Meet Nisreen Mehho, From Syria To The Rotterdam School of Management

Nisreen Mehho and her husband left Syria for the U.K. and earned her master’s in change management from the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University

Name: Nisreen Mehho

Birthplace: Aleppo, Syria

Place of residence:  Haarlem, The Netherlands

Fun fact about yourself: I do sport to eat what I want

Business School programme: Change management, RSM

Can you tell us a little bit about your life and career before studying a business degree?

Before studying at Erasmus, I studied Dutch and English to continue my studies and volunteered at an organization to help refugees Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland (VWN). I also became a mother of one child who is now four and a half years old.

Can you talk us through your decision to seek refuge and move, and the journey this involved? What did you find most difficult when arriving in a completely new country?

In 2009 I graduated from the University of Aleppo and then worked for three years at the United Nations as an advisor in the field of microfinance for women’s projects. In 2011 the revolution began against the dictatorial Assad regime, so I had to move to my village. There I married my current husband because I wanted to be with the one I love in that war. But we did not want to have children in an atmosphere of violence and murder. After we despaired of finding a peaceful solution to build a civil society and a decent life, we decided to leave to the Netherlands. I arrived in the Netherlands in 2014 and then began my second hard journey to face the difficulties and challenges of life in a new country. The big challenge was the language of the country and how to express myself in a society that does not know much about my culture except some stereotypical images and stigmas. Moreover, I suffered a lot from nostalgia for my days in my country and with my family. It was difficult to translate my feelings as an asylum seeker, even though we, as human beings, express our feelings in the same way. We all cry when we are sad and laugh when we are happy, but my feelings were postponed because of my preoccupation with integrating into a new society and understanding life in this country. Other challenges were related to finding a job at the level of my academic degree. Finding a job in the Netherlands was one of the most difficult things I faced, and I think that this was one of the main reasons behind following a master’s degree at university. Furthermore, building new friendships in a new country was very hard, in particular after I lost most of my friends. During the first years of the war, some of them were arrested by the Syrian authorities, and some of them fled to other countries and some of them died. As a newcomer and a war survivor, it was not easy to build friendly relationships with people even from my country of origin. 

Why did you decide to apply for RSM?

I chose the Erasmus program because I found it suitable for my language skills after the UAF (FOUNDATION FOR REFUGEE STUDENTS) had nominated me to this program. I found that it was a short program that I could follow along with my private life, as a wife and a mother, by finding a balanced plan with my husband. Because my Syrian certificate is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in the Dutch Educational system, I could start studying at a Dutch university without following any bachelor’s classes. It was also, as I mentioned above, the shortest way to find a job and quickly integrate into society. 

How was your experience and what did you find most challenging?

It was a valuable experience and made big changes in my life with thanks to UAF and Erasmus university for giving me the opportunity to build a good future here. The experience was also new, as the teaching system that differs from the teaching systems in the Middle Eastern. For example, teamwork, I had not experienced it before, and through my experience at Erasmus, this skill was greatly developed. Through my change management specialist, I also learned a lot to implement positive changes on a personal level in my life and my family’s life. My study helped me to transfer difficulties into opportunities for self-development. 

Talk us through your life and career post-graduation?

After I obtained my master’s degree, I began at UWV as trainee/policy advisor (beleidsadviseur) in the field of corporate social responsibility. It’s an amazing experience from which I continually learn new things. 

What skills have you utilised from the programme into your career?

I have not yet had the opportunity to use my scientific knowledge in my work, but in the coming period I will direct my efforts to a profession through which I can use my scientific and personal experience. 

What advice would you give to other refugees looking to leave their countries and considering studying a business school degree? 

Take a good care of yourself, because life always has difficulties, and look positive at those difficulties that may bring you many opportunities to be in a better place. Studying at a Dutch university is challenging to yourself in the first place, but it is an exceptional chance to develop your skills, integrate yourself and learn new things that will help you make your way in the Netherlands. Do not say: “I cannot do I”, instead, say “I can do it and I will make it happen” because I deserve a better life”. 

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

First, I want to enjoy my life with my family after two years of hard work. I have a lot of dreams as for example doing a PHD, and who knows maybe I start my own project to help other people to improve their lives for the better.


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