Wunderbar Together in Southwestern USA
In the course of the AICGS project “Integration: Made in Germany” the group travelled through the Southwest region of the United States from March 17 to March 22, 2019. It is no exaggeration to call the very visit of this region a valuable and eye-opening experience that most participants were making for the first time. The project, being part of the Year of German-American Friendship or “Deutschlandjahr USA,” set out to bring together experts and practitioners of both countries for an intensive exchange on integration.
Throughout the week, the group was welcomed with open arms and keen interest in peer learning, which led to a constructive and open atmosphere in every meeting. Consequently, during the many site visits and conversations, participants shared their questions and even hesitations openly, the latter mostly concerning perceptions and misinformation on both sides of the Atlantic. As promised by AICGS, we exchanged ideas, solutions, and best practices; however, we did so not only with our U.S. counterparts, but also among our group. It was inspiring to experience lively discussions with each other and learn new perspectives. We discussed employment and education opportunities, political and legal developments, as well as professional experiences. With every meeting, it became clear that our takeaway would not only consist of practical knowledge on best practice and concrete measures. Our learning also encompassed a rather factual and honest assessment of challenges integration advocates and experts are facing today. The United States, traditionally a country of immigrants, surprisingly finds itself in a seemingly new and perplexing debate about this very self-understanding. Integration no longer appears to happen naturally and without conflict. Germany, on the other hand, has recently been embracing the notion of being a country of immigration. Its experiences with integrating refugees and immigrants are, in comparison, relatively recent and not free of disagreements or conflict. It became evident that in both countries, integration efforts often take place at the local and community level. It also became clear that they do so against the backdrop of rising populism and nationalism. Thus, fostering a welcoming culture and leading by positive example seemed to be steps advocates for integration were taking in their communities. Visiting those communities and meeting peers across the Atlantic helped promote mutual understanding and learning, which will confidently lead to stronger ties between Germany and the United States.
We would like to extend our special thanks to Susanne Dieper, Liz Caruth, and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University, for organizing this project. It was truly wunderbar together!