From asylum centre to WUR: free courses for refugees

Wageningen University is offering various free courses for asylum seekers in its WURth-while project.
Rania Hayiou (right) with her buddy Sifra Eigenraam. Photo Duncan de Fey

Wageningen University is offering various free courses for asylum seekers in its WURth-while project. The people behind this initiative hope that it will let the participants feel like ordinary students again rather than refugees. They get a buddy to show them the ropes.

‘You have to wait a long time to get your residence permit. I want to put that time to good use,’ explains Rania Hayiou (29), a Syrian refugee. She is one of the WURth-while participants this period. Ellinore van Driel is a volunteer for the project: ‘WURth-while is intended for asylum seekers who have arrived recently in the Netherlands and attended university in their home country. They can do up to four courses at WUR, one per period. The courses are in a variety of subjects from Programming in Python to Immunology & Thermoregulation.’ WURth-while’s coordinator checks whether the course fits with the participant’s knowledge and previous experience. Then she pairs them up with a buddy, a Dutch student who can help them with practical matters and show them the ropes in Wageningen. ‘Of course, we prefer to do that face to face so all the participants and buddies can meet one another. But it mostly has to be online now, which is a bit less personal.’


Rania Hayiou is doing the Intercultural Communication course. She lives in the asylum centre in Wageningen and is originally from Aleppo in Syria. After a long and difficult journey, she ended up in the Netherlands, where she applied for asylum. She studied Arabic literature in Syria. She is very pleased she registered for WURth-while. ‘You have to wait a long time to get your residence permit. I want to put that time to good use and develop some skills. I want to improve my English and Dutch, and get to know young people in Wageningen. I also think it’s very useful to learn about intercultural communication as people from so many different cultures live in the Netherlands.’

Studying here is so different to Syria

Rania Hayiou

Sifra Eigenraam (23), a Nutrition and Health MSc student, is Rania’s buddy. ‘A friend told me about this project and I thought it would be interesting to get to know someone from a different culture. At first, I helped Rania with her studies, for example following a lecture online or using TimeEdit.’ Rania: ‘Studying here is so different to Syria. There we did everything on paper.’ ‘But it’s not just about studying,’ adds Sifra. ‘We went for a walk once in the Arboretum to get to know one another better and we want to meet up again soon now Rania’s back in Wageningen.’

That wasn’t possible for a while because Rania was in quarantine in Apeldoorn. She caught the coronavirus and was not allowed to stay in Wageningen. ‘It wasn’t easy. The quarantine site felt like a prison and I was very sick and short of breath. I also didn’t have a laptop. So even when I started to feel better, I couldn’t get on with my studies, which I was really annoyed about. Fortunately, I can catch up on those assignments.’

Rediscover yourself

In the most recent period, 13 asylum seekers studied at Wageningen University. Five had done courses before this period. Rania also intends to continue in January and has chosen Career Exploration. ‘What do I enjoy, what would I want to do in the Netherlands? I really need to rediscover myself. I have now lived in Wageningen for a year and I spent a year getting here. It has been so long since I was working and studying. I’d eventually like to get a qualification in social work so that I can help people.’

Van Driel looks back in satisfaction at the recent period. ‘The feedback from both the participants and the buddies has been incredibly positive. We only started the buddy system this period and lots of people say they really value that contact, especially in the current situation.’ There are already 11 applications from asylum centres for the next period.

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