Ratiba Hanoush, 28, left Syria for Turkey in 2012 before arriving in Sweden last year. She admits that she still feels like an outsider, but explains why she is happier here than at home.
Why did you move to Sweden?
It wasn’t an easy option to leave Syria from the beginning, however, just like others we had to leave. We considered 17 different countries, and finally decided on Sweden.
We simply wanted to secure a better future for our children Karam and Julia.
What have you done since moving to Sweden?
Since I moved here, I've very hard to understand Sweden and to set down roots. I learnt the language, took culture-oriented courses, and joined different internships, all while taking care of my children.
Now I am working at the institute for language and folkloric dialect in Gothenburg. I am very happy with my job, I feel like I am in the perfect place, it fits me and my experience with literature and language. Now I am conducting a research on Sweden’s first names, and their origins (folkloric archive).
How do you feel living in Sweden?
I actually love living here. Many people talk about alienation and loneliness, but I haven’t experienced any.
Nothing has changed for me; I felt like I was a stranger in Syria and the same feeling followed me here to Sweden. Nonetheless, alienation feels better in Sweden - since people here are from many different backgrounds, I find myself a stranger among scores of 'aliens'.
Still, in the end I’m part of a group (of outsiders), which I wasn't in Syria.
My mum is Russian and my dad’s Circassian, at home we spoke Russian and most of my Syrian friends had foreign mothers. That made me always feel like I’m an outsider within the Syrian community, although I consider myself a Syrian as well.
My Syrian Arab schoolmates used to run away from me after school, or in our neighborhood - people called us "the Russian family". I felt like I was a stranger, with very few similarities between me and others.
Aleppo’s people were so closed, and we the Circassians are a closed community as well. This made it very hard to understand each other, despite the fact that strangers were warmly welcomed and taken care of by Syrians.
What observations have you made about Sweden and its society?
I have no problem with Sweden’s weather, I love winter and am not much a fan of summer.
In our Syrian community many values were written on papers, and not practiced in real life. Here it’s the contrary.
The difference is that here, nothing is concealed, people express everything frankly, fearlessly. We don’t. The Swedes’ honesty is better, even if it hurts - I don’t need to befriend you if I simply don’t like you.
These people are intimate, and are warm-hearted. They have a kind of intimacy I’ve never experienced before, but nonetheless, they’re not always ready to express their sentiments. But once they’re out, the Swedes’ emotions are abundant.
Do you feel settled in Sweden?
Living in Sweden will add a value to my life, it’ll give me a new meaning. My children are going to have Syrian, Russian and Swedish traits, and for me as well as them, that’s richness.
However, I’ll never become a Swede in my lifetime, it’s just not that simple to forsake one’s history of two decades and become a new human in no time at all.