“I still see a bright future in front of me…” These were the most significant words that stuck in my head after the interview with SN, an Afghan asylum seeker living in the Netherlands and a recent IHS alumnus.
SN used to be an academic researcher in Afghanistan, working for the government and supported by several international organizations. His main research interests include rural development, development economics, foreign aid and corruption. However, the deterioration of the war situation in Afghanistan forced SN to leave his position and his country in 2015. He came to the Netherlands in search of a better place where the basic human rights, like life and safety, would not be denied to him anymore. Coming to this country as an asylum seeker, the hardest thing for him was to leave his family and country behind. However, the threat of danger was stronger than anything else. Something had to be done! After arriving in the Netherlands, the beginnings were hard. It wasn’t easy to come to a completely new country alone and adapt to a different culture. The feeling of love, longing for his parents back in Afghanistan and the threat he faced there put him into a state of depression. However, he faced a lot of support from his wife, the local population and in particular, from the psychologist he was regularly meeting with. The doctors advised him to keep himself busy and said that this would bring a sense of positivism back to his life… And they were right!
After several months of emotional challenges, he managed to find his inner strength. Wanting to integrate further into the Dutch community, SN applied for a 3-week local economic development course within the IHS. For him, IHS represented a hope for the future. This course would bring him back not only to the academic life, but also closer to his wife who was already a refugee in the Netherlands before him. However, the income he was receiving as an asylum seeker was not enough to afford the tuition fee of the program. After recognizing his difficult living situation, as well as the possibility of SN being able to bring valuable experience to the program, IHS decided to offer him a full scholarship to assist his transition into the Dutch society.
The academic environment at IHS reversed his mentality, changing his thoughts from those of an asylum seeker to a new way of thinking as a student who could become part of an urban society. After such a positive experience at IHS, SN has decided to do a PhD, as he wants to work and integrate even further in the Dutch society, for which he is also trying to learn the Dutch language. As an expression of gratitude to the Dutch community, SN is also volunteering at the International Institution for Research and Education (IIRE) in Amsterdam, where his research paper was recently accepted for publishing.
Despite the hard times and continuous challenges that SN has faced, he continues to be optimistic for the future and for his country. When safety is established, he wants to go back to Afghanistan and contribute to the development of his country, particularly in the educational sector, which he believes is one of the main reasons for the current situation there.
“There is still hope! The future ahead will bring better times”.
About the author: Eni Bejko is a Marketing and Communications Intern at IHS, who is passionate about urban development. She has graduated in Economics from Bristol University (UK) and is currently following a masters at Erasmus University. She is currently working with Alumni Relations and hopes to contribute to reinforcing the impact of IHS on urban development, as well as the links of IHS with its alumni and partners.
Author’s note: The real identity and personal details of the interviewee have been changed to protect his and his family’s safety.