Ihab Sukkariya left his home in war-torn Syria when he was 17.

After many stops along the way, he arrived on his own in Berlin in 2015, where he now lives with a host family. After completing a student internship, Sukkariya started vocational training in business administration with Coca-Cola Germany in August.

The Coca-Cola cafeteria is empty. The muffled sounds of rattling cups and plates can be heard in the background as the kitchen staff prepares lunch. Sukkariya rubs his hands together and, for an instant, appears nervous. But, once he starts talking, he radiates the self-assurance you find in young men who have been forced to take full responsibility for their lives at an early age.

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What drove him to flee his hometown of Damascus was the approaching date of his 18th birthday.

"If I'd stayed until my 18th birthday, I'd have automatically been enrolled into the army... which would have meant kill or be killed," he said.

Sukkariya no longer saw a path for himself in Syria. "No future, no life, no safety." He set off for Germany on July 27, 2015.

Five-week Escape

Leaving Damascus, Sukkariya first escaped to Lebanon and continued from there to Turkey before reaching Europe by boat after numerous attempts to get from the Turkish mainland to the Greek islands. He fell overboard and was even picked up by the Turkish police. On his 10th try, he finally managed to get to Mytilini with 35 other refugees, then continued on via Athens, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria before reaching Germany. He arrived in Berlin on Sept. 1 2015. He turned 18 a two weeks later.

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Life in Berlin

Through the refugee center where he was staying, Sukkariya met a Coca-Cola employee who was able to arrange a student internship for him, which he completed in April 2016. He has since moved out of the center and is living with a host family in Köpenick.

"I was quite anxious at first,” Sukkariya said. “I mean, I didn't know these people. But now I call my host mother 'Mama.'" He says he can talk to her about his dreams and his plans.

"Now we are family," he adds.

Every morning, Sukkariya talks on the phone to his father, who still lives in Damascus with Ihab's stepmother and two half-siblings. In early May, Sukkariya visited his older brother, who also escaped from Syria and is now in southern Germany.

He is keen to stay in Berlin. "The city feels like home now," Sukkariya says, "probably because it is quite similar to Damascus."

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A New Education

If Sukkariya had stayed in Syria, he would likely have studied engineering. He was only two exams short of completing his high school degree.

"But it would take far too long to get all the necessary documents from Syria and then catch up with everything in Germany,” he explains. “I would be 30 by the time I finished."

So he decided to follow a different path. In August, he began his vocational training in business administration at Coca-Cola Germany. He plans to continue writing poetry and might even work on a book one day. He'd also like to write about his escape from Syria.

The canteen is filling up as the first Coca-Cola staff members take their lunch break. Sukkariya nods to many of his new colleagues and smiles across the room to others.

When we meet, weeks before his vocational training was set to begin, we spoke in English. He wasn’t the least bit worried that his work at Coca-Cola would be entirely in German.

"I can now understand about 50 percent of what's being said, and I'm still taking German courses," he explained.

When I asked if he would be ready, Sukkariya replied confidently.

"I'll surprise you," he said with a broad smile before heading off to lunch with his co-workers.