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My interview with Anas, a Syrian student studying in Japan

by Moazzam Salman

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Anas, who is from Damascus, Syria, and is currently pursuing a business degree in Japan. Talking to Anas made me realise much about the nature of how refugees are widely regarded in today’s world, and it inspired me to think differently.

Anas had some fascinating experiences as a student from Damascus, and was quite open to sharing them. He was studying accounting at university in Damascus, and decided he needed to strengthen his English language skills. He ended up finding out about Paper Airplanes and joined as a student in the English program. Anas believed that knowing English was the key to earn a scholarship to study abroad and pursue higher education. As English was not given emphasis in his school in Damascus, he initially had a difficult time learning it. Anas explained: “In Arabic, we say sentences without a verb, so when I started to write in English, I used to drop the ‘is’ and ‘are’!” says Anas with a chuckle. However, he described all his Paper Airplanes tutors as patient with him. One tutor used an innovative approach and taught him English through Google Docs. He and his tutor would work simultaneously on a document where he would write an article while his tutor would put comments and suggestions to improve his grammar and writing skills! He found this method of learning to be helpful to his language 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 or employment opportunities, and described challenges during his time residing in Lebanon. He decided to explore his options for further higher education abroad, and worked on his English skills even more to support him to do so. With the help of his former Paper Airplanes tutors, he applied for a scholarship in Japan in 2020 where he was accepted, and now plans to study Japanese as well as complete his Masters in Business Administration.

Reflecting on the conversation with Anas, I felt… energized. Talking to Anas was no different than having a conversation getting to know an interesting stranger. Anas was 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 different pursuits to obtain an education, and is excited about the future! Though I didn’t think I had any biases going into the conversation, I later realised 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 pre-bias about my interview with Anas shows how much change needs to be brought about in the way we look at refugees. Media portrayals tend to victimize them but we should challenge this stereotype using the platforms available to us. We should share their stories and help them access education or employment, thereby giving them equal opportunities as everyone else to grow. Rather than pitying them, we should encourage them to not be victims, but instead to be fighters like Anas, and to actively seek out opportunities and seize them to make a better life for themselves.

About the author: Moazzam Salman

I am from Lahore, Pakistan and 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.

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