Read our interview with Nour, as he shares his experience of coming to the UK at the age of 16 and learning to navigate the UK school system.
We sat down to speak with Nour, a student who was resettled to the UK with his family. In our interview with him, Nour speaks on his experience of coming to the UK shortly before the first Covid-19 lockdown, the differences in schooling in the UK compared to the Middle East, and his future aspirations. Read our interview with him below to learn more about his first two years here!
You were 16 when you first arrived to the UK over two years ago. How did you feel when you first found out you were going to be resettled here?
I was sleeping when my parents got the phone call from the UN’s refugee agency to say that our family had been identified for resettlement. It was 9am and I had a maths exam that day. My dad came into my room to wake me up. He said, ‘Come on – get up! We’re going to the UK!’
I thought he was joking. I thought he was just saying that to get me up so that I wouldn’t be late for my maths exam, but it turned out to be true! As soon as I realised he was telling the truth, I said to him, ‘How soon can we go?’. I was super excited. My cousins had been resettled in America and I wanted to complete my studies too, so I was very happy!
I didn’t have any big fears or worries about coming to the UK, but it was a weird feeling to leave behind my friends from Syria and Jordan and move to a new country so far away. Leaving people behind was the hardest thing. I had some mixed emotions because of that.
When we first left Syria, I was still young – too young to get attached to things, really. But when I left Jordan, I was leaving my family and friends, so that was hard. Thankfully, I am still in touch with my friends from Syria and Jordan, and I’ve managed to stay in touch with my teacher too!
Coming to the UK, I was most excited about learning the language and continuing my studies. I was also really hopeful that one day in the future I’d be able to see my cousins who live in America. I don’t mind if they come to the UK, or if I go to USA. I just want to see them!
How much did you know about the UK before you moved here?
I didn’t have much specific knowledge of the country. I also didn’t really speak much English. When I was in Jordan, the teacher taught us some very basic English – the numbers, days of the week – that sort of thing. But that was all I knew, so when I came here, I considered myself to be learning the language from scratch.
Also, when we were learning English in Jordan, it was mixed between American English and British English, so when I used certain words in the UK, people would say ‘no, that’s American!’
From what I’d heard from other people who had been resettled, I knew that the language barrier would make it hard to settle in at the beginning, but that it would get easier with time. And that was what happened. At first it was difficult, but now I feel part of the community here.
What is school in the UK like compared to school in Jordan?
Schools in the UK and Jordan are completely different. First of all, there’s the language. In Jordan we studied everything in Arabic. Here we study everything in English. Certain subjects are more different across the two countries than others. For example, I really like history. In Jordan, we learnt about the history of Jordan and the Arab countries. But here in the UK, you learn about completely different topics. I decided not to take history here because it was so different from what I had learnt previously. It would have taken a really long time to learn all the new content. But when it comes to science and maths, it’s much more similar – it’s just the language that is different. So, it’s easier for me to focus on science and maths because it’s more transferrable.
The style of teaching here is very different too. For example, in schools in Arab countries and in Jordan, the students normally stay in one classroom and then different teachers come to you, but here it’s the other way round. Another difference is that when you have an exam, here they give you a week or two to prepare, but in Jordan you would only have a few days. Plus, in Jordan my school was only for boys, but here my school is mixed.
Also, here you have more options when choosing which subjects you want to study. You can pick and choose the individual subjects that will lead you to what you want to study at university. Whereas in most Arab countries, you generally have two pathways: maths and science, or the literature side. The modules are then set in each pathway. I also had more homework when I was in Jordan than here in the UK.
You moved to the UK shortly before the first Covid-19 lockdown. How did the pandemic affect your education?
After I arrived in the UK, I had my first week of school, and then we went into the Covid lockdown. In the first week obviously I didn’t understand much, but the teachers and the students helped me as much as they could. They tried really hard to make sure that I didn’t feel isolated.
Then I had to study at home through the pandemic. The teachers sent me lots of different links and sheets to help me learn English. I always live by the motto ‘never say never’ and this gave me the push that I needed to stay motivated.
My language is better now, but I still need to practice. Through school and college, I’ve made friends with some British people from Arab backgrounds who are fluent in English, but they don’t know much Arabic. We’ve started doing a language exchange – I help them to learn Arabic and they help me to learn English.
You’re in college now. Are you thinking about your next steps?
Yes, I want to go to university. If I were still in Jordan, it’s very unlikely that I would have the chance to go to university. But here it’s possible. I want to study engineering, but my dad would like me to study medicine or pharmacy… I might change my mind. I’m not sure yet!
I don’t mind which university I go to. I will apply to five different universities, and I’ll be happy to go to any that will accept me. But I would preferably like to stay with my family and commute, but there aren’t any universities nearby, so I’m going to have to move away.
Why is Community Sponsorship important?
I can’t fully express how I feel about the Community Sponsorship group that welcomed us, they’ve done so much for us. I feel like this scheme helps to give hope to families like mine and makes life so much easier.
I’m very happy where I am. I’m part of the community. I know everyone now, and they know me. When I see people out and about, I greet them and they greet me.
Thank you very much to Nour!