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PhD student hopes to make life easier for young Arab immigrants

Nesreen Elkord wants to make life a little simpler for young Arabs who are new to Canada.

“It’s really my passion to try to make the experiences of these kids easier than it was for me,” says Elkord, a PhD student in the Faculty of Education who studies under the tutelage of professor Shi Jing Xu. “I know I can’t do that all by myself, but I do feel that I have a duty to do this work.”

Elkord moved to Halifax from the United Arab Emirates when she was 15, and while she doesn’t want to give the wrong impression that it was unbearable, she doesn’t deny it could be difficult at times to live in eastern Canada when there were few Arabs to be seen.

The daughter of a mathematics teacher who moved his wife and seven children to Nova Scotia from Dubai, Elkord is now preparing to launch a new qualitative study that will examine the “lived experiences” of Arab youth in local schools.  She recently defended her research proposal and is just waiting for ethics approval to launch a study that would involve observing and interviewing anywhere from five to 10 high school students from both local boards.

“It’s really getting an understanding of their lived experiences, to understand the challenges these kids face,” she said, adding that Windsor is an appropriate place for the study given that 8.15 per cent of the city’s population was Arabic in 2006 according to figures obtained from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Elkord, who came to Windsor in September after earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Dalhousie University and a master’s degree in education from Mount St. Vincent University, knows first-hand how difficult it can be for young, new Arabs in Canada at such a critical time in their lives.

“It’s not an easy period, and so much depends on their educational experiences,” she said. “I didn’t know much English when I came. There weren’t many Arabs, so that made it difficult for people to accept. There was a lot of resistance, so that made it tough at times.”

Elkord hopes the study will elucidate empowering and meaningful stories from the students, but added that further study on the experiences of teachers in diverse classrooms could reveal relevant information for educators and educational policy makers.

“A lot of people forget about the experiences of the teachers and what it’s like to have a diverse classroom,” she said.

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