JA CLUB TALKS: Feras Salloum
The next issue of JA ClubTalks is dedicated to a professor from Syria Feras Salloum. Feras has been living in Belarus for 20 years and works as an associate professor at the Faculty of International Relations at the Belarusian State University. JustArrived.by met with Feras to find out if it is difficult for a foreigner to enter a university and find a job in Belarus.
About entering the university and moving to Belarus
I came to Belarus after my brother, who had already studied dentistry in Minsk. After school, I wanted to enter the Faculty of International Relations in Syria, but my brother convinced me to consider Belarusian universities. It is interesting that finally, it was me who stayed to live at Minsk of the two of us, my brother returned to Syria.
During the USSR period, quite a lot of pupils from Syria wanted to study in Belarus or Russia. A number of agreements on education were concluded between Syria and the USSR, stimulating student exchange.
I decided to enter the Faculty of Translation at the Minsk State Linguistic University. I sent a package of documents in English to the university in advance to receive an invitation from the faculty. In order to come to Belarus, I needed to open a visa. I got my visa at the airport, because there was no Belarusian embassy in Syria yet. Then I continued my education at the Belarusian State University at the Faculty of International Relations, where I completed my master's and postgraduate studies.
About obtaining higher education in Belarus
Studying in Belarus is much easier than in Syria. Firstly, in Syria, the student needs to make a real effort to get a diploma. The professors in Syria are mostly very arrogant. After graduation, students obtain not only knowledge, but also self-doubts and psychological complexes. Secondly, in Syria there is a problem with finding a job after graduation. My sisters, who got the diplomas in Syria, cannot find work because they do not have the necessary social connections.
About job search in Belarus
To tell the truth, it was quite difficult for me to find a job in Minsk. I have applied to the university a few times, but there were no vacancies. I received my first job offer only in 2 years after graduation. Now I work as an associate professor at the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarusian State University and teach such disciplines as regional organizations, politics of the leading countries of the South East, ethno-confessional conflicts.
One of the main advantages of living in Belarus is the opportunity to work in the sphere, which you studied at university. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to get a job in Syria. At the same time, Belarus has very high prices and average salaries. In Syria, prices are much lower and wages are higher. For example, a professor at a Syrian university earns about $1000.
About learning Russian language
When I came to Belarus for the first time, I did not know a word of Russian. Thanks to my teacher of Russian language at the university, I was able to quickly master it. During the first year, the studying at the university was very difficult. Most of the subjects were taught in Russian, which I practically did not understand. Every day I had to devote 7-8 hours just to study the Russian language, apart from other subjects.
My work also helped me to learn Russian. While working as an associate professor, I write articles in Russian and English and communicate with students every day - this is an amazing speaking and writing practice.
I met my wife when I was a student. There was a gym near my apartment. One day, my friend and I came to buy a gym pass. There I noticed Sveta (my future wife), who worked as an administrator at the reception. I remember that I told my friend that if this girl agreed to go out with me, she would become my wife. I regularly went to the gym to see her, and at some point, I got the courage to come to her. So, we got married a year later! Now we have two children: Anna-Maria and Ilya. My wife did not change her religion or surname after marriage. I was totally against it, I did not want to change her.
One day, my wife, her parents and I went to Syria to meet my family. I have a very large family: my parents, 5 brothers and 5 sisters. I am the third child. My family loved Sveta very much. They even went to church with her, although they are Muslims. I remember how Sveta was worried about whether she should wear a headscarf in Syria. I explained to her that no one in my family wears a headscarf, we are a secular family. Now, unfortunately, I rarely visit Syria. I have not visited my family for about 7 years.
About obtaining Belarusian citizenship
In 2017, I was able to obtain Belarusian citizenship. It took me less than two months to solve all documentary issues with the help of a lawyer. Everything turned out to be much easier and faster than I expected. However, I had to leave my Syrian passport, since dual citizenship is prohibited in Belarus.
About Eastern and European cultures
Before moving, I recommend everyone to thoroughly study the culture of the country you want to visit. What is permitted in the east may be prohibited in the wesr. For example, in Syria women should not smoke, but in European countries it is normal. The mentality is different and you should take it into account. Belarusians are very tolerant. No one here will ask you about your religion. In the east, this is the first thing the Syrians are worried about.
There are many differences in cultures and habits of people. For example, in Belarus everyone goes to the market in the morning, after 5 pm the market is usually closed. In Syria, people go shopping only in the evenings. Actually, all life begins after 20.00, when it is not so hot outside. At lunchtime, people have a rest and try to stay indoors.
In addition, guests in Belarus plan their visit in advance. In Syria, you need to be prepared that guests will come to you at any time without asking, because this is normal for Eastern culture. At home, you should always have some extra food for guests, at least fresh juice, coffee, green tea and snacks.