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From Gaza to Gothenburg with focus on communication

With a background as a translator for CNN and communications officer at a university in Gaza, Hala Alaraj came to Sweden and had to start all over again. After an internship at the University of Gothenburg she has now a “nystartsjobb” and is now working with the web, students and alumni.

HHALA ALARAJala Alaraj is born in Palestine, raised in Gaza where she among other things studied English literature and computer programming. After finishing her studies she began to work for the CNN as a translator between English and Arabic, and also worked as a producer.

After that, she worked as an communications officer at Islamic University, one of the largest universities in Gaza.

–I worked with delegations, conferences, took care of contacts with journalists, wrote speeches for the Vice-Chancellor in English and Arabic, organised events and managed contacts with the university’s international investors, Hala Alaraj says.

Was advised to go to Sweden

She was very content with her job, but after eight years she got health problems when she was pregnant. Since the health care in Gaza is unpredictable, Hala Alaraj was advised to look for health care in another country, and Hala Alaraj decided to go to her brother in Sweden.

– I only came here to give birth to my daughter. But when she was born, political problems had surfaced in Palestine, there were hard times there, and the borders were closed. I couldn’t go back. Instead I sought asylum here in Sweden. The rest of my family – husband and two sons – came a year later.

Wanted to work

Hala Alaraj felt that she had to start all over again when it came to large and important parts of life, such as somewhere to live, language and career. She studies Swedish, and longed for a real job.

– I went to Arbetsförmedlingen and said that I had experience from working at a university, and found out that the University of Gothenburg was looking for interns. I came to an interview and after that I was welcomed as an intern. My Swedish wasn’t very good then, so I was really nervous, but my colleagues were very nice. The stress and the fear vanished after some time.

Organised seminars

To be an intern is a very good experience, says Hala Alaraj. During her six months at the Department of Literature, History of Ideas and Religion she managed to organise several events, for example a lunch seminar where two newcomer scholars told about their experience.

– It is hard for them to find work here, but we helped them to start a network. We invited people from the City of Gothenburg and different organisations and connected them. Together with the student counsels, I organised a seminar about internships for newcomers, where I lectured about my own experiences.

Hope to work as a communications officer

Beside her job, Hala Alaraj studies a master in communications. In the future she hopes to find a job as a communications officer.

– I need to write in Swedish then, so I’m going to continue to study to improve my Swedish. In the future I want to focus on communication between Swedes and refugees in the workplace.

The language is the hardest

The language is the hardest part about moving to Sweden, says Hala Alaraj. It has also taken some time to get used to a different work place culture at the Unviersity of Gothenburg compared to the University in Gaza.

– It is a huge difference! In Palestine everything is about finding investors that want to finance the organisation, and that is challenging. Here, the finances are more stable, and the employees can focus on their research and education. The social relations between colleagues are simpler here too; it is easy to talk to your head of department and colleagues. That is positive!

Translation: Annika Koldenius