27-year-old Diana had a very normal, happy life in the Syrian capital Damascus. She studied civil engineering at university and was often on the road with friends in the cultural cosmopolitan area. Then the war broke out. Every day 2 to 3 bombs hit the city. She had to hide at home for a long time, it was not safe there either, but walking down the street was absolutely not an option. Until she fled with her mother and brothers. She flew to Turkey, made the crossing to Greece with a small boat and after the harsh journey finally found her safe haven in the Netherlands in 2015. She did not leave the fear and insecurity behind in Syria, because one of her brothers and his family could not join her. “We are very afraid of what can happen to them”.
The first year Diana lived in a grim asylum seekers’ center. There she felt lost. Fortunately, she was safe, but everything was flipped. Most of her ties with her old life were broken, in a new culture with new people, a new language and new rules. But she sprung back. “I have it easy. Probably easier than others. I am very social. I love people and I like to make new contacts. I respect other cultures and I can easily adapt to them”.
In the asylum seekers’ centre, Diana soon started learning the Dutch language and when, a year later, she and her mother were assigned a place to live in Amsterdam, she was able to continue learning the language at the VU in Amsterdam. I think it’s important that I know the culture and language.
Refugee talent program
Last year she was selected for the ‘Vluchtelingtalenten’ training and work experience program. They and 13 other highly educated status holders started at Rijkswaterstaat to gain at least six months’ work experience in their field of expertise. During the introduction month they visited several work locations and followed training courses in personal development, intercultural communication and language. They learned about the history of Rijkswaterstaat, how the organisation works, the unwritten rules and the applicable norms and values.
Don’t Follow but Think
Although the things that stand out to Diana at Rijkswaterstaat are apparently small, they are based on major cultural differences. In Syria, for example, you would address the manager by using the word ‘manager’ out of respect. Staying on a first name basis was not an option. I really had to get used to that and it still doesn’t feel right for me. What is related to this and what Diana is a big fan of, is that a subordinate may also just give his opinion. “Here it is even expected that you don’t just follow the instructions of your manager, but think for yourself and open your mouth if you think something else could be done better. I think that’s very good”.
Diana had specialised in irrigation and drainage in Syria. Rijkswaterstaat is a dream employer for her. I work 3 days a week in Lelystad and 2 days a week in Westraven. I am now at the place where I want to be. What I do find difficult is the uncertainty. Am I doing it well enough to qualify for a real job at Rijkswaterstaat? Or will I soon be back to square one? That takes quite a lot of energy’. Modest as she is, she doesn’t say a word about the compliments she receives about the enormous steps in her development that she has already taken in a few months. ” I am just trying to prove myself. I’d love to stay here”.
Curious about the Refugee Talents Programme?