Despite the fact that he has only been in the Netherlands for four years (!), Syrian Mosa Almansour speaks almost fluent Dutch, is in the third year of his Accountancy studies, and holds various volunteer positions alongside his part-time job. Reason enough for the University Assistance Fund for refugee students (UAF) to nominate the Saxion student for the UAF Award: Top student of the year.
Hi Mosa, did you expect that you would be nominated?
Yes and no. I knew that I was doing well, but actually thought it was not that special; there are other refugee students that have come to the Netherlands who are also doing well. A friend of mine decided to nominate me by sending a letter detailing all the things that I do. Per region, three or four people were nominated, and in the end I came out first in the eastern Netherlands region."
How do you feel about being nominated?
“I think its great. Because of my background, I have a small language deficiency compared to Dutch students, and if I win it will increase my chances on the job market. This way, I can show all the activities that I undertake as a refugee, which is very useful.”
You do many other things besides studying and working. Do you have any spare time at all?
"Not really. Its kind of funny, because when I came to the Netherlands and wanted to meet with friends, they often said that they didn't have time. I always thought: How is that possible? Don't you have free time? But now that I have been here for a while, I have exactly the same response. A friend asked me if I wanted to hang out with him sometime, and I really had a hard time finding free space in my diary. I have gotten used to packed schedules meanwhile.”
What is it that makes you want to help other people so much?
“It is because of my upbringing and my faith: you have a duty to help people who are in need of help. An older couple lives next to me and they remind me of my neighbours in Syria. When we had that heavy snowfall last year, it was impossible for them to go to the supermarket, so I offered to help. They did not need help in the end, but they were glad I asked. It also made me feel good. When I came to the Netherlands - I remember the day exactly: 3 September 2015 - there was a group of Dutch people who welcomed us. They said they would be there for us if we needed help, for instance clothing and food. It became clear to me that: they were people like us, who wanted to help us and cared about us. From that day onwards, I decided that I wanted to do volunteer work. The mayor then helped us to thank the people in Apeldoorn. He brought us into contact with companies that needed volunteers. That is when I started volunteering at the Julianatoren.”
The award was also introduced to draw attention to the efforts made by refugees in shaping their future. Why do you think it is so important to pay attention to this?
“It is sometimes argued that refugees only come to the Netherlands for the economic benefits, and that there is no danger in their home country. Of course it is relatively peaceful in certain areas in Syria, but unfortunately it is not safe being in Syria. People have their own unique personal circumstances and reasons for coming here. Lack of safety is not the only reason for leaving. My reason for leaving was that I wanted to study. I lived in Lebanon from 2011 to 2015 and although it is slightly safer there than in Syria, the situation is still far from good and I was also unable to study there. In addition, I think it is important that people see the other side: the side that the news media don’t show. We are not trying to live off Dutch taxpayers’ money. Three weeks ago I met the other nominees and it made me so happy. These are all people trying to shape their own future and are taking care of others. They present a totally different picture from that painted by the media."
Do you actually realize what you have already achieved?
“I can tell by the reaction of people when I speak Dutch. I see it on their faces, and I get compliments for doing so well. It also gives extra motivation to do well, and I keep telling myself: I'm going to do my best not to disappoint you. Luckily, I am often told I do well."
What are your future goals?
“I would like to become a chartered accountant. When I chose this degree programme, I was primarily interested in numbers and statistics. As I gradually learned what the accountancy profession is all about, I became more and more enthusiastic. For example, when I get my degree, I can issue auditors’ reports that entrepreneurs need for their business operations. Thus, I will be helping society in an indirect way: As an accountant, you are kind of a police officer behind the scenes, reprimanding companies that are not complying with the rules.”
The winner will be announced on 5 October. What would it feel like if you win?
“Oh, it would be really special. It would be the first time that I win a prize. Though I remember that when I was a small boy in group 1, I always got the highest marks in class. Back then, the teacher gave me a present: A little star-shaped sticker on my forehead, on which it said 'You are a winner'. It was a great feeling, when I recall that moment. This would probably feel the same, maybe a little bit more intense."
Maybe you will also get a sticker on your forehead this time?
"Hahaha, no. That will not happen this time, but apart from that: I am of course counting on the votes of my fellow students from Saxion."
UAF Award: Top student of the year
The UAF is committed to the development of refugee students and professionals, and to their integration into the Dutch labour market. With this competition, they offer a platform for talented refugees who excel in their efforts, their study and work performance and their contribution to society. At the same time, attention is drawn to the great efforts refugees are making to shape their future, something that often goes unnoticed.
The nominees are talented newcomers who have accomplished special feats as a student, staff member or volunteer.
Everyone can cast their vote via uaf.nl/stem until 23 September. On 5 October, the University Assistance Fund for refugee students (UAF) will announce the top student of the year.