[i] Good day [name] !  My name is [name] .  And I will interview you today for the ‘Specially Unknown’ project for the Red Star Line Museum.  Could you please tell me a little about yourself first? What is your name? What country are you from? How old are you?

[r] Good day [name] . I am [name] . I am 28.  I am from Syria, Damascus.  I live here in Belgium for about 3,5 years Yes. I study at the University of Antwerp. I am taking a master’s programme in ‘Organisation and Management’. I am now in the final phase of my master’s programme. I am… Yes, I am doing my thesis now.  And I’m doing pretty well.

[i] And what have you done in Syria? Did you study there?

[r] Yes, I got a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Damascus. And yes, I studied there for 4 years. And after my studies I started working at the Red Cross. Syrian Red Cross.  I worked there for 3 years.  Yes, I did. That was it.

[i] And how was school for you? What was difficult or easy for you?

[r] Here you mean?

[i] No. I mean in Syria.

[r] I was quite a smart student. Reasonable enough to study. I liked going to school.  I wasn’t a nerd or anything.  But I wasn’t a bad student either.

[i] And what kind of child have you been?

[r] I can’t say I was a bad kid. I was pretty good but also a little naughty in some cases. Yes, I had a lot of friends at school and… I almost know the place where I come from…yes I know a lot of people there and everyone knows me. It was reasonable…

[i] Do you mean the neighborhood of Damascus?

Yes, the neighborhood where I come from. Jaraman. It was a very small village but it was next to the city of Damascus.

[i] And can you perhaps describe the life in that neighborhood? What was it like when you were a child?

[r] What was it like? It was quite a simple life. Not so much…No problem really. My childhood was fun.  That period was one of the best periods of my life. I had a very warm and…  I have a very warm family actually. Two sisters and my mom and dad were very good for me. Yes, it was very good. I don’t know what to say.

[i] And did you have your own house there?

[r] Yes, we had our own house.  Yes, as I said, it was a simple life. One of the most important things was to study. Yes, because we were such a middle-class family. We weren’t a rich family, but we weren’t very poor or anything. So the only way for me to reach my goal and achieve my ambitions in my life was to study. And working for myself on my own.  To have a good life. Because I believed in that. That comes from my mom and dad. They were really like this… strong on that point. Studying comes first.

[i] And what was your parents’ profession?

[r] My dad has been working as a chef for a long time, for 40 years. He works so much abroad to take care of his family. And my mom was just a housewife.

[i] So he had to travel a lot to other countries?

[r] That’s a bit… not really the case because… my daddy always comes on holiday to Syria. Yes, he had to travel a lot, but so he worked abroad. So he only comes to Syria on holiday. For 1 month or 2 months a year.

[i] And what was it like for you to see your father only 1 month a year?

[r] Yes as a child I really had a bit of difficulty. I had found it really difficult because I always wanted my daddy with us.  As I got a little older, I started to realize why. Why my daddy always had to work abroad. Yes, because the situation in Syria was not optimal for him. He wanted to be able to take good care of the family. So if he wanted, he decided to go abroad where he had a job.

[i] Do you mean there was no work?

[r] For him there was no good stable work to really stay in Syria.  So yes he always had to work abroad. And yes two months or a month a year to come to his family.

[i] And the other family members? Cousins? Do you have such a large family?

[r] Yes amai. I really have a big family. The side of my dad about… I can’t count them because there are a lot of them. Ten brothers and sisters. And my mom’s side is about the same. And all these people have children and… So that was a really big family there. Yes that was a bit in the 70’s, 60’s… That’s how it was in Syria. People made so many children. But I really liked it very much. Because a big family around you is always nice. In cases of marriage you come together to celebrate all things.

[i] You said you have two sisters. Are they older or younger than you?

[r] Younger than me.  Marah and Dana.  The eldest is now 25.  And the smallest is 15.

[i] And is your family in Syria so far? Or where are your sisters?

My family?  My mother and the smallest sister still live in Syria. And my oldest sister recently moved to Switzerland. About 10 months ago or so. She now lives there. And I came to visit.

[i] Have you been there before?

[r] Yes, twice.  The first time was 3 years after Syria. So I came after not having seen her for 3 years. That was the first member of my family I’ve seen since 3 years. It was a bit of an emotional moment. Yes, I didn’t know how to feel or anything. Because it was a bit weird.  So yes.

[i] I know that in Syria there are many people with different religions.

[r] Yes, that’s true.

[i] And how were the relations between these people before the war? How were the social relations before the war?

[r] What do you mean by social relations?

[i] I mean the relations between different cultures.

[r] Between different religions?

[i] Religions. Yes.

[r] According to my personal experience, people in Syria were always they were always together.  They always lived together without problems before the war. There was no problem.  Okay, each group has their own traditions and stuff. But…  If you look positively at that point there was a very rich diversity in the Syrian community.  I think so.  So where I come from, this little village. In Djaraman. We were like Druze.

[i] Druze?

[r] Druze.  Yes, that’s a certain…yes…  If you search on Wikipedia, Druze is kind of a group of Islam but they are a bit not as real as Islam.

[i] Some kind of religion?

[r] Some kind of religion yes.  Historically it is a part of the Islamic culture. But Druze do not really follow the Islamic rules. Of that religion.

[i] And what is the biggest difference?

Eh…the biggest difference…  Okay I can’t…that’s a bit hard to say. For example, you have to wait until you’re 40 to really follow the religion. Or trying to understand what they’re saying because it’s complicated or something.

[i] 40?

[r] You have to wait until you are 40 to follow. For you must have the wisdom.  To understand that.  According to those religious people.  In this religion.  But for me personally, I live as an ordinary person. I don’t really have a faith or religion or anything.

[i] Do you mean that you are an atheist?

[r] Agnostic I think. More than atheist. I don’t know.

[i] Okay.  But I mean the communication between all religions in Syria, was it okay? Or how was the communication?

[r] Yes, it was okay. Yes, I think so. Maybe other people see that in different ways. They were up to a point… people were conservative towards each other. They didn’t want to…  It was a little difficult to be really mixed. Yes, but…  There were no problems. Really serious problems of not being able to live together. You know what I mean? I think so. That is my opinion.  Maybe there is something else.

[i] And were you interested in politics before?

[r] Politics?  No. I don’t think so.  Even if I was in high school. Politics was…  not really my thing because yes, because I don’t get it very well and I’m really far from politics.  Even in Syria it was a bit… It was really always difficult because…. You know what the situation is in Syria… So politics wasn’t my thing.  I just live like normal people. I had no interest in politics. That’s how I wanted to put it.

[i] And maybe you can describe a bit how life changed in Syria after the war?  Ordinary life.

Erm…how life changed after the war. It became very difficult to live actually. Yes before the war…  we had stability.  Economic conditions were so much better than now. Syria was one of the cheapest countries in the world. Where you could do all kinds of things for very little money, for example. But also on the other hand the wages were…they didn’t pay very well. Because yes…it was a closed economy. It is not that open to the whole world. No capitalism so far in Syria. Yes, there are disadvantages and advantages.  But I think it was much better than it is now. Of course it was. But that also makes sense because of the war. That the situation has become very bad. But yes…  Syria was really a place, a very good country to live there. Economically speaking.  There are many things you can do. You could enjoy life there.

[i] Yes and after the war?

[r] After the war everything changed. Because the war in Syria destroyed everything. From people to real buildings and all things. It was not that simple.  I thought it was a bit…  It was very difficult! Boulder difficult actually.

[i] Do you remember the moment, maybe a year or a month when it really became super difficult?

[r] Yes, yes. In 2014 I think…  For me it was the worst period in the Syrian war. Because so many bad things happened where I lived and it became so dangerous!  And I couldn’t bear to live there anymore. And yes, for me it was no longer acceptable to stay there. I tried my best…  to be close to my family and… and to build my life…  And yes, I don’t know. It got more complicated and more complicated until it was no longer possible to stay there. So yes, we decided to flee.

[i] Together or?

[r] Yes I had a few friends and we had that idea. Even before the war, I had an idea to come to Europe. To continue my studies and to work here. This idea used to be in my head. Even before the war, I wanted…  But it was impossible to come to Europe legally during the war. Yes, we decided with some friends to flee.  In 2015. In the summer.  To come here.

[i] And do you remember the moment when you made that decision?

[r] The moment? Yes, I remember that. Yes… I was with two of my friends who came here with me. We were chatting together at night… drinking and talking and stuff. And I said, “Okay. Now is the time to take a really serious step to move on and not look back. Now we either have to flee because this is the time to do it or stay here and accept our decision. That we have to stay here and fight against all the bad conditions. Or now is the time to leave Syria. So yes we have searched how and so, who and how … Yes actually the…  We tried to come here as students but it didn’t work out. It was impossible.  I don’t know for what reasons.  But we weren’t…  It had always been rejected… So yes, we decided, “Okay, we’re going to get here the illegal way.  That was the only way because nobody wanted to accept us.

[i] And did you also have to fight in the Syrian army?

[r] No. For me it was not mandatory because I am the only son of my family. So I was…I don’t know. It became… I didn’t have to go to the army.  But for many young men…  who had to go to the army, it was really one of the main reasons why people flee.

So if you are the only son of your family, shouldn’t you?

[r] No. For she…  they see that you are the only person who can take care of the family.

[i] But for your friends, is it?

[r] Yes to my friends it is.  So I’ve decided for myself that I don’t want to stay there anymore. Because my ambition was greater than to stay in the field of war and cry.

[i] And did you also think about bringing your family with you?

[r] That was actually a personal decision. Yes. So no…

[i] And what was the reaction of your family?

It wasn’t like that…it was very difficult for them too, because I’m the only son. But they saw that I tried to do something for 3-4 years and I couldn’t do it.  Because yes, I had just graduated and I had no work in my direction, in economics and so on. I had to work at the Red Cross.  I liked to do that because I wanted to help other people. But at a certain point it also became very difficult for me because I was in danger of losing my life with all those people with the same problems.  So after a while it became more acceptable for my family. More acceptable.  Because they see that it was impossible for me. They wanted me to have a better life. So that’s how it was.

[i] And you said you worked at the Red Cross, what were your duties there?

[r] I worked there in logistics. Yes, and also a little…  I didn’t do that very often or so…

[i] Far what?

[r] Verse.  Verse so…  Yes emergency. When something happens you go out on the street and you help the people…explosions or something. But I was in the office more than I was in the field.

[i] And there were no possibilities to develop there?

[r] No. That was limited.  Because you see, in the country there’s the war. So yes.

[i] Maybe now we can talk about the flight itself? Could you perhaps tell us a little about the preparation of your flight?

[r] Preparation?  I had a suitcase with my clothes. Just my clothes. And we fled. We went to Turkey. And then from Turkey to Greece with a boat. It was very difficult. It takes 7 hours or so. From Turkey to Greece.  And in the middle of the trip the engine of the boat didn’t work anymore. And we had to wait for the seaguard. To pick us up in the middle of the sea. That really happened.  It was actually the most terrible moment of my life. Because you’re in the boat and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. I thought, “Okay. Maybe we’ll die now. So we have to…  Yes, I was with my friends from Syria who were with me together.  It was really… Yes! I don’t know how to describe that.

[i] Such a panic?

[r] Yes, panic…  Yes, because we had on that boat too… women and children.  And I remember a daddy of those kids, he was really angry and he started shaking his kid up and saying, “Stop crying! He was actually going a little crazy. So one of my friends picked up a baby from him. And he kept the baby close to him to protect him a little bit because that daddy was going crazy. He was really going crazy.  Maybe he would throw the child in the water. So that was a really bad time in my life. And I don’t want that anymore… I want to forget that.

[i] And how long did you have to wait for the big boat to arrive?

[r] Oh…3 hours or so.  It was in the summer and we didn’t have any. Water or something.

[i] No water?

[r] No water.  No water?  It was a bit not so well prepared. So we were lucky those people came to get us. Fast…reasonably fast.  So that was really hard for everyone.

[i] And after that you arrived in Greece?

[r] Yes.

And from Greece?

Yes from Greece we took that… From Greece we came here.


[r] We had to wait until we had found the best way to get here.

And by which countries? Was it on foot?

[r] It was a bit on foot, a bit by train… until we get here.

[i] By which countries?

[r] I don’t really remember very well. Macedonia, Germany…  and then here.  Yes.

[i] And how did you know that it is possible to use this way to escape?

[r] We didn’t know. It was really a… no certainty with that trip.  You just had to move on and see what’s going to happen. Because we decided to do that from the very first moment and there was no certainty that it would work. So we had to be prepared for anything that could happen on our way.

[i] And how many days did the whole journey take? From Syria to Belgium?

[r] How many days?  It has been a bit long… More than two months.

[i] Two months?

[r] Yes.

[i] So you had to stop in those countries?

[r] Yes, it wasn’t direct. No. And in which countries did you have to spend a lot of time? In Greece we spent a lot of time and also in that…Macedonia.

[i] And where did you live there?

[r] We stayed in a hotel or something. Yes. Via taxi and all those things. Illegal way so.

[i] Maybe we can talk about your arrival in Belgium? Do you remember the moment when you came to Belgium? To which city first?

[r] To Antwerp.


[r] Immediately to Antwerp.  I had a friend here who came for me. Yes, he has me… I am lucky. I stayed with him.  Yes…  I had to wait a few days until I went to Brussels to ask for asylum… So I applied for asylum.  And then they sent us to a camp in… in a shelter.

[i] Where?

[r] In Hasselt.  East Flanders.

[i] Do you remember the feeling when you first came to Belgium? What were your feelings?

[r] I felt really good. But also… I was a bit scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. But then it was pretty good for refugees. When you came, you got reasonable… Yes, you get a residence permit in a short period of time.  You don’t have to wait so much.  But… I wasn’t like that…  I lived in the moment itself…  Yes, and when does it… what does it call? When I got the residence permit it was completely different because I had more certainty of yes now I can really start with what I want. So I started looking for a place where I can live.  I came to Antwerp.  From then on I started to make some plans for my life. So yes. I went to Linguapolis to study Dutch.  That was the first step.

[i] But you said that you lived in a reception centre? And how long did you have to stay there?

[r] About…  Yes, I think we had a bit of luck during that period. Because there were people who waited a long time without an answer. But in that period we were really lucky. It didn’t take that long. About 2.5 months until we got an answer.

[i] And you were there with your friends?

[r] Yes.

In the same center?

[r] In the same center, yes.  It was a centre with 700 people. From different countries.

[i] And what was it like for you to stay there?

[r] Difficult. I can’t lie… I didn’t like living there at all. Because there are so many people together from different cultures… and different nationalities….  And they all have to live together in a very small place and do everything together. But I had an idea…  what it would be like.  So it became less bad for me because I knew in advance.

You were prepared?

[r] Yes. I was prepared, “Okay. It’s not going to be the best moment of my life. I had prepared myself mentally for that challenge. But personally, I didn’t like that very much. Nobody liked that.

[i] What were the activities there?  What did you do for 2 months?

[r] Er…activities?

[i] Or not so much?

[r] It was for us because it was such a short time to get the papers we hadn’t made so many plans. And not so many activities.  We just live there until…  until that procedure of ours is finished.

[i] So after 2 months you came to Antwerp? And can you tell us a bit about the first months in Antwerp?

Yes. One of my friends he lived here he lived here in Antwerp.  He is also a refugee.

[i] He was your friend from Damascus?

Yes. He helped us so much. Because in the first period when you get papers you have to find a place to rent and to move within 2 months.

[i] Why 2 months?

[r] Because you are not allowed to stay in the shelter anymore. So we had to find something within 2 months. That was really a big problem for everyone. Because you don’t know anyone here. Do you understand? And nobody wants to…  Yes no one wants to rent a small studio or an apartment to people from a shelter …  to refugees.  It wasn’t that simple…  Because you don’t have a job and you get social security benefits… So that was really one of the…  of the most difficult challenges for us. So we kept searching and searching until we found someone who would do that for me and could give me a place to live. And yes, then I could move to where I used to live.

[i] And then you immediately started with your Dutch or…

Yes, right away. I registered for the Dutch language. For the Dutch course at Linguapolis at the University of Antwerp. Yes, I followed the intensive course.

[i] And was it with the scholarship or?

[r] Yes with the scholarship.

[i] And how did you know that it is possible to get that scholarship?

[r] Via Atlas… Yes.  Such an organisation or I don’t know what it will help all refugees to find their way and what to do in their lives.  So they provided us with all the necessary information. To know how and when and who…and all those things. Via the Internet as well.

[i] And you were there with your friends in Linguapolis?

[r] Yes. We had a group of 5-6 people who knew each other.

[i] From all the way from Damascus to Antwerp together?

[r] No. Because there were friends who came after us. To Belgium.  But I also know these people from the past. But it was very nice to be together with people from your country.

[i] And what was it like for you to learn Dutch at Linguapolis?

At Linguapolis, it was pretty good for me…in the beginning, it was hard to be good for you because you start directly from a certain level, you don’t start from scratch. So, for example, the teachers talk to you directly in Dutch. And there is no other common language to learn. So I remember the first course and the second course were very intensive and very difficult. But we had nothing else to do. So I always had to work a lot on Dutch.

[i] And do you remember the moment when you realised that you could already speak Dutch well?  And when you felt comfortable with Dutch?

[r] Er…not necessarily.  But I always went to bars to meet new people. I never stayed home.  Because if I stay at home and don’t talk to anyone, then Dutch will always be on the same level. It will never develop.  So yes, I had met some friends here in Belgium. Belgian friends.  And they helped me talk Dutch so much. And I often went to…  Events where you can practice your Dutch. And that helped me a lot.

[i] And what other languages do you speak?

[r] My mother tongue is Arabic and English.

[i] And what was perhaps the most difficult thing for you in Dutch compared to English, for example?

[r] The hardest? Yes, the structure of the sentences. The grammar was completely new to me. And some statements in Dutch as well. Some letters we don’t have in Arabic. They were also difficult because sometimes you say it but it’s different.

[i] For example?

[r] Yes the ‘you’ and that ‘e’ and all those letters. So far I sometimes make mistakes but…

[i] Yes…

[r] We don’t have that in English…

[i] But now you speak very well and comfortably? You don’t think about grammar anymore?

[r] No. It comes from itself.

[i] And after Linguapolis what did you do?

[r] Yes, I enrolled in the master’s programme. And I started, 2 years ago.

[i] And why did you choose this master’s programme?

[r] This master? Yes, because…  I wanted to stay here in Antwerp. And of all the master’s I could do that were relevant to my previous study in Syria, that master’s was the best option for me. And it doesn’t take that long either. 1 year. But I also had to follow a six-month preparatory programme.  For me it was the best option and I didn’t want to change city or anything. Because here I had my place where I felt more and more at home. So that was the main reason.

[i] And what was it like for you to study the master’s degree?

[r] The first 3 months were the hardest. I still remember that I always had to do double work at home to be able to follow because studying in Dutch is not that simple. Even for Belgian or Dutch students. I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to study in Dutch. You have to do everything…yes, more than you’ve learned at Linguapolis, for example.  You have to do a lot to learn the new vocabulary.

[i] And what was the difference compared to your bachelor’s degree in Damascus?

[r] Yes the group work actually.  I had never done any group work in Syria. And here you have to do a lot of group work with other students. I found it in the beginning…I was not at ease or anything. Because I didn’t know the students very well. But this is how it works here.  You have to do a group work.  Yes, that was really the biggest difference. And also the way those people… Yes, the way of teaching…  It’s totally different.

[i] And what’s the difference?

[r] Yes, how to take an exam, for example. Some exams are computer-based, for example. And yes, it’s a bit different than in Syria. You don’t have…how can I say? In Syria we had so many questions from previous years.

[i] Repetition?

[r] Yes, you can prepare yourself for the exam. But here you don’t know what it will be like. The exam.

[i] And the communication between students, was it easy for you?

[r] In what area do you mean?

[i] I mean not only with teachers but also with students.

[r] It was pretty good.  But not really cool or anything. Yes… I didn’t have much…  I don’t know, maybe it’s a little different here. I didn’t really have people or a group with whom we were always together or anything. A bit alone…  But I have a few people I know. But not really much.

[i] And is the communication in Syrian Universities different? For example between students.

[r] Different? Not so different.  But perhaps by language or by culture. It was a bit different.  But not really a big difference. You can’t just talk to people you don’t know anywhere. It comes naturally.  And you have so much work to do. So I didn’t have much time to do other things than study. I really wanted to finish everything.

[i] And when did you realize that it was a bit easier?

[r] Yes, I waited until I passed the first semester. To see and to evaluate myself where I am now. Am I really good at doing that or should I do something else? But after the first semester…  Yes, I’m not very good, I passed half of the courses. But my…  My points weren’t so bad, they were very good. So I realized: ‘Okay. Maybe I should make more effort in the 2nd semester.’ And in the second semester it was so much better. I had succeeded in everything. And the third semester was the optimal period in my study life.  And now I’m in the final phase.

[i] So you are now working on your master’s thesis?

[r] Yes. With my thesis.

[i] And how is your master’s thesis going?

[r] Pretty good. A little slow, slow. But on the right path.  We’ll see what it’s like.

[i] And what is your plan after your master’s thesis? Do you already have a plan?

[r] Yes of course. I intend to seek work. Finally in my direction.  So I want something in finance, accounting or accountancy. Try such things.

[i] And what do you do outside studying? Do you have any hobbies?

[r] Hobbies? Yes, I do sports sometimes. I like boulder for example.  I play basketball once in a while.  I went dancing. I often go dancing on weekends.

[i] What kind of dancing?

[r] R&B, hip hop.  A lot of things, actually.  But mostly on R&B.

Yes and actually I forgot to ask, what was your image of Europe when you were in Syria?

[r] About Europe?  Em…how can I say that?  I had no extreme expectations about Europe. Because I knew it wasn’t going to be like being in movies, for example. As we see in the media or in the cinema or something. So I had fairly realistic expectations about Europe. And I knew in advance that Europe… that life here is of a high quality, for example. But also so much stress from work, from studying. You’re always stressed when you live here. But now I experience that myself, how stressful it is. But I didn’t have a culture shock or anything about Europe, no. Because I was reasonable in Syria like I am here now. Maybe a little less because of the things I don’t have there. But personally I didn’t have a culture shock. No.

[i] But how did your image actually change when you came here? What was different than in your head?

[r] Different?  Yes…how should I put it?  Yes, how should you perhaps…  building a social network.  I had a little different ideas.  But in reality it’s harder than in my mind. I had to go to so much trouble to get to know a lot of people. Here it’s more of an individualistic community compared to Syria. Too little time, everything is…  organized in a certain way, arranged. Yes, something like that.  Not much happens spontaneously.  You have to have a plan for everything. That really is a big difference…  That I personally realized.  I learned that too.

[i] And how did you experience that to learn?

[r] By the people. How my friends do. And how it should be done. For otherwise you may not live so well here.  It comes from the pressure of life.  From the social pressure, from all things together I think. Capitalism!

[i] And in Syria it’s different?

[r] It’s just simpler.  People have more time than here. That is my own opinion.

[i] What are the reasons that people have more free time?

[r] What are the reasons?  I don’t know what the reasons are. Maybe because of little work or something. More freedom how to work. We have so many self-employed people. More than here. The economy is not that open.  Many people do their own work.  So you can choose what you want to do and so on.

[i] And what was it like for you to adapt to the new way of living?

[r] It comes from itself actually.  Because yes, I was always busy doing something. I think it will be adjusted automatically. Yes. Something like that.

[i] Maybe we can talk about the mentality of Belgian people?  How did you experience that?  What is the culture of Belgian people?

[r] Yes. When I came here the first thing I heard from people was that Belgian people are closed. They have their own space and it is a bit difficult to get within the circle.  But…  I thought it was right up to a point. But it’s also because of man himself, I think. For me personally I always had…  I was always brave to be more…  to make more effort to get to know people. Because sometimes you stop at a certain moment and you try not to do more but okay it’s a different culture and mentality but that’s just a difference between people. We also have a different culture and mentality. But that doesn’t matter.  That doesn’t cause any problems.  I see it in a positive way. But for me personally it wasn’t really a problem. I was able to adapt a bit to that mentality.

[i] And is there anything else that is really special to you in the Belgian culture?

[r] Special? Uh…  I don’t know… Beer! That’s best for me. A really special thing. But for real… you mean the culture or how people think and the traditions and stuff?  Yes everything is fine.  They have a plan or something for every thing. That really is an exception.

[i] Is it positive for you?

[r] Yes, but I can’t always do that. For me personally, I can’t always do that. I also need to have a bit of chaos in my life. But for work and really serious things that is really good. That’s something to learn from, actually.

[i] And do you have a large network of Belgian friends? Do you have many Belgian friends?

[r] Pretty good. Not so big or so big. But not so little either.  But most of the time I don’t think there is such a close relationship.  Usually superficial.  But they keep contacting me but I mean, for me personally I feel a friendship more when it’s really close. But for normal acquaintances I have quite good yes.

[i] And are you used to your life in Belgium?

[r] Not yet.  Nobody can do that.

[i] Why?

[r] Because I don’t think even Belgian people want that either. To be accustomed to those…  It’s because of the weather, I think. I don’t know. But I’m not 100% used to it yet. No. There are things that still annoy me so far.

[i] For example?

[r] The weather! Sometimes it makes me a little depressed. So yes.

[i] And do you think you are already integrated in Belgian society?

[r] You have to define ”integration” in order to answer this question. Everyone sees this from their own point of view.

[i] I mean that you feel more comfortable yourself. That you ”reward” here.

[r] Yes, I feel more comfortable myself. The longer it takes…  The more time I spend here, the more comfortable I feel. And the more I get used to living here. So of course yes.  But if I compare my situation now with last year’s with last year’s…  Last year was not like now. It was worse. Now I feel more self-confidence here. More at home.

[i] So can you say that Antwerp is your home? And that you feel at home here?

[r] I believe that people can turn any place into a home. If they really take the right path.  Yes, it’s quite my new home. I have a home in Syria but here is my second home.

[i] Could you perhaps describe your surroundings and your neighborhood a bit? Where do you live?

[r] I used to live in the centre. In the first year of my life here in Antwerp. And I moved here because I think it’s the best place in Antwerp.

[i] Why?

[r] Because the atmosphere and the people… They are very cool.  You feel more at home here than in other places.

[i] What is the name of the neighbourhood?

[r] Zurenborg.  Next to the Dageraadplaats where all the cafes are. That’s where I think it’s the best place in Antwerp. Because here you can see more of the local residents of the city. That’s not so touristy or so. That’s just a place where people…you know everyone here. That’s true.

[i] Do you have many contacts with the Syrian community in Antwerp?

[r] Syrian community? Pretty little actually. Just those friends from the past that I know. And also some friends I met recently. But not so intensively. No.

And why not?

[r] Em for…  I really don’t know why. But perhaps by being busy with other things to do. We don’t have any…  I don’t have that yet… how can I say that? That’s a bit difficult.  But I don’t have any… I have other… I have other things to do so… There are a few friends I know but not really the Syrian community. Maybe a difference in culture….

[i] Do you still have a lot of contacts with your friends who still live in Syria? I do have contact with them.  But not as intensively as before. Because yes, you have your own life and they also have things to do. It’s getting less and less.  But I still have contact.

[i] And how is your contact with your family in Syria?

[r] Very good. We talk constantly.

[i] And aren’t you thinking about bringing them here?

[r] The possibility exists but we will see. Leave it for the future.

[i] And what do you think is the impact of migration on your life? How did your mentality or character change after your flight?

Erm..through migration.  It has a very big impact on my character. Because I am learning new things.  And my character is strongly influenced by… to come to a new country by getting to know new traditions and new people. And by being independent.  Yes. Only sometimes. Often.  So all these challenges influence your personality. But of course it has a positive impact on me. Because now I am… how do you say that?  Now I’m on the right track for my future.

[i] And is there something that has changed in your character?

[r] What do you mean?  Yes I am getting older! That’s what changed!

[i] No no. I mean, for example, some people say that they are becoming more open to other cultures. Maybe there is something that has changed in you too?

[r] Yes, yes. Maybe so too.  Because in Syria they don’t have that much… We hardly have any foreigners or anything like that. Or people from other countries who live there. And here you have suddenly I don’t know how many in Antwerp 150 different nationalities. And that also enriches your…  It enriches yourself.  You can have contact with so many different people and get to know different cultures. And I think that’s really cool.  In a small place like Antwerp. Yes.

[i] Okay.  Maybe we can talk about the most important values?

[r] Ooh. Most important values?

[i] Yes, for example, do you have any idea how you’re going to raise your children in the future? Are you going to raise them with Syrian or Belgian values?

[r] Mixed. Mixed values.  When it comes to children.  Because I think it’s nice for the child to have good things from all mixed cultures.

[i] And what is positive in Syrian culture, for example?

[r] I can’t really answer that question very well. Not at the moment. Because I’m not sure yet. Yes. Maybe another question is better.

[i] And if you for have an idea who should your ideal partner be? Should it be a Syrian person or a Belgian person? Or is it important?

[r] I think what is important is the person himself. It doesn’t matter where the person comes from.

[i] So nationality is not important?

[r] No. For me personally. Maybe it is different for other people. Maybe it’s different for my family. But for me personally, no.

[i] And what are your future expectations? About your life here in Belgium.

[r] Working. I have to work.  And build a reasonably stable life here in Belgium. But I don’t have long-term expectations. I want to graduate first and work a bit. Until I have a clear vision about my future. But in the long run I’ll still be here in Belgium. And we’ll see what the future holds for us. Because 5 years ago I never expected to be here with you now making the interview.

[i] Okay. Thank you [name] for the interview.

You’re welcome.

[i] That was very interesting.  And I wish you good luck with your studies and your master’s thesis.

[r] Merci. Thank you very much.

[i] And good luck with your future job.

[r] Okay. Thank you.