Understand what the integration workshop is, what you’ll learn at it and if it is worth your while

Integration is a big issue in the increasingly multicultural Dutch society. Currently, there are three million people with a non-Dutch background living in the Netherlands, comprising around 18 percent of the total population. Foreigners who have a non-western background account for 10 percent of the whole number of inhabitants. With pressing issues surrounding the joys and pitfalls of integration, the Dutch government wants to make sure you get what their version of this tricky concept means.

Integration can mean different things for different people. For some it’s all about speaking the local language and knowing how to navigate the social intricacies, for others it is to successfully decode the tax and healthcare systems. For the Dutch government, all those things are important when it comes to foreigners settling in. However, they are not enough to secure full integration. Therefore, since late 2017 it is mandatory for immigrants who must take part in the civic integration process to follow a workshop about “what is important in the Netherlands”.

The participation workshop

These workshops are called participatieverklaring, or participation statement workshops. The name comes from the statement you must sign at the end of it, stating that you have understood and will respect the values of Dutch society, while actively contributing to it. The integration inducive program is prepared and offered by the municipality and must be completed within the first year of your arrival in the country.

When the notification letter from city hall arrived at my home, if I’m being completely honest, I must say I rolled my eyes hard. Not only was I lost in the Dutch language and job market maze, now I must also take the time to learn what is pretty obvious to me already: the Dutch do fraternité, égalité and liberté perhaps even better than the French themselves.

Values, coffee and reminders

Nevertheless, at the risk of losing my residency permit and paying a €340 fine, I cycled towards the first of three nights of integration workshops. After two and a half hours in a very multicultural classroom, for my surprise, I realised I had just had a great time. Not only did I enjoy meeting people who were on the same boat as me, but I also saw purpose and value at what was being discussed. I could see how engaging in debates about values and how they play out in society could help some of us to integrate better.

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Important reminders regarding rights and obligations, what types of governmental aid one can apply for, as well as residence permit limitations were also discussed. These are vital things that we tend to forget after so many months have passed in between the visa application process and the first year of our arrival. Other topics included where to practice sports around town and how and why to volunteer. The message to contribute and participate as a way to integrate was clear and consistent throughout the whole process.

The gift of books

The last of the three encounters happened at the library. An employee happily explained to us all the many services the Bibliotheek offers and how to access them. Even though I’m a self-proclaimed bookworm, five months in and I had yet to set foot in the local library. I was too enamoured with the book store/café combo, and shamefully enlarging my carbon footprint with late-night book online shopping. Now, I’m a proud member taking full advantage of the language corner.

Head on approach

For those who have decided to make the Netherlands their new home, the Dutch love for bureaucracy is well known. So is their solution-oriented approach to the many challenges that arise within society, institutions and the environment. The participation workshop is a great example of this “head-on approach for problems” and an active effort to put everyone on the same page. It is far from everything needed to secure a smooth integration process, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Have you experienced a ‘participation workshop’? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Shenandoah National Park/Wikimedia

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