Every year, the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) awards an international student at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, who not only distinguishes himself by academic excellence, but also by social and intercultural commitment. This year´s winner of the DAAD prize, which is endowed with 1.000 Euro, is Mohammed Al-Salafi from Yemen. In September, he successfully finished his Master of International Business at Frankfurt School. During his time at the business school, he was very engaged within the student community. For instance, he took part at a Model United Nations Conference in New York. Also, Mohammed Al-Salafi contributed to the student initiative FS Economy & Politics.
Mr. Al-Salafi – congratulations for receiving this year´s DAAD prize. What does the award mean to you?
It is such a distinct honor to be this year´s DAAD prize winner. This can only mean that my journey of strive during the past 3-4 years is paying off. Thank you!
What did you bring to Frankfurt?
I have so far lived in UAE, Qatar, Ethiopia, North Cyprus and recently Germany. That, combined with my time in Yemen – coming from a small and poor village, added to experiencing the awakening of a nation during the Arab Spring and the recent advent of war – have instilled in me profound resilience. That said, I came to Frankfurt not only carrying the hope to return home, but also bringing stories and knowledge to this city. Stories of a unique cultural experience and knowledge of Yemen; a perspective encompassing competency, humility, integrity, and simplicity.
Why did you choose Frankfurt School for studying?
Frankfurt School is an outstanding university. I knew first about it when I did my German classes at the Volkshochschule which was annexed to the old campus and then much through friends who have studied there already. Ever since – and given that I have done my bachelors in Finance & Banking – I knew I wanted to attend the school. However, I also knew that I would not be able to afford its expenses and so I applied for a scholarship and got it. So, you can think of it as a match: we both chose each other!
Today we are living in a globalized world. You can also recognize this at Frankfurt School. How did you experience studying in such an international environment?
I think the Master of International Business (MIB) program itself represented the very embodiment of an international environment. The class of thirty exerted eighteen different nationalities with Germans who already had different international experiences. The diversity in identities, characters, cultures, and ideas was at the core of our class discussions. I must admit, that at times, there were fierce discussions. Some of them sensitive; and most fun. However, this led to a cultural enlightenment, producing a culture of acceptance.
What are the most important things you learned at Frankfurt School when you think about your further career?
Personally, and as addressed above, I learned very much about other people’s cultures, and naturally their ideas. As far as I tried to maintain my originality, I always liked observing others and their ideas. I think that has widened my scope of thinking in too many ways and parallelly rendered me humble. This led me to be very personable and more comfortable when it comes to dealing with clients and engaging in today’s integrated international business environment. On a professional level, I am very proud on the leap I made in my life. Generally, I am now very advanced in my communication skills and ideas articulation when it comes to presentation skills, writing papers or strategy analysis. But I have also gained a vast quality of knowledge as delivered by renowned professors. I know quite a deal about infrastructure development, its policy implications and financing structures, which is why I wrote my thesis in that field; I am also very informed about African markets and its emerging business development from my African business relation study concentration. In fact, I am currently working for a consulting company with the sole focus on developing an Africa strategy for firms globally. I think this is a significant example of how I effectively utilized the knowledge I gained into practice. Overall, it has made me well-rounded!
In general – how would you describe the differences between living in Germany and your home country?
Germany is just so different than Yemen. By contrast, probably even more frankly: Yemen is just so different than all countries. Describing the differences can be apparently observed from news headlines. Unfortunately, Yemen is in an open warfare for three years now culminating into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. However, Yemen remains far more a simpler place. There, the differences can be realized on social, economic and politic settings. Where it is socially more cohesive, economically underdeveloped and politically troubling. That said, and given the daily uncertainty of life events, I believe Yemen and its people have mastered resilience. Unlike Germany, where planning is a merit.
What do you like most about living in Germany and Frankfurt?
Germany enjoys a very advanced welfare society. It is a feature that is worth appreciating. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, Germany is very plan-driven, which creates an environment of certainty. I also think German people are very friendly. I always like to use the analogy of a coconut: It is only sweet once you break it.
Frankfurt, on the other hand, has quickly grown in me to be my second home. I like that it is a small metropolis. You can have everything, and everything is so close to you. Sometimes I randomly run into people I know on the streets. Sometimes I do not struggle not to speak that much German given its burgeoning international scene.
Can you describe the reasons why you could imagine staying in Frankfurt long-term?
For the past five years of my life, all my plans did not work. I, therefore, decided to spontaneously go on with my life, yet determined. Consequently, I really cannot tell where my next destination will be. However, Frankfurt is rapidly growing. Jobs, industries, population, and opportunities. Additionally, I have now made good friends in Frankfurt, and my family lives here, too. This slightly increases my chances of me staying here. But you never know…
What was the best personal experience you made at Frankfurt School?
Hmm…I have made many great experiences: Being a part of the FS MUN delegation to New York was very special. Going to the Royals Cup in Maastricht with FS Football and winning the title was a crazy experience. Even more thrilling, was our regional concentration excursion with my classmates to Kenya – that was really fun, enlightening and memorable. Probably the best was seeing too many attendees at my talk about Yemen for FS Politics and Economics. I enjoyed that very much!