Man's incredible journey from teenage refugee to Sheffield university lecturer

Shqiperim Reka at his PhD gradutation
Shqiperim Reka at his PhD gradutation
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When Shqiperim Reka arrived in Sheffield as a teenage refugee in 1999 he could speak little English.

He had fled war-torn Kosovo with his family, in search of a better life, and his family faced a huge period of transition in a new country where they knew little about the culture.

Shqiperim Reka is a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University

Shqiperim Reka is a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University

Shqiperim has found memories of the help and support they received to help them integrate into Sheffield life.

He was taken to football matches, theatre shows and visit to the Peak District to help him understand the culture.

Despite all the support, school was a difficult time for him due to language barriers and clashes with local children.

After finishing school, Shqiperim's family encouraged him to take up a career in IT, but he quickly realised this wasn't the path he wanted.

Shqiperim Reka moved from Kosovo to Sheffield in 1999.

Shqiperim Reka moved from Kosovo to Sheffield in 1999.

He was encouraged by a tourism lecturer at The Sheffield College to give the subject a go and, after spending two years completing a Foundation Degree at college, he went to Sheffield Hallam University to start a degree in Tourism Management.

This sparked almost 10 years of study into tourism at the university

Shqiperim said: "It was such a milestone for me to get my degree.

"As soon as I started studying tourism I knew I had to use my past and my experiences as part of it.

He was taken on trip to the Peak District to help him integrate

He was taken on trip to the Peak District to help him integrate

"My dissertation looked at the image of Kosovo as a post war destination in 2009.

"Many people still thought the war was ongoing, even though it was 10 years after the war had ended. That left an impact on me and made me want to study more about Kosovo.

"I started to look at the challenges of tourism development for Kosovo for my Master's dissertation and I went back to carry out interviews there.

"I became more and more involved and interested in trying to get Kosovo portrayed in a positive light."

He has studied at Sheffield Hallam University for almost 10 years

He has studied at Sheffield Hallam University for almost 10 years

After passing his Master's with flying colours in 2011, he received the Best Postgraduate Student Award at Sheffield Hallam University by the Association of Tourism in Higher Education. Shqiperim was encouraged to continue his studies and to apply for a PhD scholarship.

He submitted his proposal but then flew to Kosovo the next day to visit his family. While there he received an email to say he had been shortlisted and was offered an interview - the day before he was due to fly back to the UK.

"I didn't think I had a chance to actually get the scholarship," he said.

"I didn't think I was good enough so I decided not to buy another plane ticket so I was home in time.

"I went to meet my cousin, who is himself an academic, and he said you have to go back, you need to be sure you did everything you could.

"I bought a ticket the next day and flew back. I arrived in Sheffield at 4am and my interview was at 10am.

"I'd had so little sleep, I was exhausted but I stayed awake and prepared for my interview on my way back from Gatwick to Sheffield.

"I did my best and thankfully it was good enough."

Shqiperim's PhD thesis focused on tourism governance in post-war transition from socialism to democracy. He went to Kosovo for four months in 2013 to carry out his research.

He said one of the main reasons he decided to do his research in Kosovo were his personal experiences of the war there and seeing what the people and country had gone through.

"In my culture we say a hedgehog always goes back to its hedge," he said.

"So, Kosovo will always be my home that I love, associate myself with and visit regularly and the UK is my home that helped me to develop my life.

"I hope one day I can contribute towards Kosovo's development, maybe my research can inform policy and transform the way people think about the country."

Shqiperim's journey has come full circle and he now works as a lecturer in events management at the university.

He said his new role will allow him to give something back to the society that supported him and his people in their time of need.

"As a 14-year-old arriving here with no English, I went to secondary school for two years, then college before coming to Hallam nearly ten years ago now," he said.

"I have grown up with Hallam so to get a permanent job as a lecturer at the university really feels like the end of the journey."