Mervat Harb: Learning a New Language

An ISANS Impact Story

Mervat Harb and her family came to Nova Scotia seven years ago. She was 16 years old, living in a new country, in a new part of the world that prominently spoke a language she didn’t know. But with the help of ISANS’ Young Adult Language Class, she soon found her voice in Canada.

“I had no English at all. I was level one or zero, or somewhere in between. I did the Young Adult Language Class [. . .] during the summer. By the time I finished the program, I think I was level five. So when I went back to school, it was very helpful for me,” says Mervat. The six-week program aimed to meet the language needs of youth and young adults who’d recently arrived in Canada and who didn’t want their language learning to stop over the summer. Mervat did the program her first summer in Canada.

Mervat and her family, which consists of her parents and seven siblings, are from Syria. They fled their home country due to the war and lived in Jordan as refugees for three years before coming to Canada.  She says that when she did the program with ISANS, all the participants were roughly the same age, which gave them something in common and made it easier to share their experiences and engage with each other. “We were all learning English, so it would be comfortable to speak in front of them.”

Mervat completed grade 11 in Jordan, but when she came to Canada, she had to return to grade 10. ISANS’ Young Adult Language Class helped her transition back to high school, and on top of that, it also created a lasting support system. Seven years later, Mervat still has friends from the program. She tells us, “When we went back to school after the program, we were able to all know each other and make friendship, and help each other during the school year. Most of us graduated all together.”

Vanessa Lent, a former ISANS staff member who ran Mervat’s class, remembers the group as lively and brilliant: “I think back to that summer pilot program with such fondness. It was exciting to be there during such a pivotal moment in these students’ language-learning journeys.” She says they studied English within a community language context, so ISANS’ usual settlement topics were adjusted to meet the interests and needs of young adults. Every week they went on outings to local festivals and unique locations, including Victoria Park and the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park.

“It’s so wonderful to see how Mervat has excelled after this program. I love seeing my former students out and about town. So many of them have now become Canadian citizens and, if the rumours are true, a few of the former students are now married to each other!” she says.

Mervat is currently a Dalhousie University student and will graduate in December 2024 with a major in Microbiology and Immunology, a minor in Health Studies, and a certificate in Disability Management. She also started her own student society called the newcomer youth mentorship society. Its goal is to help newcomer students at Dalhousie and the greater Halifax area; so far, she has mentored about four students and helped them get English scholarships at Dalhousie.

Although she’ll graduate in the near future, Mervat hopes to continue her schooling. She tell us that since she was little, she has wanted to be a doctor. Her plan is to go to dentistry school to become a dentist, knowing very well the importance of their work.

“When we were in Jordan, I had a broken tooth, and you know, tooth pain is the most painful thing.” She couldn’t get treatment for her tooth until she came to Canada, and even then she had to wait two years before seeing a dentist due to the paperwork tied to her arrival. “Becoming a dentist would be a really helpful thing to do, and I’ve always wanted to help people,” says Mervat.

Outside of school, Mervat likes to hang out with her friends, spend time with her family, and cook, and she has been learning how to skate. “Living in Nova Scotia, I can go outside. It is safe, and I can do whatever I want, study, work and achieve my goals, and I live out my dreams too.”

In the future, Mervat is looking forward to getting a good job, and when she does, she is considering spending time in Jordan or a similar country to provide healthcare to those in need.

“Living in Nova Scotia, I can go outside. It is safe, and I can do whatever I want, study, work and achieve my goals, and I live out my dreams too.”

Mervat Harb: Learning a New Language