When Sidra Smaism and her Syrian family arrived in New Zealand from a refugee camp in Lebanon four years ago, none of them spoke more than a few words of English.
After a six-week stay at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre the family, who left Syria eight years ago to escape the civil war, settled in Porirua. Sidra, attended Porirua College for two years before studying hairdressing at Whitireia Polytechnic.
By then, her English had improved considerably, but she wanted to make more progress. Last year, she completed English Language Partners’ New Zealand Certificate in English Language (NZCEL) Level 2, an 18-week, intensive full-time course.
Now thanks to the English skills she gained on the course, Sidra is working at Golden Scissors: her family’s recently opened hairdressing salon in central Porirua, cutting hair and also taking bookings over the phone.
“I particularly wanted to improve my spoken English, so I could talk to customers on the phone, and while I was cutting their hair,” says Sidra, who works at Golden Scissors with her father Hussein and her mother Najlaa.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do that before I did the course, I would have been too shy.”
NZCEL Level 2 is an intensive course with a high level of immersion in English. Friendships form between people from a range of backgrounds and they communicate in English with each other outside the classroom.
Sidra enjoyed the course, which was attended by people from several other countries including Vietnam, Colombia and Myanmar.
“I definitely recommend it. It was very friendly, and it was also good for my writing and reading skills. Now I find it easier to use a computer for doing things like searching for things on Google.”
With no other Arabic speakers on the course, she had to speak English all the time, which she admits was a good thing: “If you talk together in the same language, it’s not good!”
As a trained hairdresser, Sidra works with female clients in the salon, while her father who, together with Najlaa is doing an English Language Partners’ course one day a week, works with male clients.
The Smaism family opened the Golden Scissors on 7 July, and their customers come from all around the world. Shortly after they opened, the business featured on the TV1 news show Breakfast as well as on Stuff.
For Sidra, becoming a hairdresser has provided other unexpected opportunities. Last year, she worked as a voluntary hairdresser for the World of WearableArt (WOW) in Wellington, helping create hairstyles to match the extraordinary clothing that featured in the show. “It was so different,” she says.
At the moment, she’s busy working at the salon, but she hopes to do more study with English Language Partners.
“I want to get even better at English because I have to talk to the customers.”
Learn more about New Zealand Certificate in English Language (NZCEL)