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June 7, 2018

Meet Dania

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Christoph Buerglen
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When people ask me why I study computer science and information technology I can’t help but laugh. I mean, why does anyone do anything? I imagine that just as I am excited by the complexities of the online world and the magic behind artificial intelligence, others are excited by their passions, whatever they may be. And then I remember that they do not ask why I study computer science because they think it is an interesting field, they ask because I am a woman. I am a woman and I am just as able as any man I know to study and excel in the computer science and technology sector. In fact, sometimes I think being a woman helps me do even better in this field because I am determined to prove not just my worth but the worth of all the incredibly strong and smart women in this world. 

My name is Dania, I am 23-years-old and I am a woman who believes in the power of education and the strength of women. Moreover, I believe that when you combine knowledge with confidence, remarkable things will follow. I am encouraged not only by my mother, but all the brave women out there, to be the woman I am. This feeling of strength is something I want to instill to all the other women out there who think they are not enough.

It doesn’t matter if you are married, single, divorced, a mother, a sister or on your own – every woman can be successful in herself and should follow her dreams. We are wonderful, smart and mysterious creatures capable of doing everything. We can learn, work and study all while having a family and loving those around us. The notion of having to choose between one world or another makes no sense. You must always look on the bright side of both worlds in order to find a healthy balance. For me, optimism is the best quality one can have. If you are not optimistic you will not believe in your true potential nor will you embrace all the beautiful things life has to offer. I have a long road ahead before I reach my dream of getting my PhD. But this road is one I intend to travel with my head held high, proud and with determination so that when people ask me why I choose to study computer science, information technology, software engineering, or whatever science path it may be, I can look them in the eye and say “because I am a woman, I am strong, and I am following my dreams.”

I’m not saying it is always easy to follow your dreams, but if you give up what else do you have? It hasn’t always been easy for me either. I grew up in Damascus, Syria with a loving family. When I was 12 my father passed away which left me only with my brother, sister, and mother. My mother had to be strong for the family and I always admired her for this. Naturally, with the war, things changed. At first, it was more subtle. As time went on, I had to be more aware and the situation became increasingly dangerous. It was during my third year of studies at the University of Damascus where the occasional day of missing class became the norm due to the danger of being outside. I was studying information technology and I loved it. I had two years left and was heartbroken when I had to stop. We realized that things weren’t going to change any time soon, and staying in Damascus meant no future. So together with my brother and mother, I made my way to Germany.

In August of 2015 we left home and after a long and gruesome 10-day journey through Turkey and Greece, we arrived in Germany. It’s funny how something so emotional can be so vivid yet blurry all at once. I now live in a small city in Saarland called Riegelsberg. We were first in Marpingen, an even smaller village in the area with less opportunity and a smaller home. We have been lucky in our coming to Germany in that as a family we have stayed together and have met so many kind and helpful people along the way. 

One woman in particular to thank who not only helped us find the home we live in today, but took us into her family as though we were her own. I quickly became friends with her family and their friends. We saw them weekly, and they even had some daughters and friends my age – I was happy to make some friends here!

While it was great, nostalgia and memories of back home were always in the air. I began to miss my home, my friends and my far gone once-loved life. I realize it will be a long time before I get to return home, if ever, and while being sad about the past doesn’t help, sometimes it is hard. I remain optimistic, especially because so many things have worked out well for my family since coming to Germany, but still, I miss the simplicity of seeing my friends everyday, the ease of knowing practically everyone in my neighborhood. Everything was so easy and good until all of a sudden it wasn’t. Anyway, the more I stay in Germany the more I see my future here. I like the people and the culture, I could eat flammkuchen every day! But the thing I like the most about being in Germany is the respect for women. I deserve it and here, I feel I always have it.

Since being in Germany the only thing I wanted to do was to go back to university. I missed learning and was eager to find a way to get back to it. Transfering my credits from Syria wasn’t easy, and the bureaucratic system was so slow. 

But then I found Kiron and I felt a door had been opened. Instead of sitting around waiting to get recognition for my previous credits, I was able to study again! I studied with Kiron for my first year in Germany and I am so grateful for the opportunities it gave me. I took a lot of random courses, focusing mainly on computer science lessons to keep myself up-to-date. I even completed the entire track for German lessons in the first six months I was here! Without Kiron I don’t think my German would be nearly as good as it is. 

Waiting to be accepted into university was complicated and tiring, but Kiron made everything possible. It is because of Kiron that I was able to get a scholarship from Stiftung Deutsche Wirtschaft and make my dream of university a reality! Kiron helped prepare me for the interviews that later led to my acceptance for the scholarship and even university!!

During the interview, I felt the fear of rejection building inside me, for I had already been rejected from receiving a scholarship from Bafög due to already having studied for over three semesters..but this time, everything worked out better than I could have imagined and my fears turned into the purest of joy! The Stiftung Deutsche Wirtschaft gave me hope not only in being able to continue my studies through financial support but also in their values and efforts to help create a social community through seminars, workshops and networking opportunities. 

It is thanks to Kiron, my scholarship with Stiftung Deutsche Wirtschaft and my recognized credits from my studies in Damascus. I am now in my fourth semester (instead of second!) at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern. I am finally in my element again.

But then I found Kiron and I felt a door had been opened. Instead of sitting around waiting to get recognition for my previous credits, I was able to study again!

Kiron Student

I am taking a lot of artificial intelligence courses this semester and even working on a research project in medical technology on how we can use eye movement as a way for disabled persons to communicate – it’s so fascinating! Next semester I plan to focus on software engineering because a year from now I need to choose my specialty. I don’t know yet what I want to focus on but I do know that whatever I choose, I plan to do wholeheartedly. And once I get my bachelors, I will work on my Masters and eventually my PhD! I realize my passion for computer science may seem like all I do is live, breathe and eat it, but there’s more to me. Like everyone else, I am multi-dimensional and I think we should all keep an open mind when meeting new people. I am also someone who is trying to learn the guitar even though I’m finding it quite difficult. You could even call me a dancer! I took my first dance course last week, something I’ve always wanted to do even though I think I’m horrible…but as long as I’m having fun I don’t care what I look like!

But most importantly, I am the daughter of an incredible woman who exudes love. My mother has always been a hard worker and even though she is struggling to grasp the German language, she is making friends, and even making use of her tailoring skills! Back in Syria, she worked as a seamstress making the most beautiful handmade dresses, and here in Germany it’s as though she never stopped. Friends and neighbors often come asking for her creative touch for clothing for their daughters. I love watching her work needle and thread in hand – it reminds me of home. Just like my mother, I work to be the best version of myself. This is my plea to every other woman and girl out there: be the best person you can be for yourself and follow your dreams, only then, through your self-love and self-determination can you be the woman you are meant to be.

Interview by Alisha Merkle // #Education4Integration campaign, sponsored by H&M Foundation