The Emigration Generation: Older Migrants Tell about their Life Adventures to School Children

written by Hanna Carlsson

Saskia Derks from Utrecht, the Netherlands, wanted to strengthen connections between young and old in multicultural neighbourhoods. She therefore started the project “The emigration generation” where older people with a migration history come to schools to give guest lectures about their life histories. The children, at their turn, capture the stories in words, drawings and even little films. Giving a platform to older migrants to tell their stories to children has many positive effects. First and foremost, older migrants have exciting stories to tell. As Saskia says,

“older migrants are pioneers, they have adventurous lives -that is interesting for school children too”.

In their guest lectures, the older migrants “bring the world into the classroom”. At the same time, they bring the history of children with a migration background into the school. This creates more understanding of the diversity of backgrounds that today’s classrooms are filled with. The children are always curious- when the older people tell their stories everyone is highly focused.

The guest lectures are not only beneficial to the children, Saskia tells me that the older people participating also enjoy it.

“They feel pride, you can see it from the twinkle in their eyes.”

The older storytellers are not only participating to feel good, they also have personal reasons for wanting to meet ‘the new generation’, such as inspiring children in their neighbourhood. As one of the Mediterranean former guestworkers says: “I want to let the children know they should chase their dream. Everybody may dream big, regardless of their background.” By participating in the project, older people with a migration background in the neighbourhood of Overvecht in Utrecht have learnt new skills and formed friendships with each other. Also during the pandemic, participants have continued to meet online to support each other, although the lectures in the schools were cancelled.

Connecting generations through guest lectures by older migrants shows how valuable older people are as keepers of our shared history. Sadly covid-19 has pulled many of our loved elders away from us. It is positive to see how projects like The emigration generation continue to connect generations and making it possible for older people and children to meet and learn together. In the final weeks of the last schoolyear, the ‘granddads and grandmums’ as they are called, started visiting schools in real life again (of course taking the necessary precautions for covid-19). Hopefully, this new school year this can continue.

If you want to learn more about the project you can visit the website:

or email Saskia Derks