As Syrian refugees arrive in B.C., they face major hurdles like housing, employment, and language training but one often forgotten challenge is culture shock.

Adapting to a new culture can take time and is often much more difficult than most refugees imagine.

Options B.C. is trying to make that transition to Canadian culture easier by launching the Arabic women's support group in Surrey — where many refugees will be living. 

The free bi-weekly meetings that started this week feature guest speakers on topics ranging from nutrition, stress, body language and even basics like how to order a coffee or ask for directions on transit.

Rasha Abdelabi came to Canada 13 years ago and shared her story of integration with a group of nearly two dozen women on Tuesday.

Arabic women

A group of women listen intently at the first ever Arabic women's support group meeting in Surrey, B.C. (CBC News )

"I'm telling them that it's okay to be afraid. That it's all in your head. That no one actually is watching you or observing you or waiting for you to make a mistake," she said.

"It's okay that you don't know how to order a Tim Hortons  it's not about language, I told them I had perfect language when I came here but I still couldn't pick up the phone or answer the phone."

Abdelabi said fear can often lead to isolation and loneliness among refugees. 

"Sometimes, [it's] not knowing how to take the bus or where to go, breaking down if the salt runs out and not knowing what to do. It's the little things because they are already so sensitive and they are already so afraid — it's the little things that will have them fall apart."

Ghayda Yaqoob arrived from Iraq three months ago and this week, finally summoned the courage to take the bus for the first time.

Through a translator, Yaqoob explained how her deep desire to learn English motivated her to overcome her fear and leave the home for language classes.

"She was very worried to take the bus yesterday but she talked to herself — 'I have to do it, if I want to achieve the thing I want, I have to do it,' said the translator.

 "She was so worried to go and come back and get lost but she took the bus and she arrived and she attended the conversation circle, her first class English at Options Community Services."

The first Arabic women's support group meeting had nearly two dozen participants and organizers are expecting those numbers to grow as more Syrian refugees arrive in Surrey in the coming weeks and months.  


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Arabic women's support group in Surrey.