Basic Information

The word integration comes from the latin word „integratio“ and means the „restoration of the whole or the incorporation in a bigger whole". (Duden). In an intercultural context, where – due to their origins – people with different values, norms, mindsets and behaviors meet, the goal is successful integration. The focus is placed on the incorporation of individuals or groups who belong to a minority into the majority culture

Aspects of Integration

The Cultural Term

When talking about integration in an intercultural context, one should first define what the term means in the cultural context with its many facets.

Culture is something specifically human and means an agreement on rules, behavioral patterns, values, and norms, that define the group. These visible or partially apparent agreements give orientation to the complexity of everyday life. Culture influences the perception, thinking, values and behavior of its members and defines their belonging (Losche & Püttker, 2009). Humans create culture and are also shaped by it. Culture is always dynamic and never uniform, but rather a composite. There are commonly multiple affiliations, that means that people generally belong to multiple subcultures.

Interculturalism describes the convergence and interaction of groups or individuals with differing rules, behaviors or norms. These don’t just come together but also influence each other reciprocally. A “new culture” begins to form, an inter-culture. If there are multiple cultures influencing the whole, it is termed multiculturalism (Duden). Transculturalism on the other hand is when cultural values and traditions become a part of the society’s identity.

Integration in an Intercultural Context

Integration is an important topic wherever two or more cultural subgroups meet. The existence of cultural subgroups means automatically that the groups at least partially differ in norms, values and behavioral patterns.

In the context of immigrants and refugees, integration always comes across as the dominant “receiving culture” on the one hand and one or more minorities on the other. This fact is not per se wrong, since the local cultural group formed itself exactly for that purpose: to interact with each other more easily and to be able to orient itself as a unit. The local culture is in this case dominant based on its numbers in comparison to those who have been “received”. Nevertheless, integration is never a „one-way street “– it needs to come from both sides. Integration can only succeed when both sides are willing to create a culture of multiculturalism.

Integration According to the Model of Acculturation

Using the background of John W. Berry’s Model of Acculturation, integration in intercultural context can be understood as contained between assimilation on the one hand and separation on the other (Adam & Inal, 2013).

Separation in this case means the differentiation to the majority culture and a withdrawal into subgroups of the culture of origin, through which contact to the majority culture and their customs, structures and values is minimized or denied.

In assimilation there is an active adoption of values, behavioral norms and customs of the local culture, to the point of denying the previous cultural identity.

Integration is therefore the middle path between the total rejection of and the complete absorbtion of the majority culture. This requires looking into the new culture and orienting oneself. While having positive interactions with individuals from the local culture one also holds onto their own cultural identity.

How to Succeed in the Process of Integration

Integration is first and foremost a process: arriving, orienting oneself, making oneself familiar with, continuing to grow in personal identity and into participation in the culture. It does not happen immediately. The beginning and the key to successful interactions are encounters. Where people meet in person the opinions are generally more positive, according to the sociologist Ueli Mäder (Jäggi, 1992). Personal interactions make it possible to see how the others live and work – they can get to know how the other ticks, what makes him or her special, to the point where they become familiar with the daily life of the other. Ideally this is not only centered around the culturally specific values and lifestyles, but instead also means getting to know the individual who is a part of a cultural group but lives as an individual. Integration happens where openness and conversation are present.

Moreover, it is helpful for the process of integration to receive and pass along information about the other group. Lack of knowledge and familiarity generally leads to prejudices (Pates u.a., 2010). Connecting it to the Iceberg Model, the transfer of knowledge is the way to “lower the water level.“ Where background information is relayed and expectations are communicated the insecurities can be reduced and conflicts can be avoided. Why are we doing the things we are doing? Which expectations are there? What is important to me? What is definitely not ok? – such questions allow invisible cultural values to come to the surface. Sharing cultural background information ensures that people grapple with the other culture and at the same time become capable of sharing their current cultural identity. This prevents assimilation.

Integration is made easier by using a shared communication platform. Intercultural sharing happens when both sides try to communicate. Ideally this is a shared language, but even with little ability to communicate through a language, a trusting relationship can still be built. A shared language of course deepens the exchange and the content which is communicated.

Shared positive experiences also promote integration. Scientists have noted a connection between lacking positive experiences on one hand, and racist behavior as a part failed intercultural communications on the other hand (Fülgraff & Schmidtchen, 1990). When positive and emotional experiences occur, the previous prejudices are reconsidered. Trips, group or sport activities and also working together on shared tasks are example of such shared experiences.

Integration thrives with reflection of self and examples from leaders. In intercultural contexts, integration is a process of frequently orienting ourselves on stakeholders in the dominant culture. With a flexible attitude it is helpful to question one’s own actions and confusion about the others’. In the end we should be open for each other, curious about that which is unknown, and discuss it all.


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Funded by Erasmus+ "Youth in Action"

The website and the content was developed in the project "Treehouse Camps - a Method to Strengthen Key Competences and Integration in Youth Work".

Project duration: September 2018 - August 2021