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NEWS FEATURE (dpa German Press Agency)

Many Syrians fleeing the war come to Germany as refugees seeking
asylum. But there are others from the war-torn country and the wider
Arab world who are here primarily to study. Their initiation into
life in cities such as Dresden is not always easy.

Dresden, Germany (dpa) – Yazan Atassi and al-Neimi Khalifa have a lot
in common. They are both 20, both come from Arab countries and both
want to study in Dresden.

Yazan, who hails from war-torn Syria, has a clear purpose. “I want to
use the knowledge gained during my studies to rebuild my country
again,” he says.

But by contrast with al-Neimi, who comes from wealthy Qatar, he has
no idea when he will be able to return to fulfil his dream.

Yazan has been in Dresden for almost a year, and Al-Neimi for three
months. Both have found their feet quickly in Germany, with Yazan
living with a German family in nearby Pirna.

Dresden’s location on the River Elbe is not the reason they chose the
picturesque capital of the state of Saxony – they came to study.
Yazan is aiming for a degree in nanotechnology, while al-Neimi is to
study at Dresden International University.

Yazan has already encountered the anti-Islamic Pegida (Patriotic
Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) that was formed in
Dresden last year and has held noisy demonstrations in several
cities, but he shows little concern.

“I’m not at all frightened. I’ve seen the war in Syria after all,” he
says.

According to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), in the
2013-14 winter semester there were about 740 students from the
Arab-speaking world registered at universities in Saxony.

Both Yazan and al-Neimi had to attend the Tudias Study College in
Dresden before going on to university as their school-leaving
certificates were not accepted.

Over the course of an academic year they studied German and gained
their matriculation certificates, while also learning more about
Germany and its people, everyday life and dealing with German
bureaucracy.

Dhafer Khalifa, who works for Tudias teaching German and Arabic, was
born in Tunisia but came to Germany 21 years ago and now has German
citizenship. He has become an important point of contact for
prospective students like Yazan and al-Neimi.

Khalifa has now worked with eight generations of students. “I’m like
a big brother to them,” he says.

Whereas he had to find his feet in Germany unaided, he is now happy
to help the young Arabs who have followed in his footsteps, often
going well beyond what is expected of him in his job.

Khalifa explains how unaccustomed situations arise as a result of the
cultural differences. For example, he tells his charges how the
public transport system works and how they should cut open their
breakfast rolls.

“They prefer to hear things like this from me, rather than from
someone else,” he says.

Settling in to a new culture is not easy, but Yazan knows that he is
one of the privileged ones. Many fellow Syrians have come to Germany
as war refugees.

“Evidence of financial resources has to be shown in order to gain a
student visa,” says a spokeswoman for the refugee council in Saxony,
explaining that refugees seeking asylum and those applying for a
student visa are treated completely separately.

Yazan’s position is nevertheless not an easy one. His father, a
Syrian businessman and opposition politician now living in Turkey, is
supporting him financially.

But the family business in Homs has been wrecked by the war, and the
private study college costs the equivalent of a little over 2,000
dollars a semester. Yazan has to work to make ends meet.

Since the civil war erupted, money has become a problem for many
Syrians studying in Germany. Nevertheless at 20 per cent they
continue to form the largest group within the Arab-speaking students,
according to the German federal statistics office.

By contrast, al-Neimi and four other prospective students are thought
to be the first Qatari students studying in Saxony.

They do not face money problems, as Qatar is financing their studies
in full. “Qatar has oil and money, but I would like to learn new
things, not only in the politics course, but also from the people
here,” he says.

Yazan is also hoping to gain more from his time in Germany than a
degree in nanotechnology to help him in his life in Syria later on.

“Following the war in Europe the EU was created. I would like to know
what is needed to achieve something similar in Arab countries, so
that everyone can live together in peace,” he says.