If anyone thinks that coming into the UK from abroad is a simple task or just a matter of integrating and learning English, you’d be wrong. If you also thought that being a migrant or a refugee meant being a victim and not really helping yourself, you would similarly be (very) wrong. And if you thought that people from abroad were insular in their attitudes, you’d be the most wrong of all.
I work as a part-time tutor for a small organisation called Bridge, which operates out of the Gateshead International Business Centre. Bridge is one of the unique and little-recognised aspects of town life south of the River Tyne. It is, at first view, simply another adult education and training centre. But on closer examination, it is one of the liveliest multinational organisations in the North East.
It offers a very wide range of courses for the general public. I (among other things) am a course leader for their teacher training certificate course – a job I’ve done for the past year. My students include local people, but I’ve also got aspiring new teachers from all over the world – from Poland and Iran to Lebanon and South Korea. It’s quite an extraordinary group!
Sense of community
My students range from people in their twenties to highly qualified professors in their middle ages. The organisation doesn’t discriminate about ethnic origin, background, religion or whether your first language is English. Instead, it encourages people to take part on equal terms and to make the most of the facilities on offer to improve their life chances and qualifications. I have found my teaching to be more challenging and enjoyable at Bridge than at many other times in my career. Working with people from all over the planet has been a delight, not least because I have probably learned more from them about what it is like to be a citizen of the world than they have ever learned from me.
Indeed, it is the differences between people that make this sense of community work. Finding out about someone’s life, their families, the world they left behind and the one they aspire to all leads to a widening of horizons. The sharing of culture and knowledge makes working together easy, and I’ve never found a group of people who were so proud of being Geordies as well as their ethnic origins.
This, of course, is all from just a “bunch of migrants”. Alhough our prime minister may spout derogatory phrases that do nothing to add to our sense of mutual understanding, there are people in Gateshead who are trying to build all the right cross-cultural bridges. This is little understood, and much less known to the world than it should be. And it exists right on our own doorstep.
Bea Groves was president of the former Institute for Learning from 2012-13, and is honorary national president of Tutor Voices, the national network for further, adult, community and skills educators. She tweets at @beatrixgroves
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