Even with a master’s degree in legal sciences, it was difficult for Shermin Amiri (1982, Iran) to find a job in The Netherlands. Nevertheless, he persisted. After his arrival in 2012 he has worked hard to reach his goals and start a new life.
Q:. You have a bachelor’s in law and a master’s in legal philosophy. Right now you are in school to get your bachelor in Social Legal Services. Why did you decide to go back to school?
“At first, I focussed on learning the language. Most courses are in Dutch, and to make an informed decision about what degree or course would be best for me, I needed to learn the language. I wanted to get a job as soon as possible, so I wanted to do something that would help me to improve my chances on the job market.
One of my language teachers told me about Social Legal Services, and I thought this bachelor would be a perfect fit for me. I visited a couple of college’s that offered the course and I gathered as much information as I could. In 2019 or 2020 I will get my degree.
With this degree, it will be easier for me to find a job that matches my skills and interests.”
Q: You already have a good job right now, you work as a route counsellor. How did you get this job while you are still in school?
“From the moment I arrived in The Netherlands, I’ve always spend a lot of time volunteering. When I started school, I worked as a legal counsellor for VluchtelingenWerk, a non-profit that helps refugees with their integration.
At the time I received financial aid from the municipality, and they told me to stop my education and find a paying job. My education was too important for me, so I told the municipality I didn’t need their financial aid and I would support myself. A colleague at VluchtelingenWerk told me there was a paying job available at the administration department. It became my job to destroy old files of refugees who didn’t need our help anymore.
I started at the bottom, but the company gave me the opportunity to show them my skills and I quickly moved up. I worked at the IT department, after that I became the manager of a team of 40 volunteers and then I applied for the position of route counsellor. With a 32-hour work week, there’s not a lot of time for school. But I make time. It is important to keep everything balanced.”
Q: What other volunteering jobs did you have?
“The Dutch government placed me in a house in a small Christian village in the countryside. The people are nice, but it is a very closed community and it is hard to get accepted as an outsider. I wanted to show them I’m just a regular guy. I started volunteering at a Christian book store and that helped with getting in touch with the villagers. After getting to know me, people were really interested in my story.
Quickly I had built a network, and through a villager I got another volunteering job at a care center for special needs children. I worked with children with ADHD and autism and it was an amazing experience. I learned a lot from the children and I’m thankful for my time there.
Not only did my volunteering help me make new friends, it also forced me to speak the language. You can’t do a job if you don’t understand your manager and colleagues.”
It is important to let go of your ego. You need to be aware that you will have to build a whole new life. Sometimes life takes other decisions for you. Don’t miss out on opportunities, because you think you can only do one thing. Get out of your comfort zone and become persistent. Believe in your abilities.Shermin Amiri
Q: Your Dutch is almost perfect. What tips can you give newcomers on learning the language of their new country?
“In 2012 the Dutch school system for refugees wasn’t very good. There was a waiting list and when I finally started I was placed in a big group and there was hardly any room for individual attention. That is why I volunteered, because people only spoke Dutch to me. I watched a lot of Dutch TV and I started a group on Skype with other newcomers where we discussed Dutch TV programmes in Dutch.
I also watched a lot of regional networks and listened to political debates. This way you learn all the facets of a language. Different accents, slang, jargon. Language is a skill. If you practice it a lot, it is easier to learn.”
Q: Do you consider yourself successful?
“I am a perfectionist, which means that I am never satisfied. There is always room for improvement. But I do consider myself successful and I am proud of everything that I have achieved.
My residence permit was valid for five years. I have set a lot of goals for those five years and I have achieved all of them. But at the same time, it was a difficult period.
Because of the terrible circumstances I had to flee from, there was still a lot of adrenaline in my system. This adrenaline and my motivation helped me to keep going. But it was a strange time, because even though I was safe, I didn’t feel stable.
Only after I achieved my goals (learning the language, getting a job, starting school), I felt like I could be a “normal” person again. Those five years were a transition phase and I am happy where I am now.”
Q: What advice can you give newcomers who are still stuck in this transition period?
“You need to set realistic goals. If you were a surgeon in your own country, it can be very difficult to do the same profession in your new country. Maybe you can’t work as a surgeon again, but you can become a medical assistant.
It is important to let go of your ego. You need to be aware that you will have to build a whole new life. Sometimes life takes other decisions for you. Don’t miss out on opportunities, because you think you can only do one thing. Get out of your comfort zone and become persistent. Believe in your abilities.
You need to find your way. A new way. It is not an easy road, there are a lot of obstacles. But if you find it and keep following it, you will reach all your destinations.
A lot of newcomers have difficulties with being in the present moment. You are haunted by your past and scared of your future. After the adaptation period of getting to know your new country, it is important to get your life back to normal as soon as possible. Go to school, work, volunteer, make new friends… Use the time you have to make the most out of your new life.”