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For Syrian Refugee Yasser Al Asmi, Learning French Was Exactly What Made Him Feel Canadian

Yasser Al Asmi always has a smile on his face. Not because his life is perfect or because his pain is healed, but because he is alive — and safe.

After escaping the war in Syria with his family two years ago, the Moncton High grad went from seeing gunshots on his porch to scoring a special Canada Day invite from the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

#OutstandingCanadian: Yasser Al Asmi arrived in Canada two years ago with his .parents and three siblings. In two years, he has mastered English and French and has just been presented with the prestigious Roméo LeBlanc scholarship at the University of Moncton. #CanadaDay#cdnpolipic.twitter.com/EiZjs4bKRY

— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) July 1, 2018

The 18-year-old was recently awarded the renowned Roméo LeBlanc scholarship to the University of Moncton, where he’ll study in French as a pre-med student starting in the fall. The scholarship, which will cover his full tuition fees, is given to the student with the highest grades from an anglophone high school in Atlantic Canada.

But it’s the community in his new home in New Brunswick that he credits with helping him gain the confidence to push himself further.

“Everybody in Moncton is your friend,” Al Asmi tells HuffPost Canada. “These are the people that helped me recover from what I saw back home.”

In Syria, Al Asmi came straight home after school, and didn’t leave. “It was living in constant fear all the time. Every day.”

Yasser Al Asmi

Yasser Al Asmi receiving the Romeo LeBlanc scholarship from the mayor of Moncton, Dawn Arnold, during his graduation ceremony.

When Al Asmi came to Canada, he advanced from Grade 10 science to Grade 11 chemistry in the first month of school and taught himself French along the way. By watching popular French YouTubers like Cyprien and using Duolingo, Al Asmi picked up the language in his spare time. He says one of his dreams is to be a polyglot.

“I could not accept being in a situation where people would be speaking the national language and I would not understand it,” he says. “I felt like I had to do that. I had to do it as a new Canadian.”

He says learning a national language shouldn’t even be a political debate. “It’s cultural capital.”

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Canada’s minister of health, appeared to agree, sharing her enthusiasm for Al Asmi’s achievement on Twitter when his scholarship was announced.

Two years ago, Yasser Al Asmi arrived in Moncton not speaking a word of French. This fall, he’ll start at a French university on a full scholarship.

On Canadian Multiculturalism Day, I salute Yasser (and so many others) who make Canada great. #MultiDayhttps://t.co/kLCJBYIiNc

— Ginette Petitpas Taylor (@GPTaylorMRD) June 27, 2018

On a February night in 2016, Al Asmi, his parents and his three younger siblings arrived in Montreal before moving to Moncton two days later through the Liberal government’s resettlement program. Launched in 2015 to settle more than 40,000 Syrian refugees in Canada, the current impact of the massive undertaking is getting some flak from Saskatchewan’s immigration minister and the federal auditor general.

For Al Asmi, Canada already feels like much more of a home than Jordan, where his family initially fled to while escaping violence in Syria.

“Canadian winter is nothing like we imagined,” he recalls. But he soon learned that if there’s one thing more Canadian than snow, it’s complaining about the snow. After school, his neighbours would help him shovel the driveway so he’d have enough time to finish his homework.

Yasser Al Asmi

Yasser Al Asmi at the beach in Shediac, New Brunswick.

“Our neighbours are really an extension of my family,” he says. He credits them for his love for lobster, which they frequently bring over in exchange for falafels. During their first summer in Moncton, Al Asmi’s family spent many afternoons by the beach in Shediac, N.B., dubbed the “Lobster Capital of the World.” The small town takes its title seriously — recently reclaiming the record for the world’s longest lobster roll.

The aspiring doctor can’t wait to start university. While he’s always dreamed of becoming a cardiologist, he says he’ll give himself some time to learn everything from history to world religions, too.

He’s thankful for his supportive parents, who have kept his spirits up while he adjusted to school in Canada.

“They don’t speak English yet but that doesn’t mean they can’t express how proud they are,” he says. “I just want them to see me succeed.”

This content was originally published here.

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