Nidal Sulieman shares her story about the friends she made and the support she received on moving to Helsingborg.
It can be very hard to start a new life in a new country with a completely different culture, but sometimes it does not have to be that difficult. All I needed to do was just take one step and all doors opened and there were many people help and give support.
I came to Sweden in January 2015 and was granted permanent residency a year and a half later but the period in between was really hard because of not knowing what would happen after. So instead of letting time consume us, my daughter and I decided to do something about our lives.
We started asking around how we could start learning Swedish and we got many suggestions. First, we knew that the Red Cross in Helsingborg was offering to teach the language during a traditional meeting called Fika, which is very common in Swedish
society - having coffee and chatting while practising Swedish. So, we went there and met many wonderful volunteers of all ages. There I met a very nice lady - Gunnel Hultgren, who got interested in my daughter’s ambition to get back to university. Later, she invited us to have coffee in her house and meet her friend. And she was our first connection to Swedish society. We met her several times after when the Red Cross arranged visits to different places such as Kärnan, Dunkers etc.
Then we were told that the Senior Library in Helsingborg was opening similar meetings i.e Fika so we joined in and there were many volunteers to help, most of whom were retired seniors who wanted to contribute more. During that time, we were struggling to find a place to live in and once again a wonderful kind-hearted woman, Sofia Hallström, was interested in my daughter’s desire to learn and engage in society. So, the next day she offered to bring her own daughter along who could help my daughter in learning how to get involved in society. She also invited us to her house for coffee but that was only the beginning.
She introduced us to her family, and they were amazing and supported us a lot. During this time, we got our permanent residency so she gave us a cultural card as a welcome gift which allowed us to visit all the historical places in Helsingborg for free for a year on which she also wrote - “Welcome to Sweden”.
She even went beyond just giving psychological support. Knowing we were looking for a house, she posted on her Facebook page that her family friend was in need of a flat to which she received a response from what would be our third Swedish connection in Helsingborg. This family wondered how good we were to which Sofia responded - “They are good enough to entrust them your place”. The family then agreed to rent us out a little apartment that was in their own basement. Sofia drove me there and we met the owner who was very kind and even let us move two weeks earlier than when we could pay for. The family had great hospitality and they welcomed us to use whatever we needed in their house.
While I was finding my way around this new culture, the rest of my family was waiting in Greece and suddenly one day my second daughter arrived here and that was an indescribable day ☺- We became three. So, we almost lived together with the Swedish family and they were extremely kind and positive and tried to help and make us feel like home again.
After a couple of months, the landlady got a new job as a Vice-principal at a school in Klippan and offered me my first job in Sweden. Because I already have a bachelor’s degree in English from Damascus University, she offered me a three-month contract as an English teacher in an introduction program and later they decided to extend the contract to a year. The job introduced me to the Swedish school system and got my first reference and so I worked during the day and went to school in the evening unlike my daughter who could start elementary school for learning the language directly without the need to go to the primary and thanks to the Fika meetings which helped her save time.
A happy ending to my journey in Sweden came true seven months later after the arrival of my husband and my son who were granted the permission to join us so we were almost all together except my eldest daughter who has chosen to stay in Lebanon.
Sometime later, my daughter bumped into Gunnel again who asked her how things were with us. She knew we were living in a small flat and wanted to come and see it. She paid us a visit and said that the place was now too small for five people and thus, she decided to help us find a bigger one.
First, she tried to contact all the housing companies in Helsingborg but as all know that wasn’t as easy as one would think. After many difficulties, she insisted on trying a different way and that was by taking a loan from the bank and buy an apartment and rent it out to us. Unfortunately, in order to do that, it was conditioned that we should own at least ten per cent of the apartment to be able to live in and guess what? She did it ☺ Can you believe it? … Yes - She took a loan of SEK 600,000; paid 200,000 SEK from her own pocket and then put me down as a partner with ten per cent so that I could pay the amount within 3 years and the tax of the loan.
In addition, the family we were living with helped us move our things to the new apartment. They even borrowed a trailer from a friend for the move.
Gunnel said that her friends told her that she shouldn’t trust a stranger to that extent, but she believed in us and we decided not to let her down. So, we all tried together, worked hard and paid her back the money within a year including another considerable amount to make it easier for her and us.
Yes, my friends, although we are refugees and have arrived only four years and a half in Sweden, we live in our own apartment. I am now studying at Malmö University to validate my certificate, my daughter studies Computer engineering at campus Helsingborg, my second daughter is working with the environment department in Helsingborg Municipality, my husband works in a restaurant and my son in a café.
It cost us just one step and every step led to another and we are now on the right track. Thanks to all the people mentioned in this story who were beside us in the most difficult times and made it easy for us, played a major role in making dreams come true and are still doing a lot for others. ☺
Finally, I would love to say be positive, engage in every available opportunity and go out chasing your dreams rather than staying indoors weeping misfortune because there isn’t any bad luck, and the sun rises over the mountains.