Survivor's guilt and resettlement
By Albasleh Alesar  ·  2024-02-02  ·   Source: NO.6 FEBRUARY 8, 2024
Albasleh Alesar introduces Syria at a cultural festival at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, in 2023 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Do we ever truly realize how lucky we are until we witness the suffering of others? Why do I get to live while my people are suffering?

Thoughts like these crossed my mind all the time before I had the chance to come to China. People in Syria lack access to adequate food, healthcare, education and many other basic human rights that should be accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from. Witnessing the suffering of the people of my country on a daily basis, I doubted my own right to exist and to enjoy life and the opportunities it offered me.

The year 2011 is considered by many Syrians, including myself, to be one of the worst years, if not the worst year, for our nation. The outbreak of the Syrian civil war that year changed my life and many others forever.

Even though my family and I have always lived in Saudi Arabia, which is a safe country, I still remember being a child devastated by all that was going on—not understanding what was happening and why my family was so seriously worried. As an adult, I finally understand the emotion my parents experienced at that time was not just concern; it was also survivor's guilt.

As the years have gone by, the conflict has led to the deaths of more than half a million Syrians and forced more than 8 million to become refugees abroad. Luckily, I was never one of them. I just had to hear the devastation from family members and friends and to be always envied for my "luxurious" lifestyle. 

Survivor's guilt was a complex emotional struggle that developed in me feelings of undeserved and inexplicable luck. I was haunted by the question of why some, like me, managed to survive the horrors of war while others never stood a single chance. However, amid the challenges that come with survivor's guilt, there is always a chance for healing and hope. This has been particularly the case among Syrian students who have found inner peace in their resettlement experiences in China.

Resettling in a foreign country can be a difficult challenge for some, even if it's just for a short amount of time. But China has been the answer and the path for finding myself and my lost soul again, and it has also been so for other Syrians seeking a new beginning full of peace.

Moving to Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, in 2019 was one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. It was the start of my healing journey and it gave me a chance to deal with my conflicting emotions and to see the real world for the first time. Of course, in the beginning, the weight of survivor's guilt was heavy on me, but I felt a deep sense of responsibility toward those left behind. Knowing I must make the most of my good fortune, I decided to enjoy China to the maximum.

My life began to flourish when I arrived in Xi'an and I was finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Chinese society, including the friends, professors and the random people I meet each day, has shown remarkable compassion and support, providing me with a nurturing environment where I can improve my skills and develop my identity.

Chinese universities have opened their doors to Syrian students, allowing us to pursue higher education for free, funded by Chinese scholarships. The learning and exchange opportunities I have had from studying Chinese language and culture, and the kind gestures of those around me, have eased the pain of survivor's guilt and made me feel like I am, somehow, at home.

My experience as a Syrian student in China is a reminder for everyone that healing is possible, and hope still exists. With help from the international community, we can rebuild our lives as Syrians amid the many challenges. We deserve a chance to rewrite our narratives and to turn survivor's guilt into a catalyst for positive changes.

Lastly, survivor's guilt never fades away, but it lessens throughout the years as long as you believe you are a worthy human being that deserves happiness too, and always remind yourself "I honor the legacy of the dead by living."

The author is a student of international relations and politics at East China Normal University in Shanghai 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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