Mikaela Matar

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Peaceful Coexistence in the Diaspora,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Production Team:
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Mikaela is a 48 year-old journalist. She had trouble finding a job and realised she needed a niche. She considered Russian but there were many journalists studying Russian. Her father-in-law is Syrian and she liked the language. She grew up with him saying that she must go and see Syria. She decided to study Arabic and took classes in Sweden but realised that she would have to go and live in the Middle East to study Arabic. She finally decided to go to Syria. She applied and it was very easy to get accepted. All the Arabic language students stayed behind and she went by herself in 1998. She had gone travelling with her family from 1993 to 1994 at the age of 20. At 27, she went to study Arabic on her own. She arrived in Damascus, lonely and lost. Every step she took in her 9-month stay taught her something and it was very exciting.

Mikaela was a television and documentary journalist. She was in the local news department and did not yet use Arabic but wanted a job that would allow her to. Finally, she started reporting for Swedish TV, specifically about Palestine, and remembers that it started with Sharon in a coma.

She often returned to Syria for visits to her mother and friends. She gave them guided tours and visited perhaps seven times until 2010.

Most recently, she worked on a documentary for Swedish national television about Syrian refugees. They wanted to follow three families for three years to explore their Syrian lives. She went to the refugee camps in Sweden where she met 200 people in her search for subjects who were willing to commit to the project for three years. The crew went to their homes, schools, and the immigration office - everywhere they did.

She improved her Arabic by watching tv series like Bab al-Harra, and Abnaa- al-Qahr. Her Arabic became good and now she can easily interview people about their lives. She can function in everyday life and follow the news in Arabic. She can read and she “loves to speak Arabic and become another person.” Mikhaela considers herself somewhat reserved and finds that speaking Arabic brings out another part of her and she “loves it”. For 9 months she rented a room with a Syrian family and did not have one hour to herself. She was able to connect linguistic, cultural and social understanding, putting things together gradually.