From integration to interaction

I’m Francesco, I’m 26 years old, I’m Italian, I recently graduated with a master’s degree in psychology and after having done a year of internship in a Psychiatric Hospital in my city in Italy I decided to try to have an experience in Spain. What brings me here is the desire to learn a new language, the desire to meet people of a different culture, and also because my girlfriend lives in another city in Spain. Furthermore, I am happy to do this volunteering in an environment that is connected to my professional path.

I will work in a center that works with intellectual disabilities called “CENTRE OCUPACIONAL TOLA” which is located in Silla, a town of around 18,000 inhabitants near Valencia. 

My arrival in Spain began with the voice of Antonio from Amics who called me one day at the end of September and welcomed me using the Italian language. Every good meeting begins with the irruption of a voice, with a call (even before cell phones existed). Forty minutes on the phone were enough for both of us to decide that the project in TOLA was the project that would take me to Spain, after five days I already had the flight ticket and two weeks later I got on the plane to Valencia.

Once I landed, Charly welcomed me and immediately put me at ease, answered my questions and accompanied me to my apartment. There I met Rebeka, Ilkcan, my two roommates, and Enrique, my Tutor who had already helped me organize the trip by phone when I was in Italy. People who I can now define as friends or travel companions.

I spent the first day at the inauguration of a language center, where I tasted many sweets and typical foods from various countries. Now I also have a language courses there in English and in Spanish that I’m attending. Then in the evening we all played cards together in our apartment, I couldn’t have had a better welcome.

After a few days, after several evenings with Ilkan and his friend Gabi, after visiting the place where I will work (CENTRE OCUPACIONAL TOLA), after meeting two other volunteers and after going to visit my girlfriend in Zaragoza, I left for Arrival Training which took place in Muro de Alcoy, a small mountain town between Valencia and Alicante.

In this week I met around thirty volunteers from all over Europe and also other countries, I had the opportunity to learn the values of Amics and the European Solidarity Corps, to understand it’s meaning and the various opportunities it offers. It was a way to interact with people who speak a different language than mine, who have different eating habits, different sexual orientations, different cultural habits, different ways of dressing, different musical genres, different ways of dancing, different ways of laughing, of get excited, talk, have fun, etc. Arrival Training for me was a flow of diversities that crossed paths for a week but which will continue to cross paths inside me during the next few months, and also outside because I will meet up with people I met there in the future. All this will generate I don’t know what, but certainly something new that will continue to have an effect on all of us, which will then have a cascade effect on everyone we meet in the future. Weeks like these create a flow that can never stop flowing.

Unfortunately, for many years European policies have continued to talk about integration, as if one country had to necessarily incorporate another in order to be able to coexist with it, generating a huge glut. This week demonstrates instead that integration generates fights and wars, which didn’t happen because the only way to be together is to accept to interact with diversity, rather than trying to integrate, the choice of words is never politically neutral. Interacting is very different from integrating. The week at MURO de Alcoy (in Italian “muro” means wall) for me was the creation of a connection that aims to break down the MURO that leads from integration to interaction. I thank Roberto, my pedagogy professor, who taught me this years ago, now I’m trying to implement it. If integration, which is only the other side of exclusion, generates fights and wars, interaction generates flows.

Of course, to interact with diversity it is necessary to ritualize certain practices of violence, Freud would say sublimate, rather than pretend that a certain attraction for evil is totally foreign to the human race, but perhaps I will talk about this in the future. All this is seen much better when working with those people who ordinary people call crazy, but who perhaps are just different.

Gracias a todos!

Francesco Manfrè