Hosting a Dinner for Immigrants Opened my Eyes to how Insular we Are – Suzanna Renhuldt

Hosting a Welcome Dinner is not just a chance to make new friends, learn about new cultures and offer a way for immigrants to integrate, it also shines a light on the system in which we all live – for good or bad.

It was curiosity that led Suzanna Renhuldt and her family to hosting a United InvitationsWelcome Dinner for two new Swedes. With Suzanna’s 14-year-old daughter completing an internship at Department of Invitations, which runs United Invitations Welcome Dinners, the Renhuldts had heard a lot about the movement, and wanted to take part themselves.

Get involved in the ChangeX Welcome Dinner campaign by clicking here

“We liked the idea from the start, and of course, we were curious. It’s not only the immigrants who have a hard time mixing with Swedes – Swedes have a hard time mixing with new Swedes as well. How do we get in touch with them? Also, it’s hard for new Swedes to find jobs – they need to speak the language properly first, so we don’t meet at work like we do other Swedes.”

It’s hard for new Swedes to find jobs – they need to speak the language properly first, so we don’t meet at work like we do other Swedes.

So the next step was to sign up online, and after a short space of time, they were ‘matched’ with their guests. Suzanna and her family left the choice of dinner guest open – you can choose between individuals, couples or families.

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Agnes (Poland), Im (Cambodia), Daphne, Suzanna, Paula and Petter enoying their Welcome Dinner in Sweden

The day of the meal arrived, and two women – Im from Cambodia, and her Polish friend, Agnes arrived at the door. “We were all really nervous – my husband, my two daughters and I – even just deciding what to serve for dinner, so we went with something simple. Then they came and they were really nervous too. They came exactly on time; at 6.30pm on the button, which I thought was sweet. I think the Swedes are known for keeping time, so I’m sure they heard that somewhere.”

The meal went well, with both the hosts and guests settling into their comfort zone. “It could be a culture thing, but we kept asking them about their lives and experiences from home and what they thought of Sweden and they didn’t ask us so much. I believe that’s a culture thing; we’re brought up to not talk too much but ask about the other person – show interest really. Perhaps they thought we were really nosy. It was really charming and they were so sweet. And we only spoke Swedish, but it worked well.”

Get involved in the ChangeX Welcome Dinner campaign by clicking here

Looking back, Suzanna says the experience was lots of fun, and seeing her home country through the eyes of her guests was certainly eye opening. “These are immigrants who don’t know any Swedes – what obstacles do they find? What do they want? – these are the things you get to find out when you host a dinner.”

One of the most strikingly obvious issues for immigrants that Suzanna realised during the meal was how difficult it was for others to integrate into Swedish life. “So it’s a bit sad, but this initiative is wonderful. At least it’s one way of tackling the issue.”

So it’s a bit sad, but this initiative is wonderful. At least it’s one way of tackling the issue.

The big question, would she do it again? “The experience was really nice and I would love to do it again – and I can, because it’s easy. It’s just up to me now.”

Together with United Invitations (Sweden), ChangeX launched a ‘Welcome Dinners‘ campaign in Ireland. To find out more about how to get involved as either a host or an attendee visit (this link) or www.changex.org/unitedinvitations.

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