“Kiron for me means hope! As a transfer student, I am able to follow the path of my dreams.” – Moataz, Kiron Transfer Student
My name is Moataz. I am 27 years old and I came from Damascus, Syria. I have been in Germany for three years now. When I first arrived, I studied with Kiron and worked as a social worker for almost two years. Today I am proud to call myself a Kiron transfer student and I am very happy to be studying Business at BAU INTERNATIONAL in Berlin.
Back in Syria, I began my studies in Aleppo in 2009 and then transferred to Damascus, where my family is originally from. We used to live in the rural part of Damascus, my parents, me and my five brothers. Unfortunately, I do not have any sisters! My parents are still there with two of my brothers. My other brothers made it to Germany with me. One of them lives in Halle, the other one in Heerlen. It is very nice that I have relatives here whomI can visit. But I miss my family and my home!
It was difficult when the revolution and the war began in 2011. And it was not easy to juggle work and student life during such turmoil. It was extremely hard with the explosions and the war and the government – so of course I could not have a real student life. On top of my studies I was also working in customer service and marketing at a video games company in Damascus. However, the war forced me to fail my last year of studies – even though my grades were very good. I knew that if II graduated, I would have to go to army. Hence, I failed on purpose. That was a very strange feeling and was difficult for me. Especially because I always felt passion and ambition for learning, studying and following my goals. But in the end, I saw no hope in gaining my degree. I had no future. I needed to leave!
In Syria, you do not have any perspective for the future, so you are forced to find your own way. My journey was dangerous. But I had already seen so many horrible things back in Syria so the journey just felt like an extension of our brutal everyday life of war and tears. We made our way not through the Balkan route, but through Lebanon, Algeria, Libya and finally made it over the sea to Sicily in 2014. It took us three horrible and dangerous weeks to get to Italy. On the first of October, I then finally arrived in Munich, Germany. I could not believe my eyes at Munich central station. People were tumbling around drunk, singing, shouting, sleeping and acting crazy. I thought: “What is going on? Where am I?” when someone explained that this was absolutely normal during Oktoberfest season. I was so confused.
At the same time and place, I met many other refugees who had also just arrived. They told me that it is very difficult to gain residence permission in Germany and that Germany was not the best country to be in. I was told that it would take a lot of time and that there were many obstacles to staying here. I realized later that I was confronted with a lot rumors and opinions about Germany. But I wanted to stay and I made my way to Berlin. I believe that the greatest problem for refugees and newcomers are these rumors! You hear something and you immediately believe it is true. You hear about what you can and cannot do. About how difficult everything is – that you won’t be able to work or study. There is so much of this floating around that you start believing it and you get discouraged. I think the first lesson I learned in Germany was: Do not listen to rumors! Just do it!
The integration of refugees in German society is a very complex topic. The greatest problem we face is that there is no plan at the moment. No future perspective. I worked as a social worker here and I worked with immigrants, the Ausländer Behörde and the Job Center. None of them have a long-term plan. They just work with what they have. That´s really difficult, since there is no real direction and we do not know what the future will look like. It gives us no perspective and it is hard to go forward without any perspective. What is our future going to look like? Right now, I have just received the honor of an unlimited residence permit. But what about all the others? This is not just about the right to be able to stay in Germany, it is about making future plans. I was lucky, I will have a German passport in three years. But still – there is no real plan.
The best thing we can do to promote integration is to talk to each other. I lived in Ostdeutschland for two years. As a refugee, it is not easy to live in the east of Germany. There we were something new for everyone –something they did not know. What is a refugee? What is this new religion, culture, custom and language? We tried to show them who were are – to show them that we are just normal people with ideas and dreams, just like everyone else. And they accepted us. At least that was my experience. Before 2015 everyone was very welcoming, but then the atmosphere shifted. In the town I lived in, I was part of an English club with the elderly. We were friends, just like family. But when the “wave” – as they called it –came in Summer 2015, everything changed. Suddenly, everyone started talking about headscarves, Arabic language, Muslims, and everyone seemed to be frightened and rejecting. I was shocked about this drastic change of spirit and atmosphere within only a few months. Unexpectedly, they were asking so many questions about women in our religion and they treated me differently. Only a few months before we had celebrated Christmas together. Now stereotypes about Ausländer were dominating the conversations. I talked to them, explained my culture, language and traditions. But it was difficult for me to be put into a box. And I felt that I did not want to explain my culture and language – because I felt that I am who I am, an individual who should just be seen as Moataz and not be labeled. I believe that I can be judged by my behavior, by myself, and not by the behavior of others who were squeezed into the same box and labeled with the same stereotypes. This was my first big problem in Germany. Everyone started saying: “you are Syrian, you are from Damascus, you are a refugee”! That was annoying. We are not all the same, we are all different, we are all human.
When I worked as a social worker that was especially troublesome. A co-worker was very critical about migration and Islam. He asked me every day: “Why are you here?” He said he was no racist, he just had few questions. But these questions turned out to be my nightmare. I could not work anymore because I constantly had to defend myself. In the end I told him: “I am an individual. I am just working here, let us just work side by side – despite our differences”. But this was very difficult. Every time a refugee or Ausländer stepped out of line they were blaming everyone, myself included. I was constantly attacked. This is why I wanted to come to Berlin. Here I can just be Moataz.
I started studying with Kiron in 2015. I learned German via my smartphone and on youtube. You just pick up words and then some phrases and then you just dive in and start talking. That is how I learned German. I believe the German language helps to integrate, and I would advise other refugees to talk to each other. I advise everyone to get to know the German culture. Each and every city and place has its own atmosphere. Everything is different to the rumors that I had heard about the German culture. That it was a cold country, a machine country – where people have no feelings. My favorite German phrase is “Habt Spaß!”- “Enjoy yourselves” I always thought – why should I not enjoy my time? I did not understand. In the end it is all about community spirit. Looking at Syrian culture, we can learn a lot from German culture. At first, we can learn to just be objective and pragmatic. But we should accept our differences. Germans can learn from Syrians to be more heartwarming and socializing and friendly. Like the greeting “Salam سلام”, which means peace.
My motivation for my studies, my ambition, my drive and my successful transfer came from my past experience. I had to leave my country to come to Germany. My life and everything I am, I was and will be – was at stake. Every refugee should look back and see what he/she has achieved since their journey and ask themselves – was it worth it, or not? I do not think about the past – it would not allow me to move forward. I only look to the future. Many refugees are captured by their past and the war. They have to be in the moment not the past!. I fear a lot of things, but I do not fear trying new things. A lot of Syrians do not want to leave the Job Center – they do not try.
When I transferred, it was just like a miracle. The Kiron Family, especially Thomas and Ronny, helped me to take a leap. I was afraid to apply for university and they helped me overcome my fear, face the German bureaucracy and helped me with my paperwork. What could I lose? I thought I have to challenge myself in order to grab this opportunity. Today I live I Moabit where I share a flat with another German student. I like to cook my own Syrian food and live a normal student life. My plans are to finish my Bachelor and then combine Business and Social Studies.
My journey has changed my life. This is why I want to give something back. My greatest dream would be to initiate an organization that encourages integration between the Germans and Non-Germans. I want to build something where they can share and learn from each other. We have to learn to be flexible and accept each other. We are living here now and we cannot just go home. This is not a solution. For refugees my advice is – just talk to each other and find someone who is open. Learn about this culture. The German culture is so rich, unique and nice. It is about so much more than just Kartoffeln, Bier and Wurst. Every German is an individual. There are no boxes, there are only building blocks that need to be combined and used to build something together. We are an adventure – starting our life together is an adventure – so we have to be courageous, to try anything we face. I have no fear of trying. Failure is just one step. Just do not fear anything. We are all human!
Interview by Flora Roenneberg