At home – @home

In March, the Josefa Foundation hosted its 2nd forum "Listening to our migrations", whereby participants spent an evening exchanging viewpoints, listening to and sharing testimonials on exile and resettlement…

About forty people participated in these exchanges made up of three groups led by Marco Martiniello (sociologist), Alain Vanoeteren (psychologist) and Sonia Ringoot (film director).

I would like to share with you some of the ideas developed by the groups, which focused on essential themes, and which I found very enriching.

In order to change our perception of others, to avoid prejudice towards others, it is important to have an open mind. Understanding the other is about forgetting oneself, questioning one’s own preconceptions, and trying to understand where the other person is coming from.

During my professional career, I was lucky enough to meet people (colleagues, customers, suppliers) from various countries and various cultures. The common language spoken was English, which was not our mother tongue. I quickly noticed that it wasn’t the language barrier itself that was causing misunderstandings, but more often than not it was the cultural differences. As an example, in the Japanese culture, to say "no" to someone is generally taken as an insult. Thus, if a Japanese person does not agree, he will say it in a much more subtle manner, and risk not being understood, possibly with detrimental effect.

I learned that by looking at a person first as a human being, and not as "Japanese", "a customer", "a technical director" – by sticking a label on him or her – it was much easier for me to establish a genuine rapport. In return, the Japanese felt that "with you, we can speak and be understood".

Another essential question that was discussed: what can be done so as to evolve from a state of differentiation towards a state of complementarity? After an "exile", it is important (essential) to be able to (re)build a (new) identity, to have answers to the question: who am I? What am I experiencing? For that purpose, it is essential to feel welcome and to feel alive again by being able to lean on someone else.

Again, I would like to use "my Japanese experience" as an example. One night, at about 4 am, my telephone rang: it was Asabe-san, a Japanese ex-colleague, whom I had not seen for several months. After speaking to me for almost an hour, he says to me: "why did I phone you?" At that moment he tells me: having heard a rumour that he is about to be laid off, he says: "I cannot talk about it to my colleagues or my family, so I decided to phone you". Confronted with a big dilemma, Asabe-san needed to speak to someone. Losing one’s job is a dishonourable event in Japan, it is very embarrassing for the person and those around him (it can even lead to hara-kiri); that is why he did not dare to talk about it to his friends and family.

There is one other idea that I would like to share. We need to better handle our complex diversity: the world has changed a lot in a short time. Brussels has adapted quite well because it does not have a "unique" identity: Dutch and French languages, capital of Belgium and Europe; which more easily allows people to recognise the differences in others. Therefore, it is perhaps why it is easier to build bridges to get in touch with others, create links and build a state of complementarity. It is possible to lean on this key point and to develop it to participate actively in our world, to permanently let life be reborn in us and with others (being together in the cycle of life).

In this way, at the heart of our migrations, to offer a home, to offer hospitality in reciprocity as the Josefa House does, is undoubtedly an enormous contribution.