Way to Cultural Integration: Learning from Shai’s Life

Today I would like to talk about my journey – a journey to find a home, a journey of creating a sense of belonging, a journey of making my own identity. The reason for sharing my true life story to all of you is that my uncle, Toyon, needed my story for his university blog competition. He thinks that my past story of going through hardship and survival in the present, in a lot of ways, is related to the complex and dynamic society that we live in.

Photo Credits: Pixabay

My name is Shai. I am a third culture dog, sometimes sociologists term it a ‘Third Culture Kid’, and was born in a very exotic country – Palestine. So far I as remember, my father was Chinese and mother was from Afganistan. I do not know where they are now. I am the unfortunate daughter who almost forgot her parents’ faces. I barely remember that I witnessed getting separated from my parents together with two brothers and one sister because of a massive bomb attack. You do not hear much about dogs like me, because we do not write, or, our stories remain untold because of the agonizing miseries of those thousands of innocent human war victims. I am one of those uncounted who almost made it by miracle and ended up in Estonia. It was neither a dream of getting separated from my birthplace, my family, nor a predetermined plan to end up in Europe. My present owner, Anastasija, struggled by risking her life to own me, found me and embraced me with her love, as well as gave me a motherly womb, at the same time wholeheartedly adopted me like her own child and reared me to integrate into so-called developed society. Not all are as lucky as me. According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), 5.3 million Palestinian refugees have been registered by UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in the year 2016, although no specific statistics exists regarding animals like me.

The day I left, I cried and humans considered it barking, but I could not stay in a place where human kills human with pleasure. Sometimes I thought I would return back to my birthplace one day, would play in the neighbor’s yard, would pee in the open air or would fetch balls for humans. During that miserable memory, I lost my most valuable possession, which is my birthplace, and humans lost their dignity.

No matter how I ended up in Estonia, the past will be always with me. My present owner, Anastasija, is very smart. She taught me a very complex term called cultural integration, since I am new here. I will try to explain this complicated term as humanly as possible. Basically, cultural integration is a complex phenomena and it matters for different reasons, for example, if we think it from the perspective of globalization. When we say the word globalization, the fact that comes to our mind is that we can buy bananas all year round, the fact that we can catch the next flight from Tallinn to Dhaka whenever the heart desires, or the fact that we can just walk down to the Ruutli street and can eat world cuisines like Asian, American, or Italian food. But we need to start thinking about globalization in terms of cultural integration, which nowadays becomes the most rising concern. Every year, migrants are coming to Estonia for the purpose of establishing businesses, performing jobs, studying, and the interesting fact raised throughout this is whether these immigrants will speak Estonian or adopt Estonian culture. This creates one kind of dilemma, where it is questionable that they can be integrated in terms of their settlement, in terms of their adaptation, in terms of long-term integration.

Shai’s Estonian Language Teacher. Photo credits: Pixabay

When I first arrived in Estonia it was difficult for me to understand the language. I could not understand a single word. My present owner, Anastasija, trained me, and her neighbor’s dog, who looks like kind of Selina Gomes, helped me to understand some words. Presently, I can also pronounce some words, but people consider that as barking. I am learning the language, as it will help me to understand the gossiping of neighbors and to integrate with their social matters; at the same time, perhaps I could chat with those tall Russian dogs that I meet at the park.

A few days ago I was resting on the couch watching TV, and from one of the reports I observed that day by day the Estonian population is mixing with foreign nationalities, and this phenomenon is creating the scope of cultural integration. Estonia, an open country that encourages liberty and liberalism with popular commitment to the ideals of its national solidarity, comprises different ethnic groups, including foreign immigrants with a diverse cultural background. Estonian government has its own integration policy (e.g. Integrating Estonia 2020) with the aim of increasing cohesion of the society, increasing the competitiveness of the Republic of Estonia, ensuring security, preserving the Estonian language and culture, preserving the culture and language of the ethnic minorities, ensuring increasing tolerance towards different groups of society, ensuring a stronger civic identity. Nowadays so many dogs are seen walking in the park. I talk to them and try to hear their stories. Dogs whose owners are mostly academicians believe that cultural integration is important for several reasons, such as creating cohesive societies, removing stereotypes (e.g because of my black skin some dogs do not like me), creating unity, and creating a balance between sub-cultural groups. This indicates one simple yet vast meaningful summation, which is creating a harmonized society where people can have the same goal of achieving balance and unity. It is also true that different societies perceive integration in different ways; thus, the significance of integration is influenced by the way society defines it.

Photo from the private collection.

Another crucial aspect of cultural integration is how society perceives aliens, i.e. as resourceful or a painful burden. It requires further extensive research to identify who sees migrants as a resource or burden; however, migrants should surely be schooled in the cultural values of accepting countries so that they can play important role in host country’s society. At the same time, here a sense of belonging is also important. As far as the schooling issue is concerned, therefore, short of financial capacity and other resources (e.g. integration institutions, trained employees) limitations of the host country also retard the promotion of cultural integration program. I have seen some rich dogs go to a kennel while their owners go on vacation. At the kennel those dogs learn so many different things which are necessary to daily life.

Furthermore, one fact that impedes the promotion of cultural integration is fear of cultural diversity. It is fear that is forcing separation instead of integration. People have different opinions and views. If two parties with different views communicate about how to proceed to their mutual acculturation, it will retard acculturation stress. Therefore, in fear-driven societies where cultural integration becomes the political issue, the best strategy is to start talking about this whole thing, i.e. tensions of cultural integration. I have black skin, but some dogs are as white as Angelina Jolie. Racism, preference – these are part of society and it takes time to make people aware, perhaps it is part of education as well.

The benefit of integration is that it creates a space where people can talk about what they want, how to live together as a society, how can they become part in addressing the fears for things that are different than what they are used to. It is also important that while defining integration the goal needs to be determined. At the same time, those goals need to be realistic and when a person or a group has defined the goal together and they have ownership of that goal, they can measure and celebrate the result together. An integration program should be well organized to treat the migrants in a way that would not merely give them social benefit but also promote the cultural integration process by way of learning and developing the country’s cultural values, by way of learning language, participating and influencing the host country’s social inclusion, of ways of thinking that promote economic, cultural development, in the way that those same people would eagerly engage in the rebuilding of their own countries. Now the question arises regarding how integration is to be imposed. It is rather beneficial to rethink the way policy legislators make rules and require people to do things which are different from their regular norms, how they are going to live in a tolerant city together and make the country better.

Presently, I am looking for a boyfriend. To be honest, I am already seeing one brown dog whose owner is Russian, living two buildings away from our house. If I am fortunate enough, one day I would find my love, make my own home, and my babies would play in the yard. One day I will leave my identity to Estonia.

This article was written for the UT Blog Competition by Toyon Mohammad Abu Sayed, Masters of Arts, Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies student.

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