What is my qualification for writing this? Well, I was an immigrant in England for 10 years. I experienced what it’s like to live in a foreign culture (yes, England is quite different to Ireland) and had to work at integrating – which, by the dictionary definition, means mixing with and joining a society and “often changing to suit their way of life, habits, and customs”.
I’m assuming that you wish to integrate. If you are not committed to integrating, I’ll tell you straight – you should not be here. You will only become frustrated. If you work at integrating, your efforts will be richly rewarded. If you expect Ireland to change to suit you, then you are not committed to integration. You are the one who needs to do the changing. Here are some suggestions to help integrate:
Mix: It’s possible to live very separate lives from the host community, especially as ethnic and religious groups grow in size. When I first moved to England, I checked out the Irish cultural centre in the city I was in. However, I subsequently made a conscious decision not to frequent that place but to mix with English people. This really paid off and I have made several wonderful lifelong friendships.
Move outside your comfort zone. Get involved in activities where you can meet the wider community outside of your circle. It could be sports, recreation, cultural or even religious activities. Baptist churches, for example, offer a friendly welcome to all who pass through the doors irrespective of their background or religion.
By the way, this is a great way of improving your English. We have seen several people really improve their English through regular attendance. Baptists talk to people! Work hard at becoming fluent in English. That will only happen by getting outside of your own language group.
Don’t ‘live’ in your former country: It’s possible today to follow internet news from almost any country. While that’s understandable, make an effort to listen to the Irish news and find out what’s happening here. I’m amazed on how little some actually know about what is going in their adopted country.
Don’t live in the past: We have enough Irish people doing just that, and it only stirs up conflict and hatred that serves to divide. There is also the ‘blame game’ that I often hear: this is blaming the west for problems back home. We Irish did this for years, blaming Britain for our woes, till we finally grew up and realised that instead of blaming Britain’s past colonial involvement, it was up to us to use our independence to solve our own problems.
Don’t expect to change Ireland: Don’t come with the expectation of changing this country to make it like your homeland. This is an open society where everything can be examined and questioned. This is healthy and is the key to our progress. With all of its faults, this openness is infinitely preferable to a society where only one viewpoint is allowed. All around the world such societies are in a state of collapse and do not even meet the basic needs of their citizens.
Don’t cry ‘hate speech’ when others simply express honest criticism. This only shuts down discussion. As a Christian I’m sometimes distressed by the distorted things that are said about my beliefs, but I’m confident that my beliefs can stand critical scrutiny.
So please commit yourself to integration and expect to contribute to the improvement of our country.
Derry O’Sullivan is pastor of Blanchardstown Baptist Church