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Omidullah Azad

Late apprenticeship

«Sometimes we’re proud of ourselves»

Omidullah Azad fled from Afghanistan to Switzerland seven years ago. This summer, he completed his Migros apprenticeship, scoring top marks. Here’s how he managed it – and what he dreams of.

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Edita Dizdar
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There’s a long queue by the checkout at the St. Fiden Migros store in St. Gallen. And as it’s pretty grey outside on this particular Monday afternoon, it would be easy to slip into a bad mood. Were it not for the man at the till. Because Omidullah Azad is smiling. And he keeps smiling as he serves customer after customer until his replacement arrives.

Now Omidullah Azad has time to tell his story. He walks through the storerooms, looking for a quiet spot. Staff are pushing trolleys around and loading crates – it’s really busy. “Omid, my friend,” a colleague greets him. A little joke here, a pat on the back there. The 33-year-old Afghan clearly feels at home here and is part of the team.

It pays to get up early

Seven years ago, his life was very different. In 2016, Omidullah Azad and his wife decide to leave Afghanistan. They have no idea how dangerous the journey will be and what the trek ahead will involve. “Sometimes we’re proud of ourselves,” he says. Proud of having the courage to take a risk in pursuit of a self-determined life. They want to live freely, think freely and make decisions freely – all notions that are irreconcilable with their home country’s politics. So they leave. Via Iran, Turkey and the Balkan route up to Austria. After two and a half months, they arrive in Switzerland. They don’t speak a word of German. But they have each other. And they have hope.

This August, Azad was rewarded for his hard work. He completed his two-year apprenticeship as a retail specialist – as the best in his year at Migros Eastern Switzerland, with an average grade of 5.6. He achieved this by getting up at 5 a.m. every day to study. “You just have to put in the effort,” he says.

He wants to speak in dialect

In his home country, Azad was a team leader at a telecommunications company. When he arrived in Switzerland, he had to start again. He remembers the three and a half years spent in homes for asylum seekers very well: “Every week, a lady came to visit, brought cake and talked to us.” They became friends. The Azads couldn’t bring themselves to address her on first-name terms, as “you don’t do that with your elders in Afghanistan” – so she suggested they call her “mum” instead. Mum also served them their first raclette. Omidullah Azad was sceptical: “The cheese stank and I thought ‘yuck, I can’t eat that’”. Not wanting to be rude, he tried it – and it’s been one of his favourite dishes ever since.

“The biggest hurdle was the language,” says Azad, now speaking in the St. Gallen dialect. He learned standard German by attending a German course. But he wanted to be able to speak Swiss German, as that’s how everyone talks here. So he volunteered at the Eastern European Aid organisation and later worked in a restaurant, where he asked everyone to speak only dialect with him

Switzerland setting an example

When the couple received the all-clear to stay in Switzerland in 2020, they were overjoyed. Azad began his Migros apprenticeship in 2021 – despite his language shortcomings and although he had already turned 30 – and is grateful for this opportunity.

He has hardly taken a break since completing his apprenticeship. Instead, he started a two-year additional apprenticeship at Migros. After this, he wants to complete the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and enrol at university. “I’m a numbers person, and interested in accounting, IT and business,” he says.

There’s also a lot to do at home. He is a father to two children, both of whom were born in Switzerland. On Sundays, they enjoy their time together – in safety. “Switzerland looks after its fellow human beings, the poor and foreigners,” he says, adding that Afghanistan could also do with a fairer system like this, although the people in his home country are more communicative, and discussions are more intense and informal. It’s different in this country: “Sometimes I look out onto the street and wonder where all the children are!”

Heartfelt wishes for the future

Omidullah Azad has already achieved a lot, but he still has other wishes on his list. First and foremost, being a good father. And then there’s the first reunion with his parents and brother, who have fled to India. He’d also like to take a stroll through the old streets of his home town.

Azad is called back to the checkout. Before returning, he says: “Life is short. We should be kind to each other and create a better atmosphere for our children.” And then his broad smile appears again.

An apprenticeship at the Migros Group

Every year, the Migros Group offers around 1,500 apprenticeships in over 60 different professions. An exciting apprenticeship with attractive future prospects awaits you.

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