Integrate into a new country with SPEAK
So far present in 8 countries, SPEAK offers a variety of foreign language groups. But many people come to SPEAK to learn the local language. The reason? They’re trying to integrate into the new country they’re living in. Whether temporarily for study or for work, or permanently to make a new life for themselves.
SPEAK’s mission towards integration
To integrate into a new country isn’t easy. If you don’t know the local language and have no personal contacts nearby, you could end up feeling socially isolated and demoralized. As a result, the quality of your life in a new country will suffer. As SPEAK says on its website, “Migrants, such as refugees, expats, foreign participants, and guest workers, face many difficulties when they arrive in a new country. Not being able to rely on a support network or simply not understanding the local language and culture creates misunderstandings and communication difficulties between migrants and locals.”
This is where SPEAK comes in. For a start, you’ll be able to participate in language groups at affordable prices. And once you become active at SPEAK, you will no longer be anonymous and disconnected. You’ll have an immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as places to go and things to do. You’ll get to know not only locals but also other foreigners, who will be able to empathize with your situation and give you moral support. What’s more, the language groups and social events will give you a better understanding of the society you’re living in. Thus, it will help you to become a part of that society.
As the website says, SPEAK “strengthens solidarity networks in communities, particularly between migrants and locals, by promoting relationships between people of different backgrounds. …SPEAK also promotes the full participation of all individuals in society, making for stronger communities.”
Is SPEAK really helping people integrate into a new country?
We posed the question “How effective is SPEAK in helping people to integrate?” to several participants and former participants. This is what we learned.
The SPEAK experience
SPEAK seems to have done all right by Isa Parra from Chile, who came to Berlin in 2017 on a working holiday visa. She is a participant in German and English language groups at SPEAK, in addition to helping others learn Spanish. Isa says, “SPEAK activities have helped me to integrate into this new country and into German society. Mainly because I have internalized the language a little and because I have known people. Natives and others who have lived in Berlin for a long time. That has helped me to understand a little how the city works, how the people are, and what it is like here”.
Maria Picciolo, an Italian living in Madrid, says that she became more fluent in Spanish through her sessions at SPEAK. In addition “contacting with SPEAK helped me to have new friends and discover new things about Madrid!” Pierre Masci, a Frenchman living in Lisbon, said that he was integrating well, with the help of SPEAK. By “making friends here, and through learning the language and some quirks about the culture.”
Gavin Petersen is from Australia, lived in Brazil and California before settling in Leiria. There he participated in a Portuguese language group at SPEAK. He said that his activities there have helped him to integrate into this new country. “Just knowing the differences and similarities between the different Portuguese-speaking cultures has helped me assimilate more into Portuguese culture. Even so, Portuguese culture is in constant change, as other cultures are welcomed and assimilated.”
The first step towards integration
For some people, learning the local language at SPEAK was the first necessary step toward integration into a new country. Joyce Liang, who’s from China, helps others learn Mandarin and learns Portuguese at SPEAK in Lisbon. She credits her Portuguese sessions to her integration. “They help me to correct my grammar and pronunciation”. Mirna Vela, is a Croatian who lived in Madrid until recently. She said that her Spanish language group at SPEAK had “definitely” helped her to integrate. “I learned new vocabulary and I learned about events around the city that Spanish people attend. Also, I gained more confidence in speaking Spanish.”
Meeting people to integrate into a new country
But for many SPEAK-involved people, it was the social connections that mattered most. That was the case for Gabriel Rodrigues, a native of Venezuela. He is now a Portuguese citizen and holds a master’s degree in intelligent systems from the University of Coimbra. By the time he became active at SPEAK in Coimbra, he had already been in Portugal for three years, he said.
“However, it was at SPEAK and other organizations I was part of that I was able to make friends. It is difficult to meet new people if you don’t have the environment to do so. You could speak to people at the bus stop, but who does that? Everyone is on their phones nowadays. SPEAK provides the environment for you to meet people and to be yourself. Differences are embraced and celebrated, instead of judged. In fact, those differences are the best part of the sharing process, and make for the most interesting members of the community.”
Having a place in the city
Learning German was not an issue for Christine Eamer, a Canadian based in Berlin, because she had previously lived in Switzerland. In fact, since moving to Berlin, she has helped others learn German at SPEAK. Christine said “I would still say that SPEAK has helped me to integrate better into Berlin. I had recently moved from Zurich, where I had found it a bit difficult to integrate. So I decided not to make the same mistakes again”. In Berlin, Christine sought to “find some things to do and meet new people right from the very start. Of course, I very much enjoyed the language and culture exchange. It was a great way to start feeling like I belonged in Berlin after been here only for a week or two! After that, I started getting gradually more involved.”
Christine added, “SPEAK has given me a place in the city, and has introduced me to countless interesting people from across the globe that I would have otherwise never met. I have made friends myself and have helped others make friends through organizing events. Seeing familiar faces week after week at language exchanges have helped to make me feel at home here in a city that is ever-changing. The feeling of being able to connect with new people has been very rewarding.”
Connecting with others
Silvia Batorii, from Romania, spent a couple of months near Madrid last summer for a training program at her company. During that time, she learned Spanish at SPEAK. Silvia says “I wanted very much to learn Spanish so I could engage with people in conversations and make friends”. She enjoyed her time in Madrid, including the activities at SPEAK.
Silvia also said “Learning Spanish was just another way to feel connected to my colleagues and to share experiences and moments. SPEAK helped me find friends with whom I could share my journey as a single traveller. And it made my adjustment to a new country smoother. Especially given that it was my first time away for so much time in another country, all by myself. And I had so many anxieties. Personally, I found Madrid to be a city I would love to live in someday. Spanish people are very welcoming, friendly and very helpful in stressful situations for a foreigner, especially one that travels alone.”
Silvia added that “connecting with people is not about language barriers. But it’s about human experiences, laughter, joy, and being present and mindful of other people’s stories and lives. We can learn so much about ourselves by connecting to others. It makes us more empathic and more linked to the ones around us.”
Yes, SPEAK helps you to integrate into your new country!
Silvia is right, of course. But when you’re in a new country, “connecting with people” is easier said than done. When you don’t know the language, have no one to guide you, and are unfamiliar with the customs of a country and how things work there, integrate into that new country can be a daunting task, if not an impossible one. That is precisely why SPEAK can be so important.
The language groups and social events at SPEAK help you integrate into a new country or city in three vital ways. They help you learn the local language, help to familiarize you with the local culture, and also give you the opportunity to develop an active social life. With all these advantages, integration won’t be so daunting, after all!