It would be wide of the mark to suggest Ali Kharsa is perhaps the typical English as an additional language student enrolled at Walter Murray Collegiate. After all, trying to affix a norm to these students is a non-starter.
Certainly though, Kharsa, 19, represents one of those compelling, uplifting stories that should give everyone hope when you listen to the young man who has been in Saskatoon now for the past 18 months.
A Grade 12 student who came from Syria is focused on mapping out his post-secondary path as he explains in immaculate English, which is remarkable when you consider a few years ago he didn’t speak a word of English and corresponded in his native Arabic.
When the ongoing war in Syria became too much, he and his family fled to Malaysia in 2011.
Kharsa and his father ventured out to Australia the following year, only to have a change in government there while en route. The end result was he and his father were detained in a tent-filled refugee camp on Nauru island with no access to schooling of any sort, and only brief contact with the remaining family members.
According to Kharsa, he would chase around after security guards to ask questions and gain at least a rudimentary understanding of English. He supplemented this by what he was able to pick up from listening to the radio.
Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, the family was able to apply for refugee status to Canada through the United Nations, which sponsored them.
Kharsa said this fortuitous family reunion was based primarily on the provision that “we just wanted to go to a safe place” and they wound up in Saskatoon.
Although he says Saskatoon is a great place, part of him yearns for a bigger city at some point in the future.
“But, for education this is the best place and that’s what I do mostly–stay home and study. People are friendly here and I like a multicultural place, but it can be somewhat difficult to make friends who are Arabic speaking. That’s OK because I am focusing on my studies mostly. Teachers here are really nice, quite strict, but education is the most important thing for me.”
Kharsa, who said he has learned a lot about other religions since coming to Canada, has set his sights on becoming a human rights lawyer committed to becoming involved in some of the unfairness he has personally experienced “and I want to be able to help those people.”