Things are never quite what they seem...
The new study “Annäherung, die im Heimatland beginnt” (Approaches that begin at home) examines the meaning and purpose of pre-integration: migrant workers who receive information about life in Germany before arrival are less susceptible to false expectations.
By Kristina von Klot-Heydenfeldt
When Klaus-Dieter Lehmann met Angela Merkel at the Integration Summit at the beginning of March, what followed was the recognition of a visionary commitment – because what the President of the Goethe-Institut handed over in person to the Chancellor in Berlin was a recently published analysis detailing the needs of migrant workers in the pre-integration process. Under the title “Annäherung, die im Heimatland beginnt”, this study not only presents an analysis, but also brings together numerous recommendations with regard to steps that should ideally be taken well before the first integration course in Germany. The theory behind the study: qualified delivery of language content, but also communication of regionally specific and cross-cultural information to prepare for migration, are essential factors for the success of foreign workers in the German employment market – and for their arrival in German society.
The starting point for the survey is that Germany, as an ageing society, is suffering a massive lack of qualified personnel and is dependent on the influx of around 700 000 migrant workers each year. The theory is that the more people come to Germany, the greater the need for pre-integration work. But what’s the best possible way of supporting the migration process right from the outset? From this premise around 1000 online surveys and interviews were conducted – with Goethe-Institut employees and with experts, but most importantly with migrant workers already living in Germany. One very useful piece of information was this latter group stating that the huge importance of pre-integrative measures only became clear to them once they were resident in Germany. So one recommendation might be to increase the involvement of mentors and “buddies”, who talk to fellow citizens about their own experiences, and are able to communicate to them that intensive preparation for migration is essential. In the experience of the experts, greater cultural differences between the country of origin and Germany correspond with a greater need for pre-integrative measures, which in turn represent more added value.
With regard to planning a curriculum, it’s possible to draw on established programmes offered by the Goethe-Institut that are geared towards subsequent entry of spouses. Although these services vary from country to country, they do extend beyond language-only courses in that they also provide information about the country and people, day-to-day life in Germany, and the German workplace. These days, both migrant workers and experts expect a more thorough preparation: a mix of classroom and online provision – as well as one-to-one advice. And services that are ideally specifically tailored to professional groups, educational background and language level, as well as taking into account whether participants come from a rural or urban background – and whether they have any prior experience of migration.
Another outcome of the study: critical reflection of existing expectations is at least as important for social integration as teaching the language. In this context, correcting misinformation – for instance with regard to job profiles which can vary widely from one country to another – seems to be the key issue. For instance as a kind of reality check to inform prospective migrants about all areas of life or work, and reassure them whilst they are still at home. This point was mentioned frequently in the study: “The questions people ask are incredibly varied: how do I sort waste for recycling? And what are German eating habits like? How do I know how much rent I should be paying? How do I find out my tax bracket? Am I entitled to in-job training? Can I take my annual leave entitlement as pay? How much technical language do I need to use at work?”
Furthermore this analysis illustrates that the Goethe-Institut remains committed to the ideal scenario of a virtually seamless chain of advice and counselling in the context of pre-integration work. While effectively networked offices overseas bring together expertise from diverse sources, close links with German partners allow follow-up questions about all employment-related and legal issues to be delegated to qualified information points. And – thanks to several decades of experience, the Goethe-Institut is also qualified for future projects. There are plenty of best-practice examples in South-East Asia and South-East Europe to serve as reference points for similar services in other regions.
Experts summarise it like this: even the best preparation can be no more than a perspective on the challenges ahead. That’s why the realisation that it’s never possible to sort out all unknown factors associated with living in a foreign country is the key to successful pre-integration.
Download the analysis