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Rawa, Syria

Rawa arrived in Sweden two years ago. Back in Syria, she was working as an English teacher, with her husband and two daughters in Aleppo, and was expecting a third child when the war started.

Her house was right next to the Syrian air force intelligence agency, which quickly became a target for the free army who were fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad. To escape the bullets the family fled to Turkey as soon as her newborn son received his passport.

They thought that the exile would be short-lived, that the war would end quickly, and that they would be back home within 15 days. But as the country deepened into political and military chaos, the exile took a much longer turn. After 2 years of exile in Turkey, they realized that the war would not end soon and so they found their way to Sweden.

Rawas children, now 10, 8 and 4 years old are adapting to Swedish life. She balances a full time job at Kunskapsgymnasiet with an evening job at Folkuniversitetet, which gives her interesting insights into the differences in life experiences between Syrian and Swedish teenagers.

When did you arrive in Sweden?

Two years ago. My husband came first. When we boarded the plane in Turkey to Sweden, his paper were deemed legal, but mine and my kids were not. So I had to wait behind in Turkey for 7 months. Finally, I was able to get a Swedish residence permit and come to Sweden too.

What was the hardest to adjust to in Sweden?

I found a job quickly when I arrived in Sweden. After just 2 months at SFI, I found a job in a funeral agency, who needed an English / Arabic speaker. I helped design the grave stones for Muslim clients. I stayed there 6 months. But it was a depressing job. It was hard to deal with death again, after the trauma of the war.

So I went back to study Swedish and got into Korta Vägen, the program that helps people find internships, improve their professional Swedish language skills, and look for jobs.

I got a job teaching English to teenagers. But I was a bit afraid of taking up the job at first. I was worried about how Swedish teenagers would judge me, how they would interact with a teacher that wears a headscarf. Swedish teenagers are so different from Syrian teenagers. I feared not being able to control the class.

But I was encouraged by the principal of the high school to take the risk. And the classes went well in the end, the Swedish teenagers were not as frightening as I had feared.

What do you like the best about Sweden?

Being a Student in Sweden is awesome. It is very different to be a teacher here compared to in Syria. I was impressed by the high level of English here. It is almost as if people speak it as their first language. It makes it more challenging to teach. In Syria, English is easier to teach, because students do not already know so much. In Sweden, most of the teachers teaching English are native speakers. It makes it a much more competitive situation.

I’m also impressed by the independence of teenagers here. They are already well informed, or they know where to find the information online, and they can get answers to almost all of their questions through the internet. They know a lot, and they want to know more. They read a lot, discuss a lot. This places high requirements on the teachers. They dare more. They make up their own mind.

Swedish teenagers are for me already young adults, whereas Syrian teenagers are still kids at the same age. In Syria, independence is not part of what teenagers are expected to demonstrate. Teenagers are under a lot of pressure to conform to their parents’ wishes. The family and community weigh in a lot in the decision-making process.

I like that my kids will benefit from this spirit of independence. But I think that we need to take advantage of the two systems. Teenagers need to be independent, but it should be balanced with the parents’ active involvement in the decisions made by their children.

Here, I often feel that teenagers are left too much to their own devices to make difficult decisions in their life (when it comes to sexuality for example). This limitless freedom has a price, because it sometimes leads teenagers to make bad decisions and errors they may regret. Parents and adults should be giving more guidance in those turbulent years.

What Swedish word is your favourite?

Every house in Syria used to have a jasmine plant.

Every house in Syria used to have a jasmine plant.

“Nackdelar och Fördelar” / Pros and Cons. It explains exactly what goes on in myself since I have arrived in Sweden. Here I do pros and cons analyses in my head all the time, whenever I have to make a decision, as small as it may be. For example, when facing a new situation, if I don’t know what is considered well behaved in that situation, I weigh the pros and cons of acting one way or another.

What do you find strange about Swedes?

I was not so surprised with the queuing habits here, since I was accustomed to it from my time in England. But I cant get used to eating lunch at 11:00am !

What do you miss the most from Syria?

I had a good life I Syria, and I miss that life. I miss Syria, especially when my kids say that they want to go back, when they are missing their friends. They worry about not going back. The first year was especially difficult for them.