Story of Neslihan Ozcan Sahin: After all her struggle, a refugee teacher begins to teach again.

Written by Georgette Schönberger

Neslihan is a refugee from Turkey who came to the Netherlands to build a new life with her husband and two children.

In August 2018, Neslihan left her life in Turkey behind and fled to Greece. There she spent three months before coming to the Netherlands. She has lived with her family in social housing in Amstelveen for a few years. She lived with her family for 19 months in different AZCs throughout the Netherlands. “I know the Netherlands better than an average Dutch person”, Neslihan claims.

In Turkey, Neslihan had long worked as a chemistry, physics, and biology teacher. She was eager to start teaching again when she came to the Netherlands. Fortunately, finding a job was not difficult. Through the “Statushouders voor de Klas project,” she was taught how the Dutch school system works, which eventually helped her secure an internship. In addition, Neslihan has worked as a volunteer at a school. There she was working as a technical teaching assistant at the Apollo high school in Amsterdam. At the same school, she was able to grow and, after a while, was also allowed to teach two days a week. Next year she will only teach and no longer work as an assistant.

Why did you decide to become a teacher at the time?

“I enjoy teaching; I don’t see it as a job because it’s a passion of mine.” She has been teaching for 18 years now and still really enjoys it. After completing her education, she started teaching right away. She chose to become a chemistry, physics, and biology teacher because she had the highest grades in these three subjects and found them fun topics.

Why did you decide to come to the Netherlands?

“We read through on the Internet and the news and often heard that in the Netherlands, people are free and can share their opinions or ideas. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Turkey, where you are not free and cannot say what you want. Even children often go to prison for revealing their opinions”. Because of this, Neslihan’s brother and sister also came to the Netherlands with their families. Neslihan sees her family every week.

What challenges did you face when you came to the Netherlands?

Neslihan is a political refugee and was considered a Terrorist in her own country because of her views. With her whole family, she had to flee Turkey by boat. The journey to come to the Netherlands was intense. She had to pay much money and negotiate with people smugglers, which can be pretty dangerous.

In addition, Neslihan wanted to learn Dutch; this was quite difficult at first. Because she was not obligated to integrate then, she could not take a free Dutch language course during her stay in the AZC. However, she learned some Dutch from friends and volunteers in the AZC. For this, she is very grateful. Neslihan wanted to integrate and assimilate, so her language understanding was fundamental. After a long struggle, she finally managed to borrow money with which she was able to take a course.

Occasionally she still has trouble with the Dutch language, especially ‘er’ plus the different prepositions she finds difficult. In addition, she does not yet understand certain Dutch expressions, but she believes this will eventually work out.

What are the differences between the Turkish and Dutch school systems?

“There are not many differences, I think. Of course, some things are quite similar. For example, adolescents are just adolescents and behave the same in certain ways, but the students in the Netherlands always have the chance to move on because of the different school levels. Therefore, the system in the Netherlands is better because that chance is available.” Neslihan explains that in Turkey, there is only one level and that every student has to learn the same subjects and take the same exam. So, if this level is too high, you don’t have another option to continue studying, which is why many young people drop out of school.

Another big difference is that there is little hierarchy in the Netherlands. “My director and my team leader are just my colleagues. We are seen as the same and treated the same. I can call them by their name. In Turkey, you have to address everyone by sir or ma’am. I want no more hierarchy in Turkey; I would like to change that”.

Is there anything you would like to share?

“I would like to say that we are all people who can just live together; you just have to have respect for one another. You must treat everyone respectfully and create a safe and nice atmosphere. We came here for our freedom, and Holland has given us many rights. Therefore, you have to do something for the Netherlands; you have to use your skills to help here, to integrate. Taking that first step is easy: saying hello to your neighbours, for example, or just chatting with someone and being nice.”

Neslihan also wanted to remind everyone that many people are still threatened in Turkey or forgotten in prison. You can always do something for them, for example, by sharing something on Twitter or talking about it.


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