Leaving home and dreams for a new life in the Netherlands

Mohamad Mahayri is from Syria. In 2015 he decided that it was better for him to leave his homeland because of the outbreak of war and to seek his happiness elsewhere. After some wanderings he ended up in the Netherlands where he can feel safe and pick up his life again. Of course this did not go without a struggle. "When I arrived in the Netherlands, I came to live in an Asylum Seeker Centre in Haarlem. I shared a room there with 5 other fellow refugees," says Mohammad. "I left behind my life in Syria, just like my dreams and plans for the future. That was hard."

Rules and legislation concerning refugees

The rule in the Netherlands is that, if you come to the Netherlands as a refugee, you have to stay in the first Asylum Seeker Centre (AZC) for 6 months. During this period, you can apply for status in order to obtain a residence permit. This is a lot of work, a lot of discussions, documents you have to be able to show and explain why you have fled to the Netherlands. Mohammad: "In the meantime I received English lessons to improve my English and I went looking for a university where I might be able to resume my studies.  In Syria I studied Business at the university in Aleppo. But as a refugee without a residence permit you are not allowed to start an education (or work) right away.

“In 2016 I received the good news that I could come and study at the UT in International Business Administration.”

In 2016 I received the good news that I could come and study at the UT in International Business Administration. Fortunately, this message came about at the same time as I was getting my residence permit." After he had spent 6 months in Haarlem, the journey continued to another AZC. Because he was already 'accepted' for a UT program, he opted for the AZC in Almelo.  He lived here for another 2 months, while the municipality of Enschede went looking for a home for him.  "I was offered a house in the residential area Twekkelerveld, which is very close to the UT. And because I had a house with 2 bedrooms, I thought it would be nice to have a roommate as well. Preferably a Dutchman so that I would learn to speak the Dutch language better. I had already passed my integration course, but I still have to do a speech test. And in order to be able to do this better, I thought it would be a good idea to learn this from a Dutch roommate. Unfortunately, the housing corporation did not allow this and I now live there alone. That took some getting used to! You come from elsewhere, are a stranger in this country and sometimes you feel alone. But after a while you get used to it, make friends on campus and pick up your life again. That was nice," says Mohammad.

Next step

The next step, of course, is to apply for a study grant and to start an educational program. Because his program in Syria did not match the International Business Administration (IBA) bachelor's program, it was decided that Mohammad would start at the beginning. So he started - like all newcomers on campus - during the first year. "It was a very busy time," Mohammed explains. "I wasn't just going to start my new program at the UT, it was also very different from what I was used to in Syria. Of course, I also had to make sure that I passed to the integration course. So I also threw myself into Dutch. Luckily I passed the test and now all I have to do is take a speech test but now I passed it . I'll be able to do that too! It's tough, because it's not just studying, studying, studying. You also have to deal with the big cultural differences, the life you have left behind, the thoughts of your family who live in Egypt these days and you are trying to get your life back on track. It's hard, but it's doable. You have to commit yourself for the 100% and then....... you will pass your integration course and also your first IBA exam. Of course I was very happy with that. And then your life starts going in the right direction again."

“It's hard, but it's doable. You have to commit yourself for the 100%”

The program

"In the first year I got 30 EC. Unfortunately I didn't pass 2 exams, but fortunately I was able to overtake them in the second year. In the second year I got all the credits and this gave me a good feeling which made me believe in myself again. The way of studying is completely different than I was used to in Syria. In Syria the study is more theoretical but In the Netherlands you are more involved in projects, so the education is more practical. That way you'll be better prepared when you go into business and find a job, I think. Last week I handed in my bachelor thesis. That's the last part of your third year, and therefore also of your bachelor's program. If I've passed this, then I’ll become a Bachelor in Science and get my diploma" explains Mohammed.

Making friends

Mohammad: "It's not always easy to make friends. Of course, the Dutch students grew up in the Netherlands and have already built up a circle of friends in their place of birth. First-year students often go 'back home' on weekends. So it's a bit difficult to get involved. But the longer they study, the more diluted it becomes. And in the end you manage to make friends. Of course, there are a lot of international students on campus who often don't know anyone and have to build up a new circle of friends as well. Somehow that's nice too. I also found out that my English teacher from Syria now also lives in the Netherlands, in Haarlem. Now we are friends and we visit each other once in a while.“

Home front

For every refugee who leaves everything behind it is, of course, an emotional struggle. Your family is in a different country from you, you may have left your girlfriend behind - like Mohammad - and your dreams are gone. "Luckily I can keep in touch with my family in Egypt via Skype and the telephone. This is how I heard that I have become an uncle and that I have nephews and nieces that I have never seen before. Because I don't have a passport yet, I can't visit them right now. I can't leave Europe without a passport.  But skype gives me a good opportunity to 'see' them from a distance. I still have regular contact with my girlfriend. We have made new dreams together. When I live and work in the Netherlands for 5 years I can become a 'Dutchman' and we can see if she can come over as well. Then we can get married and form a family. I would very much like to raise my children here in the Netherlands, to make them feel how nice it is to live a free life without the dangers of war. I am having a great time and hope to have found my future here", says Mohammad.


Mohammad has just handed in his last assignment - thesis - for his bachelor's degree in International Business Administration and if he succeeds he will receive his BSc diploma in July. After the summer holidays, he starts his Master's program in Business Administration. This program lasts a year and after that he starts looking for a nice and suitable job. But it will take some time before that happens. Fortunately, dreams and plans for the future have been made again. 

“We give other refugees or other foreign students tips and tricks to start a new life at the UT.”

Helping other refugees

"I'm currently a member of the ambassador's team. We give other refugees or other foreign students tips and tricks to start a new life at the UT. It's not always easy to find your way around, there are so many rules you have to take into account, you get to deal with municipal matters that you're not used to and so you lose a lot of time and energy. Of course, with a little help, it will be easier and perhaps quicker. Once you've struggled through all the laws and regulations, it's time to find out how everything works, what the cultural differences are, how people react and actually all kinds of things, big and small, that you as a Dutchman might not think about immediately. It is very nice to be able to help the newcomers with this. At the UT you get opportunities to do this kind of work, I like that very much. It gives you a good feeling to be there for someone else. I hope that I can continue to do this  work during my master's program.