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Integration: anything else just isn't cricket

Patrick Henderson at home with dog Molly swissinfo.ch

When British-born schoolteacher Patrick Henderson moved to Switzerland more than 25 years ago little did he know he would end up running a cricket club for expats.

This content was published on April 7, 2008 - 09:35

Married to a Swiss and father of two sons, Henderson did not have much experience of the foreign community until his boys asked him a few years ago about playing cricket. The club for juniors he set up now has 350 players.

Henderson came to Switzerland in 1982 to study at Zurich University, gaining his teaching qualifications. He now works as an English teacher in a Zurich state school and lives in Weisslingen, a village near Winterthur.

swissinfo: How different is the Swiss school system to the British one?

Patrick Henderson: I think the Swiss school system is excellent, without the risk of sounding like advertising! It's a very broad based education unlike the British, where you tend to drop subjects after the age of 16. At our school they are doing nine to ten subjects and English is just one of them.

Although there are probably only 18-20 per cent who do their university entrance qualifications, the others have the possibility of doing a very good apprenticeship which I think is something that Britain lacks.

You also don't really do much school sport, something which my children tend to regret.

swissinfo: You have helped set up a cricket club, how did this come about?

P. H.: My boys wanted to play and they asked me if I couldn't do something about it. I've always enjoyed sport and have taught it. We started up a club in Zurich and there are now about 350 players in Switzerland, ranging from age 7-17. I spend a lot of my free time now running this club. We've got 60 players in Zurich and we play against other teams, Basel, Geneva, and also international tournaments.

It's a lovely mixture: Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and British, but we also have quite a decent group of Swiss children. There's a lot of interest and I've heard that a lot of expats have seen it as something that has helped them integrate. I've even had headhunters phone me and ask if it's true there's cricket in Switzerland. Some clients have sons who have played before and have asked to watch training sessions.

swissinfo: Do you feel very integrated here in Switzerland?

P. H.: I would say yes. I never really knew much about the expat English community until I started cricket. My friends were all Swiss and I married a Swiss woman. I was not orientated when I came here towards the expat community. I wanted to learn German and I was interested in Swiss culture.

swissinfo: You have a foot in both worlds?

P. H.: Certainly. I like it because I think Switzerland has become a lot more an international community as well and there are far more foreigners living here, people coming to work here for a number of years, than when I first came. And I suppose my circle of friends reflects that.

swissinfo: So it's very important for you to be integrated?

P. H.: Yes I think so. If you want to get the most out of it then it's the only way. Otherwise it becomes a half measure and you won't profit from the experience and you're never really going to belong properly. Living in a village, as I do here, you get to know everyone. It's small enough that people know who you are - you go down to the shops and people chat to you on the street - and I like that aspect of living in Switzerland.

I think it's important for your quality of life to be integrated without denying one's roots. The old cricket thing has given me an added aspect, not because it's British, but more because it's very international and I like that there are Swiss people involved as well. And because it's doing things for young people, that's natural because I'm a teacher, but this idea of easing people into Swiss society through cricket is a nice idea. It's strengthened ties in both places. I have a lot of contact with England. We might go on tour to England in summer. Last summer we were in Denmark.

swissinfo: What would your advice to expats be?

P. H.: Don't get tempted not to learn the language simply because so many people speak good English. I think it's very helpful to go on a course and try at every opportunity to use one's German because people respond well to that and through that one will find Swiss friends outside the circle of expats.

Having said that, there's a lot on offer for expats - theatres, a lot of cinema films are in English, so it makes it easy for people to find their feet and integrate. Swiss people have always been very open towards other cultures. It's a neutral country but it's always been very open to groups of people who have been in difficulty and it's done a lot to help other countries. Swiss society, which includes French, Italian and German-speakers all living together is, I think, a model of integration.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Weisslingen

In brief

The foreign population of Switzerland in 2006 was 1,523,586 people. They represent 20.4% of the total population.

There are believed to be around 130,000 illegal immigrants in Switzerland.

In 2006 Swiss voters approved a law limiting immigration for citizens outside the EU and the European Free Trade Association (Efta) to highly skilled labour.

It also aims to encourage integration, in particular by language courses, while cracking down on human trafficking and marriages of convenience. Foreigners have to make efforts towards integration, according to the spirit of the law.

Regulations were also tightened under the amended asylum law in 2006. It allows those awaiting deportation to be detained for longer periods, cuts social welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers and excludes from asylum procedures people arriving without identity papers.

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Integration Week

This is the first in a series of swissinfo articles examining integration.

From April 7-13 the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo's parent company, is holding a nationwide theme week on the integration of migrants in Swiss society. Entitled "Wir anderen – nous autres – noi altri – nus auters" ("We others" in Switzerland's four national languages), the issue will be discussed, analysed and documented on all radio stations, television channels and websites.

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Swiss cricket

The Swiss Cricket Association has been in existence since 1980. Cricket is not so well known in Switzerland as a sport and the majority of players are expats.

The Youth Cricket Development Programme was set up in 2004 and was an instant hit. It now has 350 members around the country.

The European Cricket Council has lent its support in the form of a grant. There are now ten trained coaches, all fathers and including Henderson, at the Zurich branch.

Henderson is currently on sabbatical and devoting his time to his role as Youth Development Officer at the association.

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