The new Saskatchewan: Welcome Kholoud Alwan

Come for the opportunity, stay for the community

Moving to a new city would be a big change for anyone, but moving to a new country as well brings new challenges to overcome; and no stranger to this is Kholoud Alwan, who is originally from Syria.

Alwan came to Canada with her husband and daughter on June 28, 2017 and started their emigration journey in St. John’s Newfoundland. The Alwan family stayed in St. John’s for two months before moving and settling in Regina. This choice to move to Saskatchewan was influenced by Alwan’s husband getting a job as an Arabic teacher, as well as them already having friends who resided in Saskatchewan. Because it was difficult for Alwan to find a job for herself, she considered it very fortunate that her partner had job opportunities as an educator.

Originally working as a radiologist in Syria and Qatar, Alwan is newly starting her residency in family medicine in Regina. “The language is way different. It’s Arabic and we don’t use English; we rarely use English there. Even when practicing medicine. I’d just studied medicine in Arabic, so I have to do all of it again in English.” She talks about how communication with patients is different in Canada compared to Syria. In Syria, patients do not need to go through their family doctor to see specialists; this is the opposite of Canada where the family doctor is who recommends patients to specialized medical professionals.

As for the difference in culture and region, Alwan explains that in Syria and Qatar she would walk everywhere, which changed when she came to Saskatchewan due to how spread-out the cities are. On the flip-side Syria lacked outdoor public spaces such as parks unlike where Alwan lives currently, where there are three parks close to her home. Now Alwan has no fear of war near her family and community, and she also has a much quieter place to live. “Life here is very quiet, very simple, while there [Syria] it is very noisy and very crowded.” She says, talking about how the inner-city areas of Aleppo–the city in Syria where she lived–was very crowded and only got more densely populated as the outer-city became less safe. Alwan enjoys the quiet and space of Saskatchewan though and does not miss the business of Syria.

I went last year, last summer, to Syria for two months to update my practice because that’s the way to get into residency, and when I came back here I felt like the sky is so big and so blue, just so wide.

The uncertainty of a future for her daughter was another factor in Alwan’s family choosing to emigrate to Canada. Educational opportunities for children in Canada are vast and great, and being able to do recreational activities is either not available or very expensive back in Syria.

When asked about what she liked about living in Saskatchewan and the opportunities here, Alwan simply says “everything.” Before continuing to talk about the best opportunities for her is having a safe and stable home, which she did not have for ten years. Having a Syrian passport limits your movement and can limit your ability to get a visa, so having a Canadian passport gives her and her family that freedom of movement, such as allowing them to visit Alwan’s sisters who reside in the United States. The ability to have her job in residency also gave Alwan that stability and sense of “home” here in Saskatchewan.

“In Syria or in Qatar people do not know each other so they don’t say hi unless they know you, while here almost everybody you meet will say hi, or good morning, or they’ll just stop to talk,” says Alwan as she discusses how surprised she was by how welcoming and friendly people were in Canada when they arrived. With new opportunities, safety, quiet, and kindness welcoming Alwan and her family to Saskatchewan, it’s understandable that she would choose to call this province home.