Life as an expat - Syrian ‘foodie’ Rada Assi shares her experience
Over 45,000 followers, on Instagram, and growing fast: Syrian 'foodie’ Rada Assi never imagined that, one day, she'd be famous. Her story started three years ago, sharing pictures, videos and stories. “Now I'm building bridges between Syrian & Dutch cultures.”
Assi, born and raised in Aleppo, moved to the Netherlands a little over five years ago, together with her husband and their two children. “In Syria I trained as an English teacher and split my time between teaching and caring for our kids. My first thought was to do something similar in the Netherlands,” she says.
So Assi went back to school: first to learn Dutch, and then to get the qualifications needed to teach English at high schools in the Netherlands. In just 18 months Assi passed her B2 language state exam, which allowed her to enrol in HBO. Three years later – six months ago – she graduated, and is now qualified to teach in Dutch schools. “I was extremely motivated to integrate into this society,” she explains.
Getting to know people
In addition to studying, Assi invested a lot of time in connecting with local people. “Churches and concerts; markets and workshops: I went anywhere I could meet people,” she illustrates. Especially in the beginning, it helped that she could communicate well in English. “People quickly accepted me because of that, and this made me feel welcome in the Dutch community.”
Via a Dutch friend Assi enrolled in a collaborative project to create a Syrian cookbook, based on recipes collected in cooking workshops held for refugees at the Heumeloord emergency camp near Nijmegen. “I made the pictures for the book,” she says.
After completing the book, Assi wanted to continue sharing stories about Syrian cuisine and culture. “I really enjoyed doing it, and it felt like this could be my Plan B – my own catering business – in case I didn't find a job as a teacher,” she explained.
She launched a website and opened an Instagram account. Almost overnight, she had 500 followers, and the snowball effect occurred. “My website received a lot of visitors, and the number of followers on Instagram multiplied rapidly”, she illustrates.
Online visitors were inspired by her colourful, eye-catching pictures and her easy-to-follow recipes. She was approached to provide middle-eastern cooking workshops and was invited to help cater for the Prince Claus funds awards.
Then COVID-19 arrived and lockdown closed all the schools. “Not the best time to find a teaching post,” she says. “But it gave me the time to put my energy into my Instagram activities. Before long, Plan B had become Plan A.”
In the meanwhile Assi has shared so many recipes that she could easily produce her own cookbook, and she plans to do so. But she also has another, to her, more important goal. “What I really want is to build a cultural bridge between Syrians and the Dutch, to facilitate the integration of people who have left Syria to come to the Netherlands. Let’s learn from and be inspired by each other, and live together in harmony.”