When Basel Dalatieh was a young boy growing up in Syria, his one big ambition was to visit Madrid in Spain because it is the home to the football team that he has supported all his life, Real Madrid.
Who would have thought that a number of years later, Basel realised that ambition but the road from Damascus to Madrid came via Romania and Coventry!
Basel was born in Syria but moved to Romania when his family circumstances changed and he went to live there with his Mum to be nearer his maternal grandparents.
“At school in Damascus” said Basel “I was always achieving good grades and really enjoyed the lessons. When we moved to Romania, to where my Mother came from, I had to be placed in classes which were lower than the ones I was used to because the education system in Syria was different to Romania.
“There was the added complication that I didn’t speak Romanian, so I not only had to learn the language quickly, but I also had to make up for being placed a couple of years below my age group. It was very hard, but I was determined to do it and make the most of my new life in a new country.”
While he was at school in Romania, Basel started on his volunteering career path and it came about because of how he felt as the new kid on the block when he first joined a new school in a new country.
“I won’t lie,” said Basel. “I found it tough at first to adapt to life in Romania. My Dad died in Syria when I was seven, which was a very difficult time for me, so when we moved to Romania, my Mum was working long hours and several jobs to make ends meet and to make sure we had a roof over our heads.
“School was hard because not only was I being bullied, I was also trying to keep up with the lessons, so when the opportunity came about to volunteer and mentor young people, I jumped at the chance because I realised I could help them. There were two young boys with problems of their own who had difficulties with their families and found it hard to get their voice heard. As a result, they were falling behind in school and it was my job to help them academically as well as personally.”
The amazing work that Basel did with these two young boys meant that they got better grades and they became more confident in themselves and able to cope with whatever life threw at them.
“Volunteering made me feel so good because I saw the difference it made to others. I also took part in a few summer schools and did a lot of theatre with young people, which was fun.”
However, the moment that Basel’s life and location changed yet again, was when someone from Coventry University came to talk at his school.
“We had a representative from Coventry University who came to do a presentation and told us about the city and the University and I liked what I heard. After she left, I started to do my own research and looked into Coventry as a place to go and study”.
At the time, Coventry had just been awarded a Gold for teaching and was doing well in the University rankings and the more Basel read, the more he liked and he decided to come and study here to do a degree in accounting and finance.
“It was my best decision to come here and my Mum came over to live in the UK as well. I am an only child and she wanted to be able to support me as best she could.”
Like most international students, Basel found it difficult to settle at first:
“It was the first time I had to survive on my own and I found it very hard. I was in a new country, English was my third language and I was lonely. It definitely affected my mental health. It was a confusing time for me and it wasn’t until the second semester that I started to feel more settled and that is when I decided to join some societies and do some volunteering.”
Basel joined the Erasmus Society and signed up for numerous volunteering opportunities:
“I met some wonderful people and made friends straight away. Being involved in student societies gives you the chance to meet people from different countries and to become more sociable. I definitely started to come out of my shell and became a more confident person.”
Basel joined the Wellbeing and Mental Health Community as he liked what it stood for:
“Student Mental Health is a growing topic of national and international interest. A large contributor to why students leave university early or unsatisfied is due to Mental Health related issues.”
It was because of his own experiences both in Romania and in Coventry that Basel thought he could help others who might find settling into University life a difficult one.
“Since I joined the community, I’ve been involved in lots of events including the International Mental Health Day and the Volunteering Fair – I was particularly keen to encourage students to come and see the ‘Pets as Therapy’ dogs for the mental health day.
“The dogs have a calming influence on students, especially if they are away from home and missing their own family pet. The dogs act as a nice link to home and I was very good at getting students to come in and meet the dogs.”
Basel found his new confidence helped him to talk to the students and also later in that month, encourage them to see what the Volunteering Fair had to offer them.
“It was great to be able to speak to the students and encourage them to see for themselves how volunteering could help them to help themselves and others.”
Basel also joined the Global Leaders Programme and got a scholarship, he became a Senior Service Rep for the faculty and also, got the opportunity to do a Bloomberg training course for free (thanks to the University) – it would have cost him a lot of money if he had done this without assistance from the Uni.
“I’m also going to be doing some training to help me do online assessments which will prepare me for the workplace. I’m in my second year now, so I have to start looking for placements. I want to be a financial advisor when I graduate, so need to find something that could help me do that.”
One of the things that impressed Basel about Coventry University was the opportunities that students get to go abroad for relatively little money.
“Last year, the University had trips to various places in Europe and I signed up to go to the one in Spain. It was just £100 and it helped me to realise a lifelong ambition and that was to go to Madrid and visit the Real Madrid stadium!”
It was literally a dream come true for Basel and Coventry had helped him to realised that dream.
“Not only did I get a tour of the stadium, but I also got to see the dressing rooms and had my photograph taken standing in front Sergio Ramos’ locker, my favourite player!
If it hadn’t have been for that representative coming to my school a few years ago and telling me about Coventry, I would never have had the chance to visit Madrid and the football stadium – so thank you Coventry for making my childhood dream come true.
Basel is hoping to get an internship in Spain as it is a country he has set his heart on to work in one day:
“I know that I have a lot of hard work to do before I graduate, but during my time here so far, I have been welcomed into some lovely communities and societies, found a confidence that I never knew existed and had so many opportunities to travel and to do courses that could further my career, I can only imagine what the rest of my time in Coventry has to offer.”
Basel’s main focus though is to make his Mum proud:
“She has done so much for me to make sure that I get a good education and continues to support me. The best way to pay her back for all that she has done is to graduate with a good degree and get a good job and with the opportunities I am getting while I am studying in Coventry, the possibilities are endless.”
If you would like to become a volunteer, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Visit the volunteering page on the SU website for more information: www.cusu.org/volunteering