

 “We want them to be able to manoeuvre in this society. Of course it’s important to know maths, English, German and whatever, but the social side is maybe the most important thing,” Thulin said.

Other activities include a homework café, video game facility, cultural programme and Club Medina – which is open 24 hours a day and is targeted at “tough guys” over the age of 18.

“Club Medina is rather expensive, but it means we have a very peaceful town at the moment,” said Thulin.

A couple of years ago, according to Thulin, the club’s members would hang out in the mall and annoy or frighten some residents. But since Club Medina’s opening, things have improved.

“If we want to have a strong community, we have to be active and give young people positive activities or let them come up with activities themselves,” he said.