People in Germany tell me, “Du hast Schwein gehabt” – you have been lucky. I find it so amusing that “Schwein” means “pig” in German; it is a beloved meal to most of the Germans, an insult, and both a sign and praise of luck, all at the same time. There are so many bad things that I’ve lived through, the experiences I’ve had because of the war – but now it is all behind me, and I can start my life over again from scratch. It is really nice to live again! It is a lucky chance for a new life, a life in Germany.
I was born in Aleppo. Back then it was quite a different world…calm, peaceful, safe, and colorful. It was a very lively, ancient and wise city. To this day, you can still find ruins all over Syria that date back to the fourth century. It is like the city’s air still breathes history. Everyone would always welcome foreigners into their homes. Everything used to be so warm, like being embraced by one big family. But this was before everything changed, before this colorful city fell to ashes.
When I was five-years-old we moved to what felt like another world: Qatar. I lived with my two older brothers and my parents. My mother was a French teacher and my father was an IT programmer. Qatar was different, a very small country with a more isolated society. Qataris are not as outgoing as Syrians, not as welcoming towards immigrants, and they have their own kind of pride, like all the Gulf countries do. When I was fifteen we moved back to Aleppo, and then my father passed away. Everything changed. I lived with my mother, and finished my studies in English Literature and Linguistics. Parallel to my studies, I have worked at the Syrian Association for Tuberculosis Control N.G.O, where I first worked there for eight years as an administrator and later on as an assistant treasurer.
But that was all before the nightmare of war in 2011. In 2012 everything got too dangerous. Our beautiful Nile Street, the street where we lived, was in the midst of the regime controlled area. We were constantly showered with shells daily from 4PM till 4AM and that developed an extra anxiety of the night I must say. No one till this date knows exactly who actually was bombing us, some say it was the rebels others say that it was the regime in an attempt to frighten and kill the residents in order for them to leave, at the end of the day no one of either sides cared about us, mortars and rockets hit our house. Everyone was fighting, it was no longer safe. But worst of it all I knew I could become a killer. If I had not left, I would have been forced to join the army. I could not do it. We could not stay. So we left for Turkey.
Like so many others, my escape in May 2015 would ultimately led me to Germany. People discussed details about the journey via social media, so I knew I would need money. I sold everything I owned, paid a smuggler, and climbed into a rubber boat bound for Greece. Then, like so many others, I was no more than my refugee status. I arrived in Athens, where again, I dealt with smugglers who made money off our misery. Finally, in the summer of 2015, I arrived in Germany. I took a train to Berlin, applied for and received asylum papers, and was transferred to Eisenhüttenstadt, near Frankfurt an der Oder.
The first thing I saw when I arrived in Eisenhüttenstadt was the bus driver giving a Nazi salute to one of his friends. The gesture sent chills down my spine. One could immediately sense the dusty-minded racism and moldy prejudice in the air. I had to live in different Heims, constantly waiting for my Aufenthaltsgenehmigung (residence permit). Then they sent me to Rathenow, in the far west of Brandenburg, where I lived for over a year. I wanted to be as welcoming to the people there as I could. I baked a cake for my neighbors and knocked on all doors to say hello. They welcomed me, but in a way that still made me feel like a foreigner. People kept their distance. A highlight of my week was the time I spent with the local Protestant pastor who gave guitar lessons for refugees two Saturdays a month. We would all get together and sing traditional German songs and perform concerts at senior centers. It was beautiful to learn a new instrument and to sing together. My favorite song was “Lasst uns froh und munter sein”
It was in Rathenow that I heard about Kiron for the first time. Back in Syria I had always dreamt about studying computer science. Kiron gave me the opportunity to finally fulfill this dream. In addition to my online studies with Kiron, I also took part in the guest student program for refugees at the University of Potsdam. Every day I commuted four hours back and forth from Rathenow to Potsdam before I found a room in a shared flat in the Schöneberg neighborhood of Berlin.
After I finished the welcome program in Potsdam, I knew I would need help figuring out how to be able to stay in Germany. I went to the Migrationsrat, which advises migrants in Germany, as well as a career guidance session offered by the Otto Benedikt Foundation. In Syria I worked in administration, but I knew I would not be able to do that here. I needed to start over in order to ensure my future in Germany, so I switched to social work and was accepted into the BA program at the Potsdam University of Applied Science in 2017. The university welcoming party was the most beautiful experience I had since my arrival in Germany. There was theater, a party, acapella singing, and even a boat trip – all just to welcome us. I felt so lucky and happy to be a real student at a German university.
Not everything is perfect in my new German life. Making German friends is harder than I expected. Everyone seems to already have their own friends from school and work. German students are out of reach, untouchable. I find it very sad. Especially being in the field of social work, you would expect people to be really, well…social! Nevertheless, I believe that being critical and judging others is wrong. I think many Syrians here in Germany are cautious and judgmental. I think we should just all be open-minded, accept everything that is offered to us, and appreciate and respect each other. In the end, this is what true integration is all about!
Everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve learned, combined with the inspiration of my time as a Kiron student, I am now creating a MOOC about migration together with a few friends. Kiron showed me how much online learning can help. My MOOC team and I want to show the migrant perspective and encourage people to learn more about migration and each other. I want to get past the superficiality of statistics and false media representations. Maybe my integration MOOC can one day be part of the Kiron curriculum and help create an even more united and welcoming Germany! I can truly say “Ich habeSchwein gehabt” – I have definitely been very lucky.
Interview by Flora Roenneberg #Education4Integration campaign, sponsored by H&M Foundation