A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Anas. He is from Damascus, Syria, and is currently pursuing a business degree in Japan. Talking to Anas made me realize how people in today’s world view refugees, and it made me think differently about refugees.
Anas had some fascinating experiences as a student from Damascus and was quite open to sharing them. He studied accounting at a university in Damascus and decided he needed to strengthen his English skills. He ended up finding out about Paper Airplanes and joined as a student in the English program. Anas believed that learning English was the key to earn a scholarship to study abroad and pursue higher education. Since English education was not prioritized in his school in Damascus, he initially had a difficult time learning it. Anas explained with a chuckle, “In Arabic, we say sentences without a verb, so when I started to write in English, I used to drop the verbs ‘is’ and ‘are’!” However, he described all his Paper Airplanes tutors as patient. One tutor used an innovative approach and taught him English through Google Docs. He and his tutor would work simultaneously on a document in which he would write an article while his tutor would add comments and suggestions to improve his grammar and writing skills. He found this method of learning to be helpful in improving his English skills. “Now I can write articles and small pieces about academic things,” he says. Although his native tongue is Arabic, his spoken English is near flawless.
Anas moved to Lebanon from Syria in 2018 in order to pursue further education and employment opportunities, and described the challenges he faced during his time in Lebanon. He decided to explore his options for further higher education abroad, and worked on his English skills even more to support himself in this endeavor. With the help of his former Paper Airplanes tutors, he applied for a scholarship in Japan in 2020 and was accepted. He now plans to study Japanese and complete his master’s in business administration.
Reflecting on the conversation with Anas, I felt energized. Talking to Anas was no different than having a conversation with an interesting stranger and getting to know them. Anas is kind, funny, and most importantly, extremely optimistic. He didn’t complain once about the environment in which he was born. Instead, he cheerfully recounted stories of his pursuit of higher education, and is excited about the future! Though I didn’t think I had any biases going into the conversation, I later realized I had been expecting a more serious story, as the only thing I knew about him beforehand was that he was from Syria.
My unconscious bias about my interview with Anas shows how much our view of refugees needs to change. The media tends to victimize them, but we should challenge this stereotype using the resources available to us. We should share their stories and help them access education or employment, thereby giving them equal opportunities to grow like everyone else. Rather than pity them, we should encourage them to be, not victims, but fighters like Anas, and to actively seek out and seize opportunities to make a better life for themselves.
About the author: Moazzam Salman
My name is Moazzam, and I am from Lahore, Pakistan. I am currently in my junior year of high school. At Paper Airplanes, I write pieces for the blog. In my free time, I love robotics, reading, listening to music, playing sports, and spending time with my family.
The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.