This is not a heart-breaking migration story. It is on the contrary a story of the easiest move abroad ever.

When I arrived in Germany I already spoke the language, had already learned quite a bit about the culture and habits, had no financial trouble and arrived in a context where all the Germans I met had already lived abroad and could understand my troubles.

Despite it all, being a migrant is hard. In some countries, people expect migrants to assimilate, that is to “adjust entirely to the values and the rights system of the host society‟ (International Organisation for Migrants). Marine Le Pen compared integration with national disintegration, as for her only assimilation could be the way.

But while obeying the law and respecting the local culture is an obvious step, adjusting entirely to a system is impossible. Most migrants arrive as adults and they already have their own identity and beliefs. Living abroad you learn a lot and evolve on many levels. But this background exists and this is why assimilation seems an unrealistic dream that people quickly dropped for the term “integration”.

One can (too) often hear that migrants (often Muslims or Roma depending on the national context and political idiots) do not want to integrate in society. David Cameron talked about the problems of those migrants who “fail to integrate”. However, integration is “the process of inclusion of immigrants in the institutions and relationships of the host society‟ (Boswick and Heckman).

And this is indeed a very important point in my eyes. As a migrant, you ought to respect the law, to learn the language, to respect the local culture. But you cannot integrate if people don’t want you to. Your acceptance by others is obviously partly dependent on your efforts but also greatly of the willingness of those around you to accept you. As any relationship, the relationship between migrants and the host society is a two way street. And that is too often forgotten. I recently saw an interview of a man who had initiated a “marche contre le racisme” in France in 1983. After years of trying to integrate and fighting against the obstacles thrown in his way he had given up and decided to turn back to his country of origin.

When you are a migrant, people project a lot of stereotypes on you. When you’re French in Germany, you’re mostly seen as nice and cute, and yet unreliable, a little lazy and disorganized. Of course, being seen as cute and nice isn’t, by far, the worst stereotype you could think of and I am in no way trying to get pity out of this article. But in a professional context, it isn’t great either. Worse, having all those things projected on you truly challenges your identity. No matter how hard you push back against those stereotypes, the fact that they exist makes it harder to express yourself in an unbiased way.

I am in no way comparing my very easy story with those of people who had to flee their country, leave their family behind, that had no idea about the country they were arriving in, etc. But having had this very mild and yet complicated migration experience made me realise the incredible challenge it must be for people who arrive in so much more complicated situations from a culture so much more different… and who are then asked to stop being themselves – which is the injunction for happiness everyone throws at you in our society.

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Aurélie Wielchuda

Aurélie is a feminist based in Brussels.

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