Read about Ghazala and Nidal’s first 6 months of resettlement in the UK.
Families can be waiting for resettlement for many years, so it’s understandable to hear that Ghazala and Nidal could not believe it when they were told they were going to be resettled to the UK! They shared with us their time and experience of living in the UK, speaking on what their first 6 months have been like. From planting trees to giving and receiving Christmas cards to figuring out how they can use their qualifications here, Ghazala and Nidal share with us their experience so far.
How did you feel about coming to the UK?
Ghazala: I was really happy to come to the UK, a country that opened its arms to me and my family. We came here for the future of our daughters, and so to know that our girls will have opportunities here, that is something that’s made us very happy. On the day of the flight, we were full of mixed feelings. We were happy to be finally travelling to the UK, but sad that we were leaving friends behind in Lebanon. And we felt anxious because we didn’t know what we were really walking into. I think all of us, the adults and the children, all felt this way.
When we were first told that we had been accepted for resettlement, we couldn’t believe it – we thought they were pulling a prank on us! I said to them “just tell the truth – who are you and why are you calling?”. But then they said “no, really, we’re telling you the truth!”. Even when UNHCR asked me to meet with them, in the meeting I still kept thinking ‘is this really happening?’. It didn’t feel like it was real, so I kept feeling suspicious of what they were saying – but only because I couldn’t believe this was finally happening! The second call we received, that’s when they told us we that we were going to be resettled to the UK, and that’s when I felt absolutely overjoyed because I knew my daughters would be able to have really good lives in the UK, especially because they would have a good education. We knew that many people wanted to come to the UK specifically for education, so I was thrilled to know that my daughters were going to get this.
At the time they called me, Nidal was at work, so I called him to tell him that we had just been accepted for resettlement to the UK. He was so happy to hear this! When I had told others about it, they were very happy for us too.
Nidal: When Ghazala called me to tell me the news, I couldn’t believe it at first – I thought she was joking with me! But when we were discussing it, it dawned on me that this is real. Only then could I finally let myself feel happy about it.
What was life like in Lebanon?
Ghazala: Lebanon is a country that took us in, and we lived there for seven or eight years, and so we appreciated what the country was doing for us. While living there we integrated into the society and made friendships there. But our quality of life wasn’t good, as it’s not an easy place to rebuild your life. We especially had a lot of worries about our children’s education, as they weren’t being able to access all the resources to help them in their schooling, so we didn’t feel their education was good. This is why I said we were so happy when we were told we’d be coming to the UK, as we just kept thinking about the opportunities for our girls.
In Lebanon finding work was difficult. I looked for work but I couldn’t find anything that was suitable for me. I graduated from Aleppo University in Syria, and my qualification was in food and agriculture, specialising in food science – things like going to manufacturers to understand how the food is being made, the ingredients involved and the quality of the food. But I lacked the work experience in this to help me find suitable work with a good salary in Lebanon. And so instead I volunteered with a church, helping to distribute food to refugees.
Nidal: I had already been and worked in Lebanon, even before the Syrian conflict first started, and so I was already familiar with the country and the work market there. This made it easier for me to find work, having already had experience of the Lebanese job market.
What was life like as a woman in Syria and Lebanon, and has it been any different to life as a woman in the UK?
Ghazala: For me personally, just talking about my own experience, I don’t feel there has been a difference in how I felt as a woman in Syria and Lebanon, compared to in the UK. I’ve always been myself, and I never felt there was a difference in the way I have been treated in any of the countries I’ve lived in.
When coming to a new country and a new culture, the most challenging thing was learning a new language. For me, learning a new language was ok, it felt like something I could do.
Nidal: Whereas for me, I found learning the language harder. The language barrier has definitely been the most difficult thing.
What has this experience been like for your children, leaving Lebanon and coming to the UK?
Ghazala: Our daughters had made friendships in Lebanon, and so they were upset to leave their friends and go into the unknown. They didn’t know what they were going to face in the UK. But when we arrived here, the girls saw the Community Sponsorship group, they saw our new home and saw that each of them has their own bedroom – this made them feel a lot better and excited to be here. In Lebanon, we all lived in one room, so the girls had never had their own room before. They soon saw that the quality of life in the UK was much better than what we had before. Here they were given toys to play with, and these things helped to open them up to the idea of living here, and soon they began to feel happier.
I was so worried about them on the first day of school. When we dropped them off for school, I felt anxious about how they were going to communicate, about them not knowing anybody and not having friends, about everything being so new and foreign to them. When we went to pick up the girls from school, my heart was beating so fast and loud, as I just didn’t know what state they were going to be in. But when they saw me outside the school gates, they ran to me and told me how happy they were! How the school had introduced them to other people and how welcoming everyone was. And now they’re very happy in school, but also just happy being in the UK.
And overall, the girls are doing really well in school and continuing to progress. They’ve learnt things so quickly! Sometimes the girls, when they’re out with their dad, they’ll interpret for him. And if I find certain English words hard, then they’ll help me as well.
What would you like to be doing in the future?
Ghazala: My first priority is to learn the language. I think once you master the language, this then opens many more doors for you, and it’ll make it easier to achieve what you want. And because I studied food and agriculture for many years, I would like to see if there are any related work opportunities for me in this sector, a job where my qualification can be put to good use.
I’ve also been volunteering with a group of people, where we look after gardens, planting and doing landscaping work, like cutting trees in different shapes. I volunteer because I want to give back to the country that took me and my family in, so now that I’m here I want to help take care of the environment here. I really enjoy doing the volunteering as well, it makes me feel happy to give back in this way. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, even when I volunteered in Lebanon. When I’m planting trees, it’s nice to think that other people will one day be able to enjoy these trees and this environment. Also, it’s a way for me to mix with other people, learn new skills, build friendships and also practice my language skills.
Nidal: I’m focused on learning the language, so that I can communicate more easily with people. I’ve worked previously as a tailor, and so I would like to be able to do that again. If it’s possible one day, then I’d like to open my own tailoring shop.
Ghazala: If anything gets torn then he will fix it. I like to joke that I married him because of his tailoring skills!
How was your first winter in the UK?
Ghazala: I had actually expected the weather to be much worse here. In Lebanon in the winter, it can be very cold and rainy, and some days the rain doesn’t stop. So, winter in the UK was better than I thought it would be. In Lebanon, Christmas is also celebrated but what I noticed here is that the celebration of Christmas is much bigger. We went to London to see the Christmas lights and decoration. Also, we really liked the nice gesture of the Christmas cards. When the girls came home from school, they had shown us the Christmas cards they received from friends. And when we went to the college, our teachers gave us Christmas cards. It was lovely and not something we had experienced before. At the girls’ school, there was the Christmas celebration and a school play which we went to see. The girls were involved in singing songs in school, which they really enjoyed.
How have the past 6 months been, being welcomed and supported by a Community Sponsorship group?
Ghazala: When we were in Lebanon, we had a session where we were introduced to life in the UK and learnt about what to expect. And we also saw a video, in which the Community Sponsorship group were introducing themselves, each saying who they were. This helped us feel like we knew the group a little even before meeting them. So, when we arrived to the UK and met the group at the airport, we were calling each of them by their names and feeling like we already knew them a little.
The group have helped us to integrate into the community here and have helped us navigate so many aspects of life. Things like making GP appointments, shopping at the supermarket, helping us to enroll at the college and getting the girls into school, and so many other things to do with living here. They have been with us every step of the way.
When we first arrived and saw how the house had been made ready for us, we almost forgot that we were new to this country because we could already see our new lives in the home they had made for us. This is something we thank every single member of the group for.
What advice would you give to other families being resettled to the UK?
Ghazala: I would tell any new families not to overthink things, to live every moment. If you feel yourselves getting anxious about anything, then try to approach things calmly. Know that there are lots of good new things waiting for you, including opportunities and education for your children.