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The secret of success of Nawras Ali

Be proactive. Tackle opportunities. Don’t listen to negative people.

24 May 2018

Nawras Ali (1983) left Syria in 2014. He decided to ask for asylum in The Netherlands because Dutch children are the happiest in the world. He wanted his children to be the happiest as well and give them a good future. After his arrival in The Netherlands he changed. He became more positive, easy going and persistent than he’d ever been. With his new mindset, he became incredibly successful in a short time.

Q: You’ve got an international MBA from Nyenrode Business University, the most prestigious business school in The Netherlands. How did you manage to do that?

“In Syria I got a bachelor’s degree in business management. Syrian diploma’s aren’t valued much in The Netherlands, so I knew that if I wanted to get a good job, I had to get the best diploma possible. I asked around and heard that Nyenrode was the best business university, so I knew I had to go there.

I asked for assistance from an organization that helps refugees with their education, but they were extremely slow. I took matters in my own hand and called the university and asked if I could visit them. They invited me to an “experience weekend”, where I had to take workshops, follow lessons and pitch myself.

Because I worked so hard, I was invited to join their international MBA program. They even offered me a scholarship to pay for half of the tuition. Nyenrode is very expensive, and I could not pay the other half of the tuition. To my surprise, after I explained my predicament to the management of the university they decided to make an exception and offer me a full scholarship due to what they saw of  my motivation,persistenceand ambition.”

The secret of success of Nawras Ali

Q: Were you also this ambitious in Syria?

“I used to hate studying. I redid 12th class (Bakaloria) like many others, and it took me six years to finish university, which normally takes four years. When I came here, I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone. In The Netherlands you get three years to learn the language. I didn’t want to take so long, I wanted to learn the language as soon as possible, so I could start working again.

While I was still in the Asylum Seekers Center, I went to the University to learn the language. My family wasn’t here yet and I didn’t have a job, so I used all of my time to study. If I wasn’t at school, I was in the library. By the time the Dutch government offered me a house, I was already at level B1 with my Dutch. I passed all my exams at B2 level and even took English at C1, so I could get an education in English.

Time was also the reason I really wanted to go to Nyenrode. Their MBA program takes a year and the quality of the diploma is equal or higher than any other master from a four-year education. With my degree, it would be easier to get a decent job. So instead of taking forever to learn the language and get a diploma, I forced myself to do everything as quickly as possible.”

Q: How did you motivate yourself to work this hard?

“In the first week at Nyenrode, the manager of the program told everybody that I was a refugee with a full scholarship, and turned towards me and told me that I had to pass all my classes, otherwise I would lose my scholarship. I felt that I was not being treated equally like other students. His negative attitude motivated me to work even harder. I became the class representative and I was elected student of the year at graduation.

Before the war I had served in the army and there I learned that if you organize your schedule you can accomplish more. So I raised my standards. I knew I had a choice; I could sit at home or I could do something. Every time I choose the latter. Doing nothing was no option, I had to keep moving. I turned obstacles into opportunity. I didn’t wait for people to help me, to hand me a good future here. I was proactive and tackled all my opportunities.

I eliminated all bad options, so only the good option remained. Do something. First you do something small. Then before you know it, you gain momentum and you start accomplishing big things.”

We need to understand that our old experience and skills need to be applicable here. If they are not, we need to choose another career. Don’t be picky. There are jobs for us. Maybe not our dream job, but we need to start somewhere, and we need to understand the language and the people to get a good job.

We can not go from sitting on the couch to being the boss in the board room in one jump.

Nawras Ali

Project Manager, IT Infra Manager, Entrepreneur

Q: How else did you change?

“I became more positive. In Syria there was a very negative environment. You don’t have a lot of options there. You don’t need to plan your future; your future is already planned. You work in your fathers shop or learn the same profession he has. Your grades decide what kind of education you can get. Marriage is a lot of times orchestrated through your family. Nothing is forced, but you don’t really get to decide your own way.

Critical thinking and feedback aren’t part of our culture. You don’t try. Failure is not an option. So you only do something if you are sure you can succeed, which is why most people don’t bother trying. But here, it is safe to fail. To do your best. In your personal and professional life.

When I came to The Netherlands, I only went to places where I could find positivity. My old self wasn’t suitable for my new life. So, I surrounded myself with positive people. People who thought in opportunities, not in obstacles. When you are surrounded by positivity and open-minded people, you also become positive and open-minded.”

Q: Do you consider yourself successful?

“For me personally, success means you are making a difference. Through my volunteering and work, I am making a difference. And I see it when I look in my mother’s eyes, she is very proud of what I have accomplished.

I have two goals: after I die I want to go to paradise and while I live I want to make a difference. For myself and people around me. That is why I started volunteering at PAX as a public speaker. I give presentations at events and schools. I give facts and share my personal experience about being a refugee and engage in discussions to correct the misunderstandings regarding refugees in the western countries. I also work as an ambassador for Refugee Start Force, which also helps me to raise awareness about refugees in The Netherlands.”

Q: What advice can you give newcomers who have trouble finding their way?

“Regarding to work, we need to understand that our old experience and skills need to be applicable here. If they are not, we need to choose another career. Don’t be picky. There are jobs for us. Maybe not our dream job, but we need to start somewhere, and we need to understand the language and the people to get a good job.

We can not go from sitting on the couch to being the boss in the board room in one jump.

When I was still living in the Asylum Seekers Center, I saw an ad for volunteers. I thought it was ridiculous. Why would I want to work for free? It seemed useless. But months later I understood. By volunteering you can practice the language, learn the culture, understand what kind of jobs are available and which of your skills are useful here. If you can show your value volunteering, it can help you to get a paying job.

After I got my degree at Nyenrode, I sent out 78 job applications and I got rejected repeatedly. Rejection hurts. But if you apply for jobs daily, it becomes easy to do. If you only apply every now and then, there is a small chance you will get a job. Right now I work as a Smart Mobility Advisor for Rijkswaterstaat an agency of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. It is not my final target but it is a good job, and a great first step to land a better opportunity with my degrees and experience.

Q: What advice can you give on personal growth and persistence?

“Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t listen to negative people, don’t even give them the opportunity to speak to you. Don’t include negative people in your decision-making process. My mother taught me that I shouldn’t just ask anyone for advice I should only ask the ones who can provide a valuable insight, and that really helped me reach my goals here. People spread a lot of misinformation. You need to make sure that your information comes from a reliable source. Opportunity doesn’t knock on your door, you need to go outside. Make a plan, know what you want and why you want it. If you walk around without a goal, you won’t get anywhere.

Put in the effort to get to know people, there are a lot of organizations and people that want to help you with your development, but you need to go out and find them. Try with a smile. Ask different people.

And please remember that you can be part of society without losing your own identity, values or religion. There is more than one truth. There is more than one answer to every question. You need to find a middle ground between your own beliefs and the new society you are part of. You don’t have to agree with everything, but you don’t have to judge it either.”

What is your secret to success?