From Egypt to Germany: challenges and profits thus far…

19. August 2015

Science Blogger Mohamed Samir Ahmed Mohamed

Four years back and a few minutes before being assessed by the DAAD selection committee in Cairo, I still recall the statement “Germany, land of ideas” that was hanging on the wall. I could not imagine that I would be awarded a long-term scholarship (GERLS) and would be exposed to the new life in Germany.

It was after obtaining the master’s degree; my mind was loaded with ideas about exploring the world while researching my favorite subject. I was always passionate about virus research. It is a dynamic research field with many human and animal viral diseases that are still puzzles.

I shifted my scientific focus to Influenza virus, a pathogen that affects both bird and human. The German city of Hannover was such a perfect place to do research on this. The facilities of Hannover Medical School (MHH), the TWINCORE Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo) allow me to investigate the influenza virus behavior at the human-animal interface. Coming from a country where influenza virus is endemic motivated me to plan for a DAAD-funded field study utilizing the sample availability in Egypt and the high-quality research in Germany. I liked this piece of work the most in my PhD project.

Travelling from Zagazig, a small city located north of Cairo, to Germany was not an easy move. When I landed in Freiburg for the first time, everything looked strange to me. The rows of bicycles at the train station surprised me. The well-organized streets and the wonderful nature attracted my attention. I quickly indulged in the Germany dynamic system. My stay during the first six months in an apartment of the Goethe-Institut with many international residents enabled the adaptation to the new life and softened the integration process. Joining trips inside and outside Germany made me familiar with the foreign culture.

Today, I feel myself a bicultural person who keeps native traits from home, while adopting other positive and useful ones. You can adapt easily to the new system if it is more developed than the original one, but you need to commit to it. The other way around, I guess, is not easy.

For me as a person who has lived in three German cities and moved a lot within the country, it is not hard to tell about the commonalities and contrasts between Egypt and Germany. Nothing magical about it. It is all about how the decision makers and citizens want their country to be.

Compared to Egypt, the amount of funding going into research in Germany is huge and set up with a continuous monitoring. The focus on studying the health problems that confront the community is obvious. Being qualified is the entrance card to a get a research position, which is usually contract-based. This is the reason why my German colleagues feel astonished when they hear about my lifelong job in Egypt. Teaming up in research is a characteristic feature. I myself have a couple of projects with two different institutes outside Hannover. What also impressed me is the involvement of the young university students and the fresh graduates in the research environment side by side with master and PhD students. I hope to see these strategies implemented one day in Egyptian universities.

In a few months, my time in Germany will be over. I felt a lot homesickness and longing for my family, but I learned a new language and the stay was very rewarding in total.

When I return to Egypt, I will not forget my days here. I imagine that I will keep doing things that I have become accustomed to. It was one decision at a time and the only inescapable way is keep moving forward and exploring life. However long you stay abroad, it remains a short period. So make use of it in the best way.

Zagazi, Egypt
As a DAAD scholarship holder, I am currently doing my PhD in Hannover, Germany (started on October 2011) dealing with Influenza A virus research. However, I have a fixed position at the Zagazig University, Egypt as a lecturer in the veterinary classes.

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