From Guinea to Ukraine to 42Wolfsburg
The following piece was written by our student Facinet, who relocated to Ukraine from Guinea back in 2019 to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering. Due to the (sadly still ongoing) war in Ukraine however, he had to flee the country and, after a difficult journey, he ended up joining 42 Wolfsburg as a full-time student on a scholarship. This is his story.
Hello, I am Facinet Kouyate, a Guinean student. I moved to Ukraine in December 2019 to continue my studies because the quality of education in my home country, especially in the field of IT, is unfortunately very low and, at the same time, there is too much political instability. This environment was not good for me and I didn’t even have access to a stable internet connection. So I decided to find a progressive tech training abroad but needed to find a place with a relatively cheap cost of living. Therefore, Ukraine seemed ideal for my studies. I applied and got admitted into Petro Vasylenko National Technical University in Kharkov. Luckily, I managed to get my student visa from the Embassy of Ukraine in Senegal, a neighboring country.
Moving to Eastern Europe came with some culture shock for an African student like me, along with spontaneous discoveries of new things, a language barrier and a vastly different climate. I had never experienced temperatures below 15° and suddenly I found myself living under a temperature of -12°. It was chaos — but I had to find a way to adapt and learn the local language. The hardest part was discovering that foreign students are not allowed to work there, but that didn’t worry me too much in the beginning because my studies for the preparatory course were pre-paid and also my mother with her small business could support me for food.
The start of the actual school year however proved to be difficult. My mother’s business was not doing so well and I had to go into debt and work at construction sites to make a living. It was a stressful time as I was constantly afraid of losing my residence permit.
Each time I talked to my mother, my uncle, and my friends, all of them were proud thinking that I was studying. But they were not aware of how much I was struggling. Even though I already had some experience in web development, especially after creating 2 websites for a Malian company via a friend who recommended me, I had to improve my programming skills and try to build a career. I started well but it was always complicated, working all day in the cold, in the snow, as a worker or mason’s helper and then coming back to study.
I didn’t last long. I finally sank, and it was the worst moment of my life especially with the death of my father coming a few months later. In the following months, however, luck began to smile on me: I got an opportunity to use my French language skills to work in the evenings as a part-time and self-employed employee within Autodoc’s customer service, an online auto parts sales company. A new life began for me: I went back to school, I could finally pay for my studies and I resumed my online courses.
One day, a YouTube video introduced me to 42 Paris, so I visited their website, started the application process, passed the tests but I could not do the Piscine remotely there. I had no way of relocating to France, so I gave up. Later, I came across a Facebook ad from 42 Wolfsburg, and signed up for their February 2022 Piscine.
On Friday, February 24th, my roommate woke me up at 04:00. Russia had just attacked. I prepared my backpack only with the absolute necessities, my passport and residence permit. I needed to leave fast but I didn’t have much left — I only counted on my salary at Autodoc in the days to come. So my choice was to find shelter while waiting for possible help. At around 10 a.m. I followed the crowd heading towards the metro station to take refuge there. At the same time, I saw Jan Behrenbeck’s post regarding the Russian invasion, and I let him know of my situation. Although I was concerned about my life, I was also really worried about my fate in the Piscine because I knew that my chances of being selected were becoming very slim. Jan was, of course, very concerned about my safety, asking to be kept updated. I’m really grateful for that.
At 6 p.m. I received the announcement on our Autodoc slack server for an evacuation to the Eastern cities (Uzgorad, lviv…). My friends, Camara (Mauritanian) and Siavis (Ivorian)-both also work colleagues- came with me to the pick-up point. Our departure was at 8 p.m. by bus and the crossing was long — very, very long. The driver did not know the roads; he used google maps but with a less than satisfactory connection leading us to go around in circles. We spent about 3 days on the road before arriving at a city close to Lviv. During this time, the bus broke down and we decided to abandon it to find a new vehicle. We ended up separating from Siavis who obtained a vehicle before us.
At this point, there was only Camara and I left; we spent hours looking for vehicles before finally finding one. We arrived in Lviv and immediately rushed to the border with Poland. The border was exploding with people of all nationalities hoping to flee. To pass, individuals required a verification of documents by the military, but priority was given to women and children — which made sense. We suffered through certain struggles that I will not go into detail out of respect for Ukraine, to me many Ukrainian friends, and to these brave patriotic soldiers. I understood their feelings. I spent one day at the border in the cold and the next day during the night I couldn’t take it anymore. My legs couldn’t hold on so I suggested to my friend to return to Lviv and try to reach another border.
We traveled back to Lviv. We rested, we ate, and I regained my energy, ready to try our luck again. However, we soon realized that we didn’t have access to the free train, or the free bus. We didn’t have any money as Camara (who supported us) had nothing left. He decided to call his cousin from France to help us, who provided us with 500 euros. After receiving the money, we hailed a taxi which offered to take us to the border of Hungary for 600 euros, which we negotiated down to 500. Before continuing, I thank Camara’s cousin again, my friend Alseny and the Ukrainian driver who saved us; he first took us to his home, introduced us to his family, offered us food and provided us with lots of supplies for the trip.
We finally arrived at the border of Hungary, it was less populated and the soldiers were very calm and attentive there who, after only 2–3 hours, allowed us to pass. On 1st March, I was already on Hungarian soil. I got a notification to tell me that Autodoc had sent me my salary. The Hungarian border guards took us to Budapest but, at this point, I was overly exhausted. I got off the train and found a hotel where I spent the night. The next day, March 2nd, I called my mother, family, and friends, as well as making a Facebook post to reassure those of my safety. I was luckily in touch with a peer from my Piscine (Ali Sahin) from Hamburg, who kindly opened his door to me.
So, I headed for Hamburg and arrived that same day. After a few days of rest, I contacted Jan again, letting him know that I am fine and am already in Hamburg. He decided to give me a second chance to do the March Piscine on-site.
It was the start of a new life. Firstly, I got in touch with the wonderful Yana, an extremely good, kind and, above all caring person who then put me in touch with Yoshi Kiel, another incredible person who supported me and took care of me. As for Yana, she is the one who gave me everything and did everything for me (accommodation, Visa, etc….)
After fleeing a war, usually time is needed to recover psychologically. However, 42 prevented the need for this by building a sub community called “Safe Harbour”, which provided me with financial and psychological support that allowed me to focus on my Piscine. To be honest, I didn’t expect to struggle too much during the Piscine, as I had some prior coding experience. I was very confident and I just wanted to pass it quickly. But, after a few days of the Piscine, it was definitely the opposite of what I had predicted. I learned a lot, discovered new things, abandoned many bad habits, attained new ways of approaching problems and, of course, decreased my levels of procrastination. The last 10 days of the Piscine were especially tough.
It was March at the time and, being neither Ukrainian nor European, I was asked to leave and go back to my country before May 23rd. For me, the thought of this was wrecking my dreams; I didn’t have any money and I hadn’t achieved what I hoped. I didn’t want to go back. I could barely focus anymore.
I saw the efforts of the 42 Wolfsburg community to help me stay and continue my studies once selected after Piscine. At night I was not sleeping — I was lost in thoughts and cries. I was trying to find a way to avoid going back to my country by looking for refuge in another country, but I didn’t want to leave 42.
After the Piscine, I got selected to start the curriculum! I got a 42 core scholarship, and I started the curriculum on April 25th. Time had passed but I was still suffering internally; I spent a lot of time talking to my mother about my family’s situation, but mine seemed even worse than theirs. I knew that I was their only hope and I felt the need to reassure her that I was ok. After 2 months, the deadline got extended and I managed to get a VISA with the help of the 42 Relocation Office, where Yana and Alina took care of the legal process.
Today, I can say ‘Alhamdulillah!’ I’m continuing my studies, I’ve passed projects, learned a lot of programming concepts, as well as growing in my lifestyle and personal development. I have also learned how to learn efficiently and quickly.
A very big thanks to the 42 Wolfsburg community, all staff, the awesome duo (Bethan-Guillaume the school’s Xavi-Iniesta), Elena, Max the CEO who’s like Busquet in football: when you watch Barça playing, you don’t see what he’s doing but once absent you miss him and realize that he’s who ‘s doing everything. Big thanks to my friends, Alseny, Souleymane, Sory, Alim, Kaou, my peers, Chemieze, Ruslan, Ayoub, Abir, Ben, Maurice, Piotr, Evangelos; always here with me and for me. I feel very welcome here but still need time to be more open to others, due to my shy nature and the language barrier.
Without going into too much detail, what I learn here through the 42 peer-to-peer learning model is more than I ever have before. For example I was previously taking actions that of course worked, but I had no idea as to what was going on behind the scenes or the reasons. Even though I believe there is a flipside to everything, I could not see any flipside to 42 Wolfsburg.
42 Wofsburg is more than just a coding school, everyone here is nice and helps each other, which makes the campus full of good human beings. Everything needed to learn, to progress and sometimes have fun is found within the school. I’m very sure without any doubt that I’ll be a great software engineer and have a strong flexibility to switch between technologies.
I’m going to end by saying once again THANKS so much to the 42 Wolfsburg community. I’m extremely happy and thankful for being given the chance to remake my life. I was looking for one chance, only one, but 42 Wolfsburg gave me many more.
42 Wolfsburg is the best thing that has happened to me since I left my family.