If you lived in the USA, especially the south, during the 1950’s and 60’s, just the mention of this blog post’s title word might have made your blood run hot or cold depending upon your upbringing, experiences, and/or outlook on life. To live successfully in another country, or perhaps even in your own, we find integration a very important word. In fact, for us in France intégration is a requirement.
Before we could move to Carcassonne, we had to have a visa issued by the French consulate in Miami. Within a few days of arrival here we had to send a copy of that visa to the local immigration agency with the acronym of OFII. You can probably guess that the first letter “I” stands for immigration while the second? Intégration, of course. In fact, for some long-stay visitors there’s a “Contract of Welcome and Integration” that includes a civics class and language instruction.
Although we did not have to sign that contract, next year when it’s time to renew our annual residency permit, the government may ask us to show that we have become part of the community if we want to stay here. It only makes sense that when you move to another country your life is going to be much easier and richer if you feel connected to those around you. In Carcassonne, those pathways, both official and unofficial, are wide.
Across the country there are 350 branches of the Accueil des Villes Française (AVF) that I think of as a “welcome wagon” that helps to ensure that all newcomers get quickly acclimated to their new surroundings. At least 5 days a week they offer classes for language, arts and crafts, hobbies, games, sports, hiking, and area descriptive walks. While those facilities are directed towards adults, a similar program is available for younger people and that’s where we’ve made our first official inroad. One night a week we participate in an English conversation class for French people learning the language. It turns into a genuine exchange however, because before and after class our conversations are in French and even when we’re practicing English it’s sometimes faster to explain a point in French.
The city’s website prominently features the AVF as well as other locally-sponsored festivals, concerts, exhibitions, and lectures, generally free-of-charge that residents are welcome to enjoy and interact with others. The mayor’s office organizes neighborhood meetings throughout the region where residents can find out what improvements are planned for their immediate area and voice their concerns.
While there are many ways that the government makes a great effort to involve new arrivals in the community, we find that our neighbors have made the greatest contribution to our feeling a part of our new home. In a previous post I wrote about the party that was given in our honor shortly after we moved here to welcome us to the street. That was followed a few weeks later by the countrywide Neighbors’ Day Festival where our street was lined with tables overflowing with food and drink. We simply opened our door and literally took 2 steps to join the party. We haven’t even moved into our new house yet and already the neighbors there have held a party for us. When you walk up to a house that you’ve never been to and on the door you see a sign that says “Bob and Bill, welcome to the neighborhood”, you feel pretty integrated.