Historically, the word ‘foreigner’ has had negative connotations: alien, outsider. Is that about to change? Franki Cookney meets the co-founder of a UK-based online magazine showcasing stories that highlight how diversity and tolerance can be a force for good
“You wouldn’t want to be a foreigner, right?” Francesca Oddenino laughs, but she’s making a serious point. Too often, she says, foreigners are portrayed as desperate survivors bent on invading society to meet their own needs.
As the co-founder of online magazine, Foreigner, Oddenino wants to unpick the notion that some might have of migrants being a faceless group of intruders. Instead, she aims to present them as unique individuals.
“The way social media portrays foreigners is superficial. It’s often as someone who’s detached from society, with no depth,” she says. “We felt compelled to show that there is so much more to being a foreigner than that.”
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The project aims to ‘rebrand’ the term by showcasing people’s stories and photos, including those of fashion designer Anne-Sophie Cochevelou, who is originally from France, and India-born entrepreneur Malav Sanghavi.
The idea was conceived by Oddenino and three of her friends after a dinnertime discussion about how Britain talks and thinks about foreigners. They are a team of four, all born outside the UK themselves, from Italy, Germany and France, with backgrounds in design, finance and journalism. Alongside the magazine, they intend to get involved in awareness campaigns and events promoting diversity and tolerance. But, notes Oddenino, they remain non-political.
“The initial trigger was the post-Brexit animosity and backlash. As foreigners ourselves, we felt unwanted and that was a feeling many of our friends shared,” she says. “We recognise that foreigners are part of the political agenda, but we don’t want to protest; we want to take a more positive approach.”
One of the issues, she says, is that many people see foreigners as ‘too different’. The team will challenge this by showing that rather than being disruptive or destabilising, difference can actually be a force for good.
“Diversity can bring different ideas to the table, different points of view. It helps us tackle issues in ways that maybe we wouldn’t have thought of before.”
Moreover, she says, far from being greedy and disinterested, many foreigners move because…
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