Interview #2: Refugee Students at the Alice Salomon Hochschule
Student A - Female Student from Berlin (Refugee from Iran)
Student B- Male Student from Berlin (Refugee from Afghanistan)
[Interviewer] Thank you for being here and for working with us. I would like to ask both of you
how it has been for you to be living here in Germany. Would you be willing to share some of your experiences? For example, how is it to be at the Alice Salomon College? I would like to listen and ask questions about this.
[Female Student] Okay. How is it to be in Germany? It was a great challenge at first. I am 31
now. Until I was 27, I lived in Iran. I grew up in a tightly knit family, not open-minded, secluded. Therefore, I think that I lack self-confidence and self-esteem. I built my self- confidence here in Germany. It's been very interesting and challenging and difficult. At first, I was afraid to leave the house on my own. Everything was foreign, strange—how people walked, how the streets looked, how the shops looked. Slowly but steadily, I immersed. I had to work and learn the language all at the same time.
I've been here with my brother but not the rest of my family so this has been different growing up in freedom without my family. It's been influencing both my brother and me. I would have thought that he would be like my father, but he isn't. He has gained lots of experiences. He says: “I'm not authoritative. I'm not the patriarch. I'm your brother.” And he's been helping me.
The first time I ventured out on my own and took the subway, it was a stunning experience. I approached people. I talked to people. I've learned a lot, and sometimes people seem unfriendly, but they aren't. They are really nice, and I have to overcome shyness. This school is my home. I feel at home in this school. Studying here and being in the seminars have been a great help. Everyone has known or knew that my German wasn't perfect, but I'm learning and growing. I work hard. I keep working and ultimately, I'm successful. The lecturers and teachers are nice. They know German is not my native tongue.
[Interviewer] Thank you and for you?
[Male Student] I come from Afghanistan. I'm the first…
[Interviewer:] You can speak in English or German, whatever you wish. It's okay. This has been fun.
[Male Student] I saw the people. And they were very racist. I felt the same type of racism the
first days. I found a circle of friends. From this circle of friends, I found out how things ran here. And whether something was racist or an explanation. I had been very homesick. And then I lived here for a while and it became normal for me. It's become my second home. I miss my family, but I can see that I can't go very often to my homeland. I feel good here. School is my second family. This school is a new chapter of my life. At first, I was just auditing classes and I will never forget my first day in this school. It was a great feeling to feel like a student— very important for me. The first of these feelings, the first time I felt these feelings is the most important for me. To have successfully entered the university and to feel like a student, to be a student. I've been here since 2014, almost four years. I came with my family. My wife is an apprentice as a nurse in the healthcare system.
[Interviewer] So your family from Afghanistan came here with you. When did they arrive?
[Male Student] We came together.
[Interviewer] So you came alone, and you came here with your family?
[Male Student] Yes.
[Interviewer] How is it for you and your family to live here? What do you notice as some challenges to live in Germany here? What experiences do you have here?
[Female Student] What I perceive as a true gift is that people are so laid back and relaxed and
friendly. They don't make your life hard; they don't put obstacles in your way. In Iran, you have to be beautiful, you have to be presentable, you are very public. Everything has to be accurate and orderly. They look at you, how you look. Here there is much, much less pressure in that regard. Life is much, much easier here, less stressful.
[Interviewer] And for you?
[Male Student] Just like she says, life. There is no societal pressure here. People leave you alone.
People let you be. People don't judge you by how you dress. Here, it doesn't matter how you dress, how you look.
[Female Student] I've learned a lot, I embrace nature, I love nature here. When the sun shines, I
love it, it makes me happy. I go out into nature; I go lay down on the meadows. And I think.
[Interviewer] How was that in Iran?
[Female Student] I can't. I simply can't do this in Iran. It's impossible. I'm observed, constantly observed.
[Interviewer] So, if I just want sit and enjoy people walking by?
[Female Student] People are nosy, and they observe you and they judge you.
[Interviewer] So you have freedom. You can be how you are. And that is a gift for you?
[Female Student] Yes, it is.
[Interviewer] What are some of the challenges?
[Female Student] The language. Yes, the language. One challenge is to find friends. Everyone's
nice at the university, but I don't have the abilities to speak native German so that has an influence on your friendship building. So the language is a challenge in finding friends.
[Interviewer] So, how do you spend your time? Do you spend your time with other people from other countries?
[Female Student] I'm trying to make more friends who are Germans and to get better at that, but it's a problem still.
[Male Student] The cause is simply the language. It's hard to make friends. Grammar is hard. We learned a totally different grammatical system. We speak colloquial German. Sometimes they say long sentences, and I say short ones. I don't know when to say which. Integration plays a major role. I think we are very well integrated, to be part of society, to deal with a society, to understand society here. I can't completely explain what I mean. I’m in my first year.
[Interviewer] What was important for you regarding integration here? What did you notice? [Male Student] I visited integration workshops and those were interesting. To learn about history, to learn about the second World War. It's all be very interesting for me. Generally, to understand culture—how people deal with each other on a daily basis. And the lessons and workshops have been very helpful and interesting.
[Female Student] Integration, it took some time. Integration, to me, means finding my place in society, finding my position, my belonging. And to understand how to read people, how to make friends and how to understand their inclinations. When they are nice, you will understand that they mean it honestly and earnestly and deeply, and then you can become friends. If they are not nice on the surface, then forget it. Then don't waste your time. I'm very happy when people are nice because I know I can totally trust them and confide in them and be close.
[Interviewer] So when it works and you become friends, then it's a solid friendship.
[Female Student] Yes, it's very honest.
[Interviewer] When you look further at being here, and you look at your life in Iran and Afghanistan, what did you bring from there that's well integrated here?
[Male Student] What do you mean?
[Interviewer] For example. When I arrive in a new land and I have some beliefs that I would like to keep. I don't want to give them up. What is important for you? What did you bring that stays with you from Iran and from Afghanistan? Does that help you understand?
[Male Student] It is very difficult to tell things, and I gave up most of my thoughts or ideas. At first, I wanted to keep a belief system, but it didn't work, I lost it over time. I gave it up. I wanted to keep some values, but I then didn't want to keep them. I changed.
[Interviewer] And religion - Can you practice this here?
[Male Student] Yes, it's a free country. Yes, very easily. I can practice this no problems. It works really well, and it's practical. We have a room for prayer. It's wonderful. I can go there and they were so thoughtful in creating that.
[Female Student] I've never thought about your Christianity.
[Interviewer] What are your wishes to be here? What type of perspective do you have for the future?
[Male Student] I want the best for my son. I wish the best for my son. I can see a very good future for me and my wife. But my son is the most important—that he goes to school and does well.
[Female Student] I wish to have my parents here, but it may not work. But, for my future, in the near future, I would love to be successful professionally; and I would love to have a family, to start a family of my own. I would love to bring up a child here. To give him or her a good future and to care for him or her.
[Interviewer] I have another question. What would you want to say to your family or relatives in
Iran or Afghanistan? Let's say you're talking to your friends and your family on the phone and you're sharing how you're doing here in Germany. What would you like to say to them?
[Female Student] I say, I tell them—to all my friends and my family: “Don't make my life hard, don't complicate my life. And don't complicate your own life, just enjoy life. Don't make it unnecessarily hard.”
[Male Student] I still don't understand your question.
[Interviewer] Think about your friends and family in Afghanistan. You're here with your wife and your son and you're thinking about them. What would you like to say about how you're doing? They ask you: “Hey, how are you doing?” What would you tell 'em?
[Male Student] How am I doing?
[Male Student] I always say I'm great, I'm doing great and things are going smoothly and normally. But what would happened if I was in trouble. I usually don't tell them if I'm in trouble, so as not to worry them. I always give them the signal of doing well and being well, not to worry.
[Interviewer] As you know, this will be shared with students and faculty in the United States. What would you like to share, from your perspective, to those students? For those who might have to flee, who may be immigrating, what would you like to say to people in the United States?
[Male Student] There is this new president in the USA a new political system in the USA. So, it's not surprising that people leave; and students in America, your students, need to think about that. And those who are oppressed need to know that there is a community and that there is support out there. They must be nice.
[Female Student] I would like to say a similar thing. I want to say, if we are all together, we can
do something to help; to make the world better, jointly, unitedly; to feel a united, global brotherhood and sisterhood; to be happy together and sad together and support each other. The reality is much different from what a singular fate might look like, but we are all connected, and we all suffer. I am very grateful, and I thank you. I thank all those people who are socially inclined and work in society and for society. And I would love to have something like this in my own home country. I am very grateful to every single nice person.
[Interviewer] Thank you very much, I wish you all the very best.
[Female & Male Students] Thank you very much.