“I hold Syria in my heart”

The first time she came to Lund, Rafah Barhoum only stayed for a couple of months. It was 2011 and she was an Erasmus Mundus scholar and taught Arabic. She returned home to Syria, but the war soon drove her back. Now Rafah Barhoum has come to Lund to stay.

Rafah Brhoum

Rafah Barhoum is happy in Lund, where she teaches Arabic, but misses and worries about her family at home in war-torn Syria.

Rafah Barhoum is easy to like. She has a contagious laugh and her eyes are alert and full of energy. LUM meets her at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, where she teaches Arabic on the international Master’s programme in Middle Eastern Studies.

Rafah Barhoum comes from Hama in Syria, where all her family remain – three brothers, one sister and their parents.

“We used to live in Damascus, but when the war broke out we moved back to Hama”, she says.

Rafah Barhoum has a Master’s in teaching Arabic as a foreign language.

In Syria, she worked for six years as a lecturer at the University of Damascus.

“I met students from around the world. It was very rewarding; I got to learn about different cultures.”

Rafah was prepared when she came to Sweden. She had read a lot about the country and received practical assistance to find accommodation and get settled in in the Malmö and Lund region from former students whom she had taught in Damascus and who now live here.

Despite her preparations and the contacts she had, it was not entirely easy to settle into a new country. The most difficult thing is the knowledge that her family back home are living in the middle of a war.

“I’m happy in Sweden, but I think of my homeland very often. I always hold Syria in my heart”, says Rafah Barhoum.

She broods a lot over how she can help her family:

“There’s nothing I can do from here, and that weighs heavy on me. Neither can I talk to them about my own problems, because I don’t want to add to their worries.”

She misses all her family, but most of all her mum and her younger brother.

“I am very close to him and worry a lot about him. He is doing his military service at the moment, and once he has finished, there is a risk he will be forced to go out and fight. Sometimes when I ring I can’t get hold of him, and then I become very worried.”

When the loneliness and homesickness are difficult to bear, Rafah Barhoum can take refuge in her work:

“I love teaching my own language and hearing others speak Arabic. My students make me happy. When I meet them, I can put my problems behind me and focus on my job. Teaching helps me to forget the difficulties.”

Rafah’s advice to others in the same situation is to do the same thing: try to leave the past behind you and concentrate on your new life.

“In Sweden, there are opportunities to show what you can do and find a job. I advise everyone to study Swedish and set new goals in life. If you want to work and achieve something good, you can. It’s important to learn Swedish. I read all I can about Sweden: about the culture, civilisation, and language – I want to learn everything! I often go to a language café to learn to speak better Swedish.”

Rafah Barhoum’s dream is to do a PhD.

“I endeavour to make the teaching as interesting as possible for my students, for example by putting together new, exciting materials. It has to be fun to learn a new language. I hope to be able to continue working as a teacher, Inshallah.”

Text: Anna Hellgren

Photo: Gunnar Menander



Name: Rafah Barhoum

Born: 1980 in Hama, Syria

Family: Mum, dad and four siblings

Hobbies: Reading, going to the gym, playing tennis

Dreams of: Doing a PhD

Rafah Barhoum is happy in Lund, where she teaches Arabic, but misses and worries about her family at home in war-torn Syria.