TEDxAUCollege | Couldn’t make it to our first salon event? Here’s what you missed
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Couldn’t make it to our first salon event? Here’s what you missed

– Ruyaam Khan

Last week, on the 14th of November, TEDxAUCollege hosted its first ever salon event, with the theme ‘Bursting the Bubble: Refugee Integration.’ Maslow was kind enough to lend us their space for the occasion, which gave the evening a living room vibe that set the tone for intimate, yet lively discussions. Two different speakers enriched the audience with new ideas and approaches towards integration, and after each talk the audience was encouraged to ask questions and spark debate. As an intermezzo, there was a wonderful performance by Ammar Melhem and Jawdat Shaabo from Toverfluit. Were you unable to go and still wondering what you missed? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Read on for a recap of our first salon event.  

Transcending cultural boundaries

The main message of the salon event was that integration requires effort on both sides: both parties should benefit whether that be economically, culturally or socially. It is not enough that host governments should provide resources while refugees do not attempt to learn the language or understand local culture. The same goes vice versa: the host country – both citizens and government – must ensure that refugees feel welcome in order to provide for smoother social and cultural integration. Although the focus on the process of integration is often placed on economic integration, transcending cultural borders is also of great importance. The first speaker at our salon event, Edith Sijmons, took to the microphone to talk about her organization, Magic Flute, which works towards cultural integration through music.

Sijmons stated that Asylum seeker centers are often overcrowded and limiting, stagnating lives and preventing migrants from integrating. Music is an outlet through which many young musically inclined asylum seekers can give voice to their experiences as well as connect with others, transcending cultural and language barriers.

Music has been extremely successful in bring cultures together, as demonstrated with Homeland Heartache (“Oost West Thuis Niet Best”), mentioned by Sijmons, in which the Netherlands Wind Ensemble along with guest soloists from Syria and Senegal, create music by interpreting the theme of ‘Homeland Heartache’ each in their own way. The concert proceeds go to he National Foundation for the Promotion of Happiness (Stichting de Vrolijkheid).

Food and simply just sharing a meal can be another form of cultural exchange. At Mezrab, Sunday evening, an open meal with refugees was held in which previously 45 nationalities had been brought together, everyone contributing their own dish.

So how can you help refugees integrate into society? One way could be to join events such as the one that took place at Mezrab. Or even simpler – explore their communities–talk to them and ask them questions.

Extending a hand

Cultural exchange provides a basis for integration, but first and foremost there needs to be outreach for refugees. Our second speaker, Pieter de Roest, the programme leader of Housing Statusholders at Rochdale, stressed the importance of invitation. De Roest spoke about his association’s housing project, SPARKVillage in Science Park, in which students and professionals will live alongside refugees.

De Roest explained that cultural differences tend to draw a barrier between the two sides. Many refugees involved in housing projects he worked on have cited Dutch unfriendliness keeping them from integrating into Dutch society. Indeed, it is not uncommon for Dutch people to keep a tight and stagnant circle of friends. Cultural understanding has to be established by both locals and refugees in order to create a rapport between the two.

Local communities can help refugees understand local culture as well as make them feel more welcome. De Roest invited the audience to visit SPARKVillage and extend a hand, an invitation, to its future inhabitants in order to learn and to understand. Rather than pitying refugees, we should attempt to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view. Doing so will open more doors, building cultural bridges, and teach everyone something new.

Concluding remarks

Integration is no easy feat and requires tremendous efforts on both sides. It is daunting for asylum seekers, who have fled war and terror, to enter a society completely different from their own while shouldering psychological trauma. Meanwhile, for locals, fear of the unknown and concerns about the state’s economic capacity to handle an influx of migrants, can incite hostility.

But both sides stand to benefit from one another, as Alexander Betts explained in his Ted talk.  Betts explains the concept of “matching” in which both refugees and states can rank their expectations and needs – states can list specific skill sets they seek to benefit from, while refugees can list preferred destinations. A methodical matching algorithm can be advantageous to both parties and create a mutual symbiosis.

After having given a beautiful music performance, Mr. Shaabo, one of the performers, used his spotlight to share some wisdom that he had acquired through his experiences. He stressed the importance of “global citizenship,” which surpasses national identity for ‘we are human and that is what’s most important in this world.’ Let that be the main message of the evening: as global citizens it is our responsibility to take part in community cultural engagements and to extend a hand to those in need of it.

The first salon, Bursting the Bubble, was a huge success, and we are already looking forward to the second one. The theme for this event will be announced in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! We hope to see you there!