Zina Bankasli (1996) from Syria turned eighteen in an asylum seekers center in The Netherlands. She wasn’t sure if she could have a good future here. Four years later she speaks fluent Dutch, English and Arabic, is a promising student, works as a student counsellor and is starting a project to help refugees.
Q: You came to The Netherlands with your parents. What was your plan?
“My father choose The Netherlands because he works in medical equipment and there are a lot of job opportunities here for him. My plan was simple, I wanted to learn the language and start my education as soon as possible. I started at the University in Leiden. I did an intensive language course and learned Dutch in nine months.
I wanted to study dentistry, but they only allow a couple of students a year. I didn’t want to take the risk that I would be turned down, so I decided to study International Business and Management in Rotterdam. In two years I’ll get my bachelor and after that I want to continue and get a master degree.”
Q: How did you get information about the Dutch school system and the different fields of study?
“My parents have always motivated us to work hard in school and get a good education. It has always been my dream to go to university, but I didn’t know how the system in The Netherlands worked.
I got a lot of help from my contact person at VluchtelingenWerk (a Dutch organization that helps refugees ). She was young and knew a lot about the school system and the different fields. We went to open days together, so I could see what different colleges and universities had to offer.
She helped me gather a lot of information about the courses. This helped me to make an informed decision about what I wanted to study, and how this would influence my chances of getting a job after getting my master. I also collected a lot of information myself. I called and emailed universities and educated myself on the Dutch system. Once you know how everything works, it is easy to make decisions.
I also got help from UAF (a Dutch organization that helps refugees to get a high education). My course is international, so the main language is English, not Dutch. I had to improve my English, otherwise I couldn’t start school. UAF helped me to take a course to improve my level.
It is important for newcomers that they understand how the system works.. Make sure you get your information from proper sources, like the school itself. Don’t believe it is impossible. Get educated and know what you’re capable of.”
You achieve massive success by taking small steps. A lot of people don’t realize this. They only focus on some big result, like a house or a car. But the whole road you take towards your goals is success, not just the goal itself.Zina Bankasli
Q: Was it easy to get where you are now?
“No. Before I spoke Dutch, it was hard to stay positive. The first period here was difficult for my entire family. My father wanted to work, but couldn’t find a job because of the language. We felt like we were stuck.
After a while things got better. I focused on learning the language, my father started his own company, we made new friends, it was possible to build a good future here. Once I spoke Dutch, my motivation returned. I was able to talk to people and contribute to society. Every small step that brought me closer to my goal (study) felt like a success. And I’m happy with where I am today.”
Q: What is your definition of success?
“In Syria, success is linked to status and money. If something happens, you always need an emergency backup. You need to be prepared, you need to focus on the future.
My personal definition of success is a little different though. I believe you are successful if you achieve your personal goals. Don’t become a doctor because your parents say so, but discover what you want and find out how you can get there.
You achieve massive success by taking small steps. A lot of people don’t realize this. They only focus on some big result, like a house or a car. But the whole road you take towards your goals is success, not just the goal itself.
Before I started school, I had to take a lot of small steps. Every little step I took, gave me the energy to go on. It felt like I was busy fulfilling my dreams. If you set a goal for yourself, it is important to cut it up into smaller steps. This way you increase your chance of reaching your goals and feeling successful.”
Q: Are you successful?
“Yes. I have achieved my goals. But I have more goals and there are a lot more things I want to achieve. My goals are not about money, but gaining knowledge and experience. I want to feel satisfied about what I do. I want to contribute and help other people.”
Q: How are you helping other refugees?
“I noticed that a lot of policy makers talk about refugees, but no one talks with refugees. Civil rights organization Kompass has a program that trains Syrian refugees in civil rights, leadership and lobbying. By taking part of this program, I want to help other Syrian refugees in and around Rotterdam.
Because I was young when I came here, it was relatively easy to start a new life. When you’re over thirty, there are more challenges. I want to use the skills I learn at Kompass to develop a program that will help older refugees to find a job in Rotterdam. I hope I can get support from the municipality, so I can really make a difference.
Syrians are hard workers. Sitting at home, doing nothing, has a bad influence on the entire family. That is why it is important that people start working as soon as possible. Everybody has their own talent.”
Q: How can refugees help each other?
“Share information! When you arrive in a new country with a completely different system, it is important that you have the right information. Once you have it, you should share it with other refugees. I post information in a lot of Facebook groups, so other people wont have to search as long for this information as I did.
I work as a student counsellor at my school, because a lot of refugees have probems adapting to the school system in The Netherlands. I help them to develop the skills they need to become successful students.
Sometimes people share incorrect information, which leads to making uninformed decisions. In every country there are organizations who can give you correct information about your rights, responsibilities and options.
Find people who’ve already achieved their goals. They can tell you how to succeed.”
Q: What is your advice for newcomers?
“Be patient. Accept that it takes time to rebuild your life. Once you know the language you can talk to people and it will be easier to achieve your goals. But give yourself time. If you create a good basis, it is possible to build a strong future.
Keep informing yourself and gather knowledge. Ask questions. It is difficult, but you have the capability to succeed in your new country.”