According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, no country has cracked the code on successful integration.
That made me stop and think. In today’s very global and very connected world, we’re crossing borders all the time for work, family, adventure, love, and politics.
Some of us do it voluntarily, and others, not so fortunate, are crossing borders under harsh, involuntary and painful conditions.
My family belonged to the latter group. I was eight years old when we fled from Iran. It took us a long, difficult five years of moving, settling, uprooting and resettling before we finally got to Norway, and could make it home.
The truth is that amidst all that commotion, an identity crisis doesn’t make it to the surface.
There are too many more significant, more serious day-to-day problems like safety, survival, and sustenance.
But as we settled down and started to rebuild a life in Norway, these more significant life issues began to fade slowly.
My family and I felt gratitude – we were together and safe, and we knew that many other families hadn’t been as fortunate.
When we transitioned to Norway, we were placed in a northern city, a small town called Finnsnes. Migration was very new to the locals around us.
We had the most wonderful caseworker who I still believe was one of the main reasons our settling in here went as it did. Her passion and belief in people, her positivity, empathy, and her way of including my family as a part of her family and network were warm and inviting. It was perhaps one of the greatest stepping stones my parents and I received here.
Within 40 days of getting to Norway, both my parents had managed to get jobs. My mother had a background as a field nurse, but she was eager to start her new life here and got a job at a kindergarten.
My father got a job at a potato factory. They both learned Norwegian, ‘on the job’ – still deemed one of the best ways to learn the language!
Within a year, both of them were acting as translators for several languages to Norwegian. Three years later, they bought their first home here. Hard work came so naturally to us kids – it was a way of life the way we saw it.
I had summer jobs every single summer since I was 13. From planting trees to picking strawberries, to working in the potato factory.
Were there challenges? Yes, of course. We had made this home, but it wasn’t really home. Even though my parents were fully engaged in their new environment and society and did everything in their power to push us to do the same, something was missing.
They were physically here, but mentally they struggled to find their place in the new environment. This reflected as well on their children. They missed their families, their friends, the taste, smell, and sounds of home.
Home – where the community-spirit was loud and energetic, people laughing, playing music and selling fruit and meat and merchandise. When you’ve grown up with that around you, the stark coldness and quietness of evenings in Norway is a difficult adjustment.
But my parents never had the time to reflect on these difficulties and adjustments when they transitioned. They never had the time to stop and reflect on the cost they had to pay for not reconnecting with their true selves, their cultural roots – which got buried in their determination to fit in and make a good life in their new home.
While my parents were on their journey, and guiding us to lead good lives here, I knew I had to figure out who I was, too. Just like we were rebuilding our lives, we were also rebuilding ourselves from experiences that had torn us apart.
So I started from scratch: Who did I want to be? What did I want to do? Back then, what I wanted was to fit in. I wanted to make friends and speak their language. After losing my home, and having spent five years without belonging anywhere, I just wanted to belong.
But here’s the problem with that: It’s not entirely authentic.
Trying to camouflage your way into a new culture is hardly a sustainable strategy. Over the years, the positive and negative experiences alike, the hardships, and the things I took for granted, I have come to realize that the key lies in a concept we call ‘Authentigration.‘
Authentigration is learning to bring the value of ‘you’ everywhere you go while being respectful and mindful of the culture and society you are integrating into. It’s a more natural-feeling integration that allows you to stay grounded in the essence of you.
Granted, it’s a difficult balance to strike, but it is also essential to be flexible, responsive and open to new cultures and environments. In this study of authenticity, psychologist Gregory Jantz explains, “While adapting to your environment is certainly beneficial in some situations, shifting your personality completely is problematic.”
I think Authentigration is a big part of the thrive-abroad code.
I do believe that governments, organizations, and individuals that start to realize and internalize its principles are going to get one step closer to ‘cracking the integration code’ that McKinsey says has eluded us so far.
So, what are the principles of Authentigration?
- Finding the courage to be unapologetically yourself wherever in the world you go.
- Balancing authenticity with respect and understanding for your new surroundings.
- Encouraging and highlighting the strength in diversity and inclusion.
- Adopting this process so that global societies are cultural symphonies rather than messy, melting pots of culture.
Why is Authentigration important?
The 2016 McKinsey report counts a quarter of a billion migrants across the world. This number has only been on the rise over the decades. These migrants made a $6.7tn contribution to the global GDP in 2015.
Another Citi Report, Migration and the Economy, states that if the UK had frozen immigration in 1990 (a policy that does not allow immigrants into the country), the economy would have been £175bn lower in 2015.
Similarly, Germany would have seen a €155bn drop in GDP in 2015 without immigrant influx and their subsequent economic contribution.
Needless to say, immigrants go on to become key contributors in the economies that they move and plug into. They are also major drivers of urban growth, and this is true of the entire skill-spectrum from highly-skilled to low.
Do you see now why governments, organizations, and other key socio-economic drivers need to create an environment where integration is easy, natural, and two-way?
What You and I Can Do
I’m a big believer that change happens at a “you and I” level.
So I want to leave you with a few tools so that you and I can transform into Authentigrators and encourage its principles at a human-to-human level. That is, after all, where change really begins, isn’t it?
Think of Authentigration as the bridge that makes it easy for people to move across borders.
Whether you’re a migrant or a part of the host population, remember that in today’s globalized world, you could be crossing that bridge yourself too, anywhere, anytime.
So how do we become Authentigrators? – The Authentigration Mindset
- Approach new cultures and people with an open mind
- Celebrate our differences
- Humbly recognize the strength of everyone. Remember that absolutely everyone in the world is better than you at something.
- Put yourself in their shoes – whether you’re homogenous or an immigrant. Both sides have stories, situations, and cultural baggage. Give yourself a minute before you jump to judgments and conclusions.
- Make a conscious attempt. Say hello to the new person at work who’s just moved to your city. As an immigrant, make a local friend and experience your new home through them. Show them a little something about your culture – Actually Authentigrate!
- Lead by example – If you have a circle at work or socially where you can encourage more diversity and inclusion, then do that.
We are better together, and we’re definitely stronger diverse. The numbers say so, and it’s undeniable that as time goes on, borders are blurring.
People want to be a part of things that are bigger than themselves, and that reach across the world. The Internet Revolution has made that kind of global impact possible.
So, are you ready to take on the challenge and become an Authentigrator? How are you going to go about it?
To bring Authentigration to the world, we have packaged it as Generation Mobility’s community arm. Plug into Authentigration by visiting www.authentigration.world.