Grade 12 student from Syria raced to master English so he could help other newcomers

·2 min read
Naser Alnaser says he loved how a Saint John teacher made learning the English language fun. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)
Naser Alnaser says he loved how a Saint John teacher made learning the English language fun. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)

Naser Alnaser was nine years old when he started working.

The Grade 12 student, who now lives in Saint John with his family, had a remarkably different life in a refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing violence in Syria.

"It wasn't a life a teenager would ever want," said Alnaser, who recalled how he and his brothers struggled to sell meals and pastries created by his father so the family could survive in the camp.

When he arrived in Canada nearly seven years ago, Alnaser couldn't speech English. But he was so determined to learn, the Saint John High School student soon achieved a mastery over the language that has enabled him to tutor other, more recent arrivals.

WATCH | When the student becomes the teacher

"It feels amazing, I love it ... to be able to mentor somebody and feel like it's getting easier by the time that I spend with students," Alnaser said.

The YMCA of Greater Saint John helped Alnaser and his siblings enrol in school.

"We were all excited and I just wanted to go to school so much that I just couldn't wait ... the first day I started school was just like a whole different experience," Alnaser said.

When he entered high school, he began taking English as an additional language to improve his written and speaking skills.

Alnaser blazed through all the lessons in only two years and is now teaching his own English classes.

"I knew if I just pushed myself a bit harder, I would be able to move to the next level."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

Alnaser attributes some of his success to a teacher, Mallory Cunningham, who helped him and his siblings get to that next level.

"I was learning quick and fast because she taught us in an incredible way," said Alnaser, remembering how much he loved learning the English alphabet through song and music.

"She would do things just like what a parent would do."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

The success has also been a source of immense pride for Alnaser's parents, who are also being tutored by their son.

"It's incredible, seeing my parents in shock with how good I'm doing."

The success is motivating Alnaser to go to New Brunswick Community College for a business degree and then take on teaching to help future newcomers.

"I feel like if I become a teacher one day that I could help them more. I could be there for them more if they needed my help."

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