Integration and assimilation

Jami and Magda’s mother get involved in a complex situation, and outwardly the basic question seems to be – to adapt, or not to adapt? To want the other person to adapt, or not? In other words, the basic question of the phenomenon of integration.

  • What is…?

Integration: a process of mutual adaptation which takes place within the process of mutual interaction (Horáková, 2001; page 5).

  • Topic

In this article, we shall examine several aspects of integration. On the one hand, there will be the social framework, which forms the possibility of integration and comprises social, economic and cultural elements. And on the other, there will be individual strategies which, in an ideal case, can lead to integration.

We shall attempt to accompany the text with questions and reflections regarding individual aspects of integration.

Residential integration
This sphere refers to two aspects of the lives of foreigners in a particular country. On the one hand, there are the general conditions for the settlement of foreigners, i.e. from questions concerning the allocation of temporary residence or permanent residence, all the way to naturalisation, where a foreigner acquires citizenship in the country to which they moved.

Alongside this aspect, which we could call the administrative aspect, there is the question of where the foreigner settles. There are often districts in large cities where the citizens of various ethnic groups live, and then “better” districts where members of the majority population live. This tendency is decidedly not the way to create natural conditions for integration (people do not have a natural opportunity to encounter each other on the street, in front of their houses, to exchange a few words, etc.).

And how are things in our district? Do I personally know a foreigner who lives here? When did I speak with them last?

Work integration
We focus in more detail on the issue of the conditions for foreigners on the Czech jobs market in the text “Foreigners on the jobs market”. In terms of integration, it is perhaps necessary simply to mention the fact that the main factors in successful integration are deemed to be a non-discriminatory environment, equal access to job opportunities, and the possibility of utilising the education one has attained relating to work mobility.

Does the composition of my colleagues reflect the way that society is made up? In other words, does the number of foreign colleagues I have correspond to their numbers in society at large?

Language is a necessary condition for successful integration, because it ensures the possibility of communication and interaction between the majority and communities of immigrants. In the case of foreigners who have not mastered the language of the majority, it is therefore necessary to accelerate the learning process. Different countries approach this problem in different ways. In Holland some 15 to 20 years ago, for instance, although language courses were available, there were not enough of them and foreigners had to pay for them. These days, the tendency is to provide what is, in fact, statutory language training linked with tuition in history, which is free of charge. However, after completing a course the student has to pay for a final examination. If they fail to pass the exam twice running, they have to pay an additional fee and part of the costs linked with this integration course.

In the Czech Republic, the state presently offers free courses only for refugees. However, given that they are considering introducing statutory language examinations for foreigners applying for permanent residence in the CR, they will undoubtedly have to expand this offer to other groups of immigrants. Intensive preparations are already underway.

At present, training offers the basic hope of finding a job in the future, and special consideration should be given to it. Experience in the Czech Republic shows that, though the average level of education for refugees in the CR is higher than for the population as a whole, because of problems with the language, with recognition of qualifications, and with lack of trust and discrimination, it is not possible to tap into this potential. For this reason, one of the main components of the training process is the principle of non-discrimination and equal opportunity.

In countries where larger groups of immigrants are settled whose educational average is lower than that of the average of the country as a whole, a trend is gradually materialising which sees the middle class being recruited from immigrant communities and gradually increasing in size (e.g. Holland).

Cultural pluralism
Under the term ‘cultural pluralism’, we can include the various human aspects of coexistence from various cultural environments. First of all, there is the aspect of a right to require that the others must be like us. However, the aim of integration is the permanent movement of both groups in an effort to find new paths to mutual recognition and respect. This often takes place on the condition that the individual groups can cultivate that which is fundamental for their culture, while at the same time learning to live in a different culture on the basis of a shared willingness. This gives rise to bi- or multi-culturalism, the name given to a situation in which the individual moves easily within several environments, without it causing them any real difficulty.

A positive role in this attempt can naturally be taken by school and work collectives, as well as the mass media, which offers space to people from another cultural environment.

Do we relate?
Successful integration is not a one-sided process, and this must always be emphasised. International research from the sphere of intercultural psychology shows that integration may be a freely elected strategy only if the dominant society is open and capable of containing an element of cultural variety (Berry, 1997).

In 2004, a report was published in Holland on ethnic minorities and integration, which concluded with a certain amount of regret that only 1/3 of Dutch society was in contact with members of minorities. It would be very interesting to find out what the figure would be within a Czech environment. As a substitute for such research, we can ask ourselves the following questions: “When did I last chat with a foreigner?” “What was it about?” “Did I enjoy the encounter?”, etc.

Psychological aspects of integration
Integration is obviously not only related to the outward conditions given by the structure in a particular country, but also to the life strategies of participants in this process. In this respect, Berry (1997) mentions various strategies, of which only one leads to integration. In the picture from his article „Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation“ we can see that simply the willingness to maintain one’s own identity and characteristics and at the same time to have contact with the broader public can lead to successful integration. However, this naturally places demands both on the side of the minorities and people from cultural groups, and on the side of the majority.

On the other hand, assimilation means that the individual ceases to care for their own identity, aiming only for contact with the majority. If we examine this phenomenon from the position of an individual from a minority or ethnic group, we can say that it is their choice. However, from the point of view of the majority, it is crucial that the party affected was not forced into such a strategy from the outside – be this on any of the levels mentioned above.

  • Stories and examples

Now we can look at the situation in the dialogue in light of this analysis. From the point of view of integration, we have to commend Magda’s mother. She knows that Magda is in a club with her friends, we assume she knows that Jami is there, as well as other non-Czech friends, and she wants to make the kids happy and offer them a snack. In fact, when she sees that Jami is not eating, she urges him not to be shy. From the point of view of integration, therefore, she meets the first and most important condition, i.e. a willingness to make contact with others.

But something goes wrong. And this something is on the level of cultural differences. His culture and religion instruct Jami not to eat pork, and he wants to remain faithful to this custom. Perhaps it is very important for him, perhaps he doesn’t like meat, or perhaps it matters to him that his relationship with pork is yet again on the agenda.

Magda’s mother wanted to do something pleasant for the kids, and being rejected in such a situation is not exactly a pleasant feeling. Together, we can think about how the individual actors could have behaved. I would like to offer two scenarios to start with:

a) Magda’s mother says: “Oh dear, I’ve done it again. I’m always forgetting that you don’t eat pork. Next time, I’ll buy you a nice cheese sandwich.” b) Jami says: “I really can’t eat that meat, but could I invite myself round to yours sometime for some of that lovely fried cheese?”

  • Sources


Berry, J., W. (1997). Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation. Applied Psychology: An international review, 46, 5 – 68.

Gijsberts, M. (2004). Ethnic minorities and Integration; Outlook for the Future. The Hague: Social and Cultural Planning Office.

Horáková, M. (2001). Zaměstnávání cizinců v České republice (The Employment of Foreigners in the Czech Republic). Prague: VÚPS.

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