Interview with Melek Kaymaz

Melek Kaymaz is a refugee from Turkey and currently works as a math teacher in an international high school in Amsterdam.  At the school she teaches math in Dutch to mavo, havo and vwo students.


How did you end up in the Netherlands?

Melek fled Turkey with her husband. Before coming to the Netherlands, they lived in Iraq for three years, where Melek worked as a math teacher. When Melek became pregnant, they knew that returning to Turkey and staying in Iraq were no longer options. They wanted to do something for their daughter, for a better future. At first, they had no idea where they could go, as Melek explained, “We didn’t have a visa for a European country, nor a ‘green card’ to move to the United States.” After spending some time researching their possibilities on the Internet, they found out that the Netherlands is a country where refugees are welcome, where they can receive help and where they are free. “Freedom, that is very important to me, that is why we came to the Netherlands”. Now Melek and her husband have been living in the Netherlands for five years.

“This step was huge, and, in the beginning, I had a very hard time adjusting, I had no idea what it meant to live in the Netherlands. I did not know the language yet and did not know anything about the Dutch culture.” Her husband and Melek also came to the Netherlands on their own, as they have no relatives or acquaintances living in the Netherlands.


Why did you become a math teacher?

“When I was little, it was not my dream to become a math teacher. Later in life I had to make a choice, which direction I wanted to go in. I knew I love math. I see math as a kind of game or a puzzle that I want to solve. In addition, I also knew that I like to teach math to other people. Often, I had to explain things to my brothers or my family and I actually liked doing this. Therefore, the choice to become a math teacher was a very good choice”.


What challenges have you encountered?

When Melek and her husband came to the Netherlands, they had to start from scratch. They had no idea about the Dutch language or culture. In an AZC in Amsterdam, Melek taught herself the basics of the Dutch language using a book she could get there. She ended up living for 10 months in the AZC with her husband and her just-born daughter. Now she lives in a house with her family in Southeast Amsterdam. To improve her Dutch, she took a free course offered by the municipality of Amsterdam. She also completed the “Orientation Track Status holders for the Classroom” (Oriëntatietraject Statushouders voor de Klas) at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. This track not only helped her master the Dutch language, but also taught her about the Dutch education system and enabled her to get an internship at a secondary school.


Now she is still working at the same school as a math teacher. This process sounds easier than it was. Melek told us that she found it incredibly difficult to find a teaching job. For example, she applied for more than 40 schools of which only 5 schools responded. In the end, she could choose between two schools. She was very sad that some schools had not responded at all. “I’m different, I get that, but I do expect a response, especially since the Netherlands has a teacher shortage.”


Melek felt that Dutch people did not trust her at first. “They are afraid of other people, they do not believe you at first, but once you gain their trust, then it is good and they are very nice and sweet.”


What differences are there between the Turkish and Dutch education systems?

“Dutch education is a little different than the Turkish one.” For example, Melek explained to us that schools in Turkey also have different levels. But the difference is the ages at which the children change levels. For example, elementary school in Turkey is also eight years, but children in the Netherlands go to high school at an earlier age. Because of this, Melek got the feeling that Dutch children that are just starting high school are a bit childish. What Melek did notice is that Dutch children are much more independent. ‘The kids here are much more active. In Turkey, the teacher has to be 100 percent active, and students only follow what is said. “In the Netherlands, children work independently on assignments without the teacher having to explain everything.” Another difference is that in the Netherlands there are many more different types of schools, such as public, private or Christian schools. In Turkey, there is only one type of school.


Looking at the future

Even though Melek misses her family and friends in Turkey and her culture, she is still happy with her choice to come to the Netherlands. Her family and friends fortunately visit her from time to time but she herself cannot go back to Turkey. The most important thing for her is the freedom she has in the Netherlands. Melek would like to communicate to other refugees that in the beginning it is a very difficult step to come to the Netherlands and become a teacher here, but you should never give up and always do your best. It gets easier and easier with time.



Written by Georgette Schönberger


  1. Melek hanım sizi kutluyorum. Başarılar diliyorum. Sizin yolunuzda ilerlemeye çalışıyorum. Bende matematik ogretmeni bir muhacirim. Bizlere umutsunuz.

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