Bombs were falling.

It was the middle of math class. We didn’t really think much of it. We rarely went to school anyways, maybe just three days a week, to avoid the shelling. We heard bombs fall all the time, and the cacophony had just become a part of our daily routine. Things were normal, or at least as normal as they could be in the midst of a civil war.

Suddenly, everything began shaking—the glass windows shattered, desks and tables toppled over, tiles fell from the ceiling. My school had been hit.

Just as we had practiced so many times before, my classmates covered our heads and ran into the basement. It was like clockwork. There, we waited for what felt like 30 minutes. I was sick with worry, and my stomach began to hurt. We’d never been hit before.

Finally, things quieted down, and my fellow students began to walk out on the streets where they thought it was safe.

But it was a trap, and another set of bombs hit. We panicked. People were running and tripping and falling…many were bleeding. I watched helplessly as my classmates got killed.

Later that day, my brother and I decided to use an alternate, safer route on our way back home. We were less familiar with those streets, and began to argue about which way to go when we arrived at a fork in the path. My brother urged me to go one way, while I insisted on the other. Eventually, he got frustrated and forced me onto the path he preferred. After much resistance, I quieted down once I realized that bombs had hit the path I had originally wanted us to use. Narrowly escaping death was an everyday activity in Syria.

Illustration: Sheri Kim

My family decided that our life in Syria had become unbearable. My siblings and I couldn’t go to school, my parents could not find work, medical care was inaccessible, and everything had become so expensive. We had to leave. Luckily, we had a car that could take us to Lebanon, which closely neighbours my city of Homs. We even had some close friends there to live with. Many other families were not so fortunate.  

My education in Lebanon was not much better. I was the only Syrian student at the school, and everyday I would be bullied by people telling me to leave. They said they did not want me to live off their money. They didn’t understand that I wasn’t living off their money—my family was surviving on our own. However, I couldn’t transfer to one of the Syrian-only schools, because there were only middle schools available, and I was in high school at the time. I also struggled a lot because the students in Lebanon learned everything in French, with which I was unfamiliar. I cried often at that school, and was terribly unhappy. Within a month, I had left. Instead of school, I spent my days apprenticing at a hair salon where I learned some styling techniques.  

My parents registered my family under the United Nations program, and after a year in Lebanon, we were relocated to Canada. Leaving Syria for Lebanon was a big step for me, but getting onto a plane and travelling across the sea was even bigger. Without a doubt, I was glad to leave home. I was grateful that my family was going to be safe. At the same time, I would have to adjust to a completely new life and culture in a different country. I didn’t know what to expect.

I was happy to find that everyone in Canada is so welcoming. I have been here for sixteen months, and all the classmates and neighbours I have met along the way have been so supportive. I still struggle with the English language, but am progressing well. I enjoy going to school again, and am really interested in my Grade 9 science class. Above all else, I value the freedom I have in this country. The freedom to learn, play, relax, and experience adolescence.

Living in Canada has taught me to be more serious in my studies, read more books, and be patient and determined. I have learned to be more adaptable to adverse situations. I understand the importance of listening to others, regardless of their age, and not judging people by their looks. I now realize that everyone is struggling with something, and that I should help people as much as I can.

Because of this, I volunteer with the organization Dubarah, which helps welcome Syrian newcomers to the country. I assist new immigrants with learning the English language, and sometimes help teachers by translating from Arabic. I also help Syrian students adjust to Canada’s education system, and show them study tips and how they can apply to university.  

Prior to the war in Syria, I was a normal, Grade 9 student. My family and I liked travelling, and I visited my cousin often. I enjoyed going out with my friends, dancing, and exploring the city. The past four years have been life-changing, to say the least.

Although my family immigrated to Canada, the majority of my relatives are either still in Syria, or have moved to small, neighbouring countries. Despite this, I have never felt alone. The staff and students I have met at Garneau make me feel welcomed and supported. While I still keep in touch with my other relatives, I know that I now have a new family that I can rely on and confide in. MGCI, my new neighbours, my friends, they have become my family.

The story above was written by an immigrant who attends Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute. The submission was part of The Reckoner’s Coming to Canada Column: a column featuring the diverse and unique backgrounds of immigrants at MGCI. If you are interested in sharing your immigration experiences with The Reckoner, please contact the paper at [email protected]. Guest submissions are encouraged, and will be made anonymous on request.