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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

The Syrian Refugee Who Turned His Room into a Dictionary to Learn Dutch

THE HAGUE – A Syrian refugee who arrived in the Netherlands in 2016 has plastered the walls, furniture and ceiling of his small room with colorful and bright words in Dutch, which became his method to master the language.

“When I see a new word I search for it online and then I work with it: I paint it in colors, I decorate it with pretty calligraphy and that way I then remember it,” 30-year-old Hassan Fakhane told EFE on Wednesday.

Fakhane started learning Dutch like this in 2017 during his stay at his seventh and last asylum center before being transferred to a small apartment which had blank walls.

Fakhane put sticky tape on his flashcards and placed them on the walls, but he didn’t stop there.

When he ran out of space, he continued around the frames of the windows, the two small tables he owns, the wardrobe and even the ceiling.

The result is a gigantic, colorful mosaic with nouns, adjectives and verbs in Dutch and in smaller lettering their translation into Arabic.

While he is talking and if he cannot remember a word, he searches for it in the room, points at it and says it.

Fakhane fled from Syria at the beginning of 2016 because of the war.

He spent six months in a refugee camp in Turkey but his dream was to live in the Netherlands.

“I am a florist and all the beautiful flowers in Syria came from here,” he added.

Fakhane paid a group of smugglers 2,000 euros to help him cross the Mediterranean on a small boat.

“We were around 30 people but the journey took three hours,” he said.

He first arrived in Greece and from there, continued onto the Netherlands on foot, by bus and when he was lucky by train, which took a month.

Most of his fellow travelers stopped in Germany, but he continued on to the Netherlands.

Nearly three years later, he continues to study the language in his room and paints canvases, his favorite hobby.

“I am self-taught through photos and videos,” he told EFE. “Other times I imagine things and draw them, it is a bit like modern art.”

His flat has been subsidized by the government.

He shares a bathroom and kitchen with another 18 refugees and works as a volunteer some hours a week at an older people’s home which gives him a good opportunity to practice his language skills chatting to residents.

His primary goal though is to secure paid employment.

“I would like to be a florist again but I don’t have a problem with doing something different. I am looking for work online,” Fakhane continued.

According to official data, 55 percent of refugees in the Netherlands do not want to return to their country of origin even if the wars were to stop.

“I might return in the future,” Fakhane said. “But in 10 years time, I think I will still be here. I hope to have a lovely family and a good job.”

Even though his long term goal is to stay in the Netherlands he keeps in contact with his five sisters, brother and mother.

“They are in Damascus. I speak to them nearly every day, especially via WhatsApp.”

Even though Fakhane has passed his Dutch language exam, he still uses his creative method to continue to broaden his knowledge.

“Not long ago they invited me to a ‘coffee-shop’ and spent some time with Dutch people who showed me new words, albeit amid plenty of laughs,” he said smiling.

“I jotted them down, but when I looked up their translation… they weren’t very pretty so I took them down.”

 

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