What do you picture when you think of social integration? Like many of us, for me it's people from different ethnicities mixing together.
I feel very at home with people of different races, having lived and worked in Asia and Africa, and with a diverse friendship group including a Welsh-Cambodian husband. So until recently, I naively thought I was doing pretty well when it came to social mixing.
But almost all my friends were in the same age bracket as me (25-45). The only people from an older generation I connected with were family members. The last time I hung out with a teenager was when I was a teenager myself. For many years I didn’t think of this as a problem. Wasn’t it logical to spend most of my time with people the same age as me? What could I possibly have in common with people from different generations? But looking back I realise I was hiding a fear of the unknown.
Last year I became a volunteer leader for an adventure camp with groups of vulnerable young people. Before my first camp I said to a friend ‘I can’t wait to do the activities but I’m not sure about spending a week with a bunch of rowdy teenagers!’. I remember the feeling of panic on the first night when I was left alone to entertain and look after my group. I tried to chat to them, get them excited about the activities, and encourage them to eat their dinner, all with little success. By the end of the night, I thought ‘the young people thing isn’t really for me, but at least I have the activities to look forward to’. As the week went on I learnt more about the young people in my group, gained confidence in chatting to them, and found we liked many of the same things - playing silly games, telling jokes, talking about food, cats and dogs. I also loved learning about the things we didn’t have in common - snapchat, the latest video games and the complete lyrics to Justin Bieber’s latest single. Four camps later, getting to know the young people, and seeing them learn and grow during the camps, is by far my favourite part of the experience.
I also joined a local choir in St Albans a few years ago, and felt quite intimidated arriving at my first session to a room full of people of my parents and grandparents’ generation, though this quickly faded as I was warmly welcomed by everyone I spoke to. Soon after, my friend joined the choir and we were so busy chatting to each other I didn’t really connect with anyone else, until I bumped into a fellow choir member at a charity event committee. This was the first time we’d spoken even though we were in the same section of the choir, and I soon realised we had more than singing in common - we both love exercise, are passionate about charities and unfortunately have both slipped a disc in the past year! Not only has she become a wonderful friend, she also invited me to her singing club where I’m getting to know lots of other lovely people from a different generation too - usually over a slice of homemade cake.
I've discovered how amazing and eye-opening it can be to mix with people from different age groups. Rather than seeing someone who is older or younger, I try to see a person who I can learn from and have fun with. And I’d encourage you to do the same. No matter how scary it is at the start, I promise you won’t regret it.
Anna Hann, Brand Marketing Manager
* The APPG on Social Integration will be launching their inquiry into intergenerational mixing in a few weeks time. The Challenge provides the secretariat to the APPG, so keep an eye out for more on this topic soon.