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Navigating A New Culture, A Syrian Refugee In Germany Seeks A Dating Coach’s Advice

Aktham Abulhusn rides a transport on his approach to Berlin Alexanderplatz. He came from Syria to Germany in early 2015 on a tyro visa and now lives there on a interloper visa. Now that his German denunciation skills are improving, he is perplexing to find a girlfriend.

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Aktham Abulhusn rides a transport on his approach to Berlin Alexanderplatz. He came from Syria to Germany in early 2015 on a tyro visa and now lives there on a interloper visa. Now that his German denunciation skills are improving, he is perplexing to find a girlfriend.

Jacobia Dahm for NPR

This story comes from NPR’s Rough Translation podcast, that explores how ideas we combat with in a U.S. are being discussed in a rest of a world.

Sophia Lierenfeld didn’t set out to give dating recommendation to Syrian refugees.

Rough Translation

The Berlin-based behaving clergyman and attribute manager wanted to do her partial to assistance refugees confederate into German society. Assimilation is a large emanate in German politics these days. Her self-funded workshop, Improv Without Borders, gathers weekly to let Europeans and refugees do improvisational museum together.

On a new Thursday afternoon, about a dozen organisation and women from Afghanistan, Syria, France, Germany and elsewhere milled about awkwardly while Lierenfeld waltzed among them and gave out hugs. After some warm-up games, they pennyless off into groups to perform skits. A large partial of improv involves perplexing on new versions of oneself – an activity that, in their unchanging lives, can come with high stakes.

Sophia Lierenfeld, 28, leads an improvisational museum category for Germans and refugees. Abulhusn has been attending her weekly Improv Without Borders category and sealed adult for coaching in flirtation.

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Sophia Lierenfeld, 28, leads an improvisational museum category for Germans and refugees. Abulhusn has been attending her weekly Improv Without Borders category and sealed adult for coaching in flirtation.

Jacobia Dahm for NPR

Gulahmad Gafuri, a medical tyro from Afghanistan speaks hesitantly, if during all, until Lierenfeld assigns him a skit to tell a childhood chronicle in an makeshift nonsense language. In a made-up language, it turns out he has tons to say.

Raghd Hadid, a 19-year-old from Damascus wearing a headscarf, says she’s there to use “a destiny self” where she is “strong, not weak, not shy.”

And afterwards there’s Aktham Abulhusn. What he unequivocally wants is to find a girlfriend. Unlike a other Syrian refugees in a workshop, Abulhusn is not Muslim. He’s Druze, that creates him an doubtful awaiting for many of a Syrian Muslim women he meets in Germany. Druze are a minority organisation in Syria, and in Berlin, a pool is even smaller. Abulhusn would be happy to date a German lady — if one of them would usually give him a chance.

Abulhusn’s journey: The life of Abu Techno

There was a time in Abulhusn’s life when anticipating adore seemed like too many of a risk. For years in Syria — when Abulhusn went by a name of Abu Techno — he had good friends who were girls, though he avoided removing too critical with them.

Bridging The Familiar And Unfamiliar Around The World, In 'Rough Translation'

He’d warranted his DJ-esque nickname given of his inclination with a dark cameras that he used to film uprisings in al-Sweida, his hometown. Al-Sweida was afterwards fiercely constant to President Bashar Assad, and these videos unprotected early gainsay from within a president’s domestic base.

Abulhusn says if supervision agents had detected his cameras dark in pens and watches, he wouldn’t be alive today. So during this dangerous period, he finished a preference about his adore life: He wouldn’t have one.

Sophia Lierenfeld teaches her weekly improv category for Germans and refugees in a museum in Berlin’s hip Mitte district. Most of a attendees have been entrance given a spring.

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Sophia Lierenfeld teaches her weekly improv category for Germans and refugees in a museum in Berlin’s hip Mitte district. Most of a attendees have been entrance given a spring.

Jacobia Dahm for NPR

He’d seen families humour when their desired ones were arrested. Or worse, wives were arrested to force their husbands to spin themselves in. As a immature man, Abulhusn went to co-ed parties (which, he says, were unequivocally chaste) and had friends who were girls.

But good friendships have a approach of sharpening into matrimony proposals — and he always put a stop on it before they did.

Abulhusn fled Syria in 2014 after he was incarcerated a second time by authorities and he feared for his safety. He has advantages of that many refugees can usually dream. Accepted to a masters module in electrical engineering in a German university, he arrived legally, on a plane, and spent his initial year in heated denunciation study. To make certain he wouldn’t be sent behind to Syria, he reapplied for a interloper visa.

It took a while, though his life is finally starting to demeanour reduction rocky. He tends bar during his university. He speaks rarely proficient English and German. But if one thing is harder in pacific Berlin than in war-torn Syria, it is navigating a dictionary of relationships.

Abulhusn has attempted online dating. He’s left on outings a Facebook organisation organised to deliver refugees and locals. (It was from that organisation that he schooled about Improv Without Borders.)

Last year, he fell into a review with a German medical tyro who asked him for his number, and they even went on one date together to see a football compare with some of her friends. He favourite her – suspicion she was lovable – and she was greatly extraordinary about Syria. He had high hopes.

Aktham Abulhusn (center, in red shirt) loves to travel in a bustling spaces of a city, where he enjoys people-watching and listening to music.

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Aktham Abulhusn (center, in red shirt) loves to travel in a bustling spaces of a city, where he enjoys people-watching and listening to music.

Jacobia Dahm for NPR

But after a integrate of exchanges, his texts went unanswered.

Doing a autopsy on a date left bad can be infuriating for anyone. Was it my hair? My breath? Something we said? But a turn of questions can be even some-more unfortunate if you’re a foreigner.

Abulhusn couldn’t assistance though wonder: had he finished something culturally inappropriate? Or was his interloper standing itself a blemish? Despite all his efforts to toe a line, were women comparing him with a passionate predator classify of interloper organisation that Germans review about in a news, a trope that got visit play during this year’s presidential election?

The adore audit

Lierenfeld, a improv teacher, watches Abulhusn turn looser and some-more effusive week by week. But he tells her he can’t seem to interpret that loose seminar chronicle of himself into typical life.

So Lierenfeld, 28, offers to give him a coquette coaching event — a possibility to brutally mangle down his diversion and uncover him how to urge it.

They arrange to accommodate during a downtown coffee emporium in Berlin’s hip district of Mitte. At their tiny, block table, they demeanour like one some-more integrate on a date. Lierenfeld says she likes her sessions to be as picturesque as possible.

Abulhusn tells her about his obscure disaster with a med student, and Lierenfeld tells him to give her his phone. She wants to see a content sell for herself.

Abulhasn performs during a category during Improv Without Borders, a module he attends each week to benefit self-confidence.

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Abulhasn performs during a category during Improv Without Borders, a module he attends each week to benefit self-confidence.

Jacobia Dahm for NPR

As he hunts for a texts, Lierenfeld gets right down to business: “Can we tell me about a whole sex stuff? Do we have some one night stands in Berlin?”

Abulhusn admits that he’s a virgin, “even by kissing.” He’s never kissed a lady on a mouth, he says.

“Wow,” Lierenfeld says.

Abulhusn says he believes that there are no critical informative differences between himself and a women he wants to date in Germany. He values things like mutual honour and probity and equal rights for women – he was lifted to trust that in his Druze community, he says.

But in Germany, a elementary fact of his decency will itself infer to be a divide. Lierenfeld studies a texts from a medical tyro and delivers what is apparent to her, though startling to Abulhusn.

“From her messages,” she explains, “she seemed to be unequivocally meddlesome in sex with you. That’s apparent to me. She’s mouth-watering we to prepare together, that means you’re already during her place.”

She tells Abulhusn a problem was substantially not that he’d finished anything wrong or inappropriate. He’d only unsuccessful to “make a move.” The medical tyro substantially felt deserted and cut him off.

“But truthfully, we would feel frightened to advise such a thing,” Abulhusn says. “If she says, ‘Oh God, he’s only perplexing to get me to bed, and I’m only perplexing to be good given he’s a refugee.'”

When she’s not heading a workshop, Lierenfeld works as a “flirt coach” — assisting clients turn some-more assured in flirting with women. She and Aktham Abulhusn (left) had a new session.

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When she’s not heading a workshop, Lierenfeld works as a “flirt coach” — assisting clients turn some-more assured in flirting with women. She and Aktham Abulhusn (left) had a new session.

Jacobia Dahm/NPR

He’d be ashamed to be lumped in with a interloper classify of a male “who is always badgering girls,” he says.

Lierenfeld gathers her thoughts.

“I’m going to contend this in a bit of a meant way,” she says. “Do we know your audacity here? we know your feelings, though there’s one partial of what you’re observant that is unequivocally conceited — that is that we have to consider and confirm for her. She’s a grown-up person.”

Abulhusn looks shocked.

“I never suspicion of that in this way!” he says.

“That’s because we pronounced it in such a true way,” Lierenfeld says.

As a traveler in a unfamiliar country, it can be easier to figure out what not to do than what to do. Abulhusn understands that “no means no.”

His problem is roughly a opposite: He’s too protecting of women to absolutely coquette with them.

Abulhusn says that this time with Lierenfeld remade a approach he sees himself. He now creates it a indicate to try not to cranky his arms when he’s articulate to women. And if during all these years in Germany he’s been fearful to come opposite as dangerous, now he thinks a bit some-more about how to make himself feel safe.