Matran has already gone through a lot in his life. Much more than most of us can actually imagine. For this reason, it is hard to believe that something could weigh on his mind so much.
Every one has experienced that anxious feeling before facing an important test, Matran says with a laugh. “I simply have to pass it so that I can go to college in Germany.” Will his dream come true? There are many reasons to believe that it will. After all, Matran has already achieved much in Germany. Thanks to Hanno Teiwes. And Goethe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The story began a little more than six months ago, when Matran visited Wolfsburg a few days before Christmas. He had a good time during this two-day visit: He gained a lot of new impressions of the country where he was now living, and he got to know many people. Including: Hanno Teiwes, whom he met for the first time in a pizzeria.
Matran is 24 years old, studied computer science in Sudan and fled from his homeland to Germany. Hanno Teiwes is 27 years old, has earned a master’s degree and is working on his dissertation. The two strangers were brought together by Volkswagen's guide program.
The effort sponsored by Volkswagen Group’s Refugee Assistance Program helps refugees enter Germany’s system of higher education. The guides are Volkswagen employees: The Ph.d. candidates help refugees to find their way. They know what institutions of higher learning expect from students, what campus life is like – and what sort of hurdles students face before and during their studies.
The guides and refugees share a pizza and get to know each other in the process. Matran and Hanno Teiwes are one of the 16 tandems in the program. The aim is for them to evolve into a good team over the next six months. We asked Matran whether we could tag along with him. So that we could learn more about him, his goals and the hurdles he faces in trying to attend college in Germany. Matran is happy to let come along. “No problem,” he says.
When we met Matran for the first time in the new year, he told us about his flight in a boat across the Mediterranean and his odyssey across Europe by bus, train and foot. He says that he must have had a guardian angel – because he reached a refuge center in Braunschweig in the summer of 2015. Safe and sound. He also tells us about his new home: a village located between Braunschweig and Hanover. He is still living there along with other refugees.
Volkswagen refugee assistance
The Volkswagen Group is working in many ways to promote the integration of refugees into German life – from language courses to occupational training and meetings with employees. During the guide program run by the Group office “Refugee Assistance,” employees spend six months serving as the partners of refugees who want to attend college in Germany or are already enrolled in a German institution of higher learning. A guide program that brings together female employees and female refugee students was recently launched. Go here to learn more about refugee assistance and the support being provided by employees, brands and companies.
“The first months were hard,” Matran says. He could not speak a word of German and knew no one. He simply waited. For what? “For things to move forward.”
Matran completed a training program for painters. He then worked for seven months as a cook. He wanted to see how life works in Germany: How to use the ticket machine for buses and trains and how to fill out his tax return.
And he tried to understand how people in Europe live together. “In my village, I really knew everyone,” he says. “In Germany, I had to get used to the fact that you can live on the same street with others and not get to know them at all.” Matran reached a conclusion: “I want to learn more about the culture and people in Germany and definitely stay here.”
Matran’s main goal in life right now is to attend college. His chances are good: He has a high school diploma and has already completed an IT degree. He intends to learn German so well that he will be able to go to college. Matran recounts one of the lessons he has learned during the process. He says that he wanted to attend an important preparatory course, but that he did not bother to sign up until a day after the registration deadline.
“I didn’t realize that one day more or less could make a difference,” Matran says. “These are the things that Hanno is teaching me.”
Both men have stayed in touch since their meeting in the pizza restaurant. They arranged to talk with each other every Monday either via Skype or WhatsApp. Initially, Hanno Teiwes was the person who was asking all of the questions – about Matran’s life in Sudan and his flight to Europe. The tables have turned since then: The goal now is to help Matran tackle the challenges of everyday life in Germany and gain admission to a college.
“Hanno attended college in the United States and did not know his way around very well,” Matran says. “He was in the same boat as I am. I always get an answer when I ask a question. I’m learning a lot from him.” Their relationship is important “because Hanno is interested in my life,” he adds. “He wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And he asks me about my weekend. I can use a little companionship. My family is far away from here.”
Before we part, Matran tells us about an encounter that made him quite happy: While taking a walk, Matran decided to strike up a conversation with an older man. He told him who is was and where he came from. A short time later, the man’s son, Fabian, turned up at the front door of Matran’s apartment and gave him an English-German dictionary.
New doors have opened up since then thanks to Fabian, who has become Matran’s best friend. Including the door to a soccer team where he tries to score goals as an attacking midfielder. “Getting to know people, going out with them and having fun: That’s what integration is all about to me. Getting to know Germans like Fabian and Hanno is good for me. It’s a great way to improve my German.”
A few weeks later: the next meeting after Mother’s Day. Matran tells us that he broke a toe while playing soccer. And that he called his mother yesterday to tell her about the special day that the Germans were celebrating. He would really have liked to talk to all of them: his parents, his two brothers and his three sisters.
“But I usually just have time for my mother. She won’t let go of the phone and won’t stop talking. These conversations are sometimes funny and sometimes sad.” Will he ever have a chance to see his family again? “Perhaps in a few years, if the situation has changed.”
He hopes another wish will come true much faster: the wish for his own apartment. “I’ve been looking for a long time. But no landlord will give me a chance,” he says.
The dictionary that Fabian gave him has found a home in his room. Matran can now speak Germany really well. “In the language class, I have learned to say: ‘I want to do something.’ My friends have taught me that it really means: ‘I’m really up for it,’” Matran says with a laugh. “Learning German has become my hobby. I could image becoming an interpreter for the Sudanese. After all, I get help, too.”
In September, Matran will see whether his German is good enough for college – with the help of the test that is causing him to bite so many nails. He just recently learned that he will be able to attend a course that readies refugees to attend the Lower Saxony Preparatory College. He now travels to Hanover every day to bone up on German, math and cultural studies.
He was really encouraged by his performance on a mock exam. It focused on the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, his early years as a lawyer and his journey to Italy, Matran says. “I was pretty good. If the real test goes as well, I’ll make it.”
Being accepted by the preparatory college would bring Matran one step closer to his ultimate goal: After attending the program for two semesters and passing an entrance exam, he could begin attending a German college.
Matran’s birthday is just a few days away. He will give his family a call to find out just how everyone is doing. And he will throw a party for his friends. It won’t be as big as last year’s, when he invited 30 people and cooked Sudanese dishes for them. It will all be lower key this year. The preparatory course in Hanover is out of session at the moment, and Matran is planning to take advantage of the free time.
“It’s been a long journey thus far,” he says. “I have a little time on my hands for the first time in three years. A lot of things have been happening, and I haven’t had a chance to see any other places than Hanover, Braunschweig and Wolfsburg. I want to visit Berlin and Hamburg, and get to know Germany better.”
Matran and Hanno Teiwes recently got together once again. Their guide program has come to an end – Hanno Teiwes thinks it was the right time for it to end as well. “In the beginning, we were in close contact,” he says. “But things have slowed down in recent weeks.” He says this is a good sign. “Matran is becoming his own man. I think that he is moving in the right direction and that he no longer needs my help.”
But this does not mean that the two are parting ways for good. “We’ll stay in touch,” he says. “Matran will certainly have a lot of questions when he starts going to college in a year or two.” Matran laughs and says: “Why shouldn’t we know each other in 50 years?”