Monthly Archives: February 2012

Who is responsible for the integration of foreigners?

Just who is responsible for making integration happen?
Let’s call the international student X and Singaporean society Y (for convenience.)

Y would be justified in saying that it doesn’t owe X anything. Y would be content to be left well enough alone. X could be perceived by Y as an undesirable intruder, strange and foreign. Y could be perceived by X as a cold, hostile and unfriendly place (but relatively opportunity-laden, compared to home.) So integration doesn’t have to happen, and in fact, it won’t happen if X and Y continue with their (individualistically rational) train of thoughts.

But that’s sub-optimal. When everyone looks out for themselves, everyone gets defensive and nobody’s willing to give anybody else a chance, everyone is worse off. Whether we’re talking from a biological, intellectual or cultural perspective, diversity always enriches everybody involved. Integration is ideal for everybody, both X and Y. We learn more about each other, and more importantly, about ourselves.

Exclusion, containment, isolation- these are not sustainable policies, in any situation- whether we’re talking about raising children, international relations (consider the Cold War), or, in this case, immigration. We do it when we’re trying to minimise the spread of viruses, but it makes more sense to build robust immune systems. Conflict resolution is a superior strategy to conflict avoidance- because the world is getting smaller, and interactions are getting more numerous.

Integration is conflict resolution. And no conflict between two parties is resolved by just one of the two. It’s everybody’s business, and in everybody’s self-interest, to grow the fuck up and extend a hand to the other.

And it doesn’t matter if we have a series of negative experiences, and if we get exploited or taken advantage of from time to time- because the few instances of co-operation that do emerge become robust, and will then be mimicked, and we’ll all be better off for it.


Grace, compassion and mercy aren’t just fancy-sounding moral ideals, they’re effective survival strategies in a world where fight-or-flight is no longer an option, and negotiation and compromise is the only way forward.

If we’re trying to pinpoint who to blame, we’re asking the wrong question. (But if we really had to go there- a systemic problem requires a systemic solution, so the villain is the system itself- and the onus is then on every single element of the system, simultaneously. So it’s all of us, together.)