Portait of Loujain Elias

Nearing the goal

Nearly four years ago Loujain Elias left her native Syria for an uncertain life in Sweden. She was then halfway through her education to be a pharmacist. Now she has been able to resume her education.
‘After many years I’m now finally on the way to reaching my goal’, she says.

When we meet Loujain Elias, she is enrolled in the fourth semester of the Study Programme in Pharmacy/Pharmaceutical Science. ‘And second. And third’, she says with a smile.

Because she can be given credit for certain courses, she has to try to piece together her schedule as best she can. She thinks this has both positive and negative aspects. The downside is that it’s stressful taking two courses at the same time, while the benefit is that she gets to know more classmates because she is enrolled in more than one semester at a time.

‘My plan is get my degree next year’, she says.

During her years in Sweden, she has managed to take SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) and a crash course for meeting specific entry requirements for the pharmaceutical science programme in Sweden. But to go back to school and start studying upper-secondary school courses in chemistry when she already has taken college credit courses in the subject feels burdensome. She describes it as taking a step back.

To learn the everyday language better and connect with people, she chose to start working. For a while she worked in a kiosk in Gamlestaden in Gothenburg. Today she speaks nearly fluent Swedish and pursues her education in Swedish without a problem. ‘I’ve heard that you learn better if you get your education in a language other than your mother tongue, because you think in a more logical way then’, she says.

Education in Sweden differs a lot from education in Damascus. There, students have much greater responsibility, and the teachers are not available for questions to the same extent at all. She explains that the students themselves are responsible for carrying out laboratory work based on what they learned in theory without getting help from teachers. ‘Here in Sweden teachers help students to grow, while in Syria you have to take responsibility for that yourself.’

Another big difference is that students in the pharmaceutical science programme in Sweden have to take courses in communication and how to respond to customers in the pharmacies, something that did not occur at all in Damascus.

In addition to differences in education, the two countries also differ in their state of health. Loujain reports that various types of allergies are significantly more common in Sweden, while many more people suffer from cardiovascular diseases in Syria. On the question of why this is so, she laughs: ‘No doubt it’s because we like to eat a lot!’

The fact that she chose pharmaceutics was primarily because the labour market for pharmacists was good in Syria. She actually was not at all interested in the subject, but that all changed when she began to study. ‘It’s extremely interesting to learn how diseases develop and what causes them and how medications work. Why does this particular drug work with this structure and not another?’

Leaving her native country and her entire life with friends and studies obviously was not easy. Loujain finds it hard trying to talk about the time when she had just arrived in Sweden.

‘It was difficult in the beginning, being forced to leave your native country where you have your friends and are studying for your dream job. The country where I met my husband, and where I still have so many memories. But now I’m starting to feel at home here in Sweden, that Sweden is my native country.’

Loujain Elias

potrait of Loujain EliasAge: 25
Family: Husband and mother in Sweden
Main difference between Sweden and Syria: ‘Everybody seems so busy and stressed out here. It feels as if a day doesn’t have 24 hours here in Sweden.’
Future plans: ‘I’m interested in research, so I may continue with a master’s and postgraduate studies. But first, I’ll probably work.’