Nadia El-Haj

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Peaceful Coexistence in the Diaspora,
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Interview Location: Stockholm, Sweden
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Nadia El-Haj, 55 years old, is originally from Damascus but has lived in Stockholm since 1991. Currently, she does not work but she used to be a journalist. She studied journalism in Syria and completed her training in the small town where she lives in the centre of northern Sweden. She arrived there with two small children and worked in publicity for a time.

She learnt Swedish, gained knowledge and understanding of Swedish society, and made friends by meeting people at the children’s school and working. She finds living in a small town easier for integration and language learning. In large cities, people are busy and neighbours do not necessarily know each other. She has noticed that newly arrived immigrants who live in small towns learn faster that those who live in large cities.

When Nadia arrived in Sweden, there was not a lot of aid from the state to orient new immigrants. Sometimes she did not understand very basic things like how to dress her children appropriately for the weather in the morning. In Syria, temperatures and seasons are clear and consistent. She asked another parent from the school how she knew what the weather would be like. The parent was surprised but Nadia learned that she needed to get a thermometer and check it daily as sun and snow do not indicate temperature.

The agreement she originally made with her husband was that she would stay in Sweden for only 5 years and then return to Syria. Her husband is Iraqi and in Syria she could not pass the nationality to her children. They both wanted to get Swedish nationality for their children. Although this was the aim, she also wanted to integrate into Swedish society and learn the language. She says that to learn the language immigrants must first want to learn, and she notes that many foreigners reject Swedish society.

When she meets Syrians in Sweden she finds that she does not necessarily have much in common with them as language is not enough. However, she has made a number of friendships with incoming refugees - wonderful people with whom she has much in common.

When her children were growing up, she would take them to Syria yearly to keep them in touch with their country and language. She herself felt that her Arabic became weaker for a long period of time. She also felt she had lost touch when she visited Syria. Like everyone who moves away, she expected Syria to stay the same as it was when she left it, and she felt changes were hard to accept (even within her family’s house). She felt her Arabic improved again when she got a Syrian boyfriend (she is no longer married), and when she began organising bilingual cultural events in Stockholm.

She feels that living in Sweden has changed her. She describes her nature as outgoing and very dynamic but says that since living in Sweden she has become quieter. This does not please her and she hopes she will regain her former dynamism. The older she gets, the more she misses Syria.