Ola Zeinalabdin, 19, came to Canada about a year ago as a Syrian refugee. She volunteered this year at the Central Alberta Refugee Effort Immigrant Centre Let it Snow Carnival at Central Middle School on Dec. 3. (Jonathan Guignard/Advocate staff)

Syrian refugees adapting to life in Red Deer

Imagine moving to a country where you don’t speak the same language and the culture is completely different.

Syrian refugee Ola Zeinalabdin, 19, who has called Red Deer home for about a year, said the transition was hard, but said it’s getting easier.

A Grade 12 student at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, Zeinalabdin said learning a new language was her biggest challenge.

“Now I can speak, write and read English. When I came it was tough, but now it’s easy for me to meet new people, especially Canadians, and talk to them,” said Zeinalabdin.

She credits her improvement to the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at her school where she was recently recognized with a Certificate of Excellence in English.

Zeinalabdin is Muslim and doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but that didn’t stop her from spreading Christmas spirit at the recent Central Alberta Refugee Effort Immigrant Centre Let it Snow Carnival at Central Middle School.

People from all over the world enjoyed a day of activities, including face painting, singing and sledding.

“It’s been so much fun. It’s nice to have the Canadians together with people from different countries. It’s great to meet new people,” said Zeinalabdin.

Syria is home to both Muslims and Catholics, but Zeinalabdin said Christmas isn’t celebrated there like it is in Canada. She admits she enjoys the holiday season a little more here then she does back in her former country.

“In Syria, it’s only a one-day holiday. It’s not a long holiday like it is in Canada. I like it very much,” laughed Zeinalabdin.

Also at the event was Rajaa Alabboodi who moved to Canada from Iraq in 2014. She said it’s important for her children to embrace Canadian culture.

“Being in Canada means a good future for my kids and it’s good for me and my husband. My husband was a journalist in Iraq, but now he is a student studying health care. We really like it here,” said Alabboodi.

With the uncertainty of what Canada was going to be like when she first arrived, Zeinalabdin said her favourite part about Canada is the people.

“It’s been really good and the people here are so friendly and so nice,” said Zeinalabdin.

jonathan.guignard@bprda.wpengine.com

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