Meet a motivated young woman who is busy pursuing a degree in education, here in Vienna! Salma has dreamt of guiding children’s learning since her own childhood. Now that she is well on the way to accomplishing this goal, she shares with us some insights about her childhood experiences as well as some expectations she harbors regarding her own, inclusive classroom environment of the future.
Salma, where in the world did you grow up?
I was born in Vienna, Austria, but when I was two years old my family and I moved back to Egypt, where my parents are from. We tried to live there for one year, but we couldn’t and then we came back to Austria. At that time we returned to Vienna’s sixteenth district. Right under our home we had a market; when I looked down from our window I could always see people selling fruits and vegetables, and all the sellers knew us. I lived there for six years, until we moved to the twentieth district. This was more of a quiet area. My family and I still live in this part of the city.
What are some of your favorite memories from your childhood?
I remember going swimming in the Danube river. We were always going to have picnics in that area, with my mother and her friends. While the picnic was in full swing, many of the children would just take off and spontaneously head for the water. I was not a strong swimmer, however! After swimming, I remember the ice-cream man would come along and we would enjoy buying ice-cream from him, which was also nice.
Another of my favorite childhood memories is of going back to Egypt. We always returned there in the summer, for about two months. It was so different to see my cousins, who seemed to grow so much from one year to the next. Now that we are grown up, of course, the difference is not so noticeable. They never came to Vienna to visit us; we always made the trip there. My relatives had a big van and a large number of them, maybe fifteen people, came to the airport to pick us up when we arrived! In Egypt, everyone is not required to wear a seatbelt in the car. We were all squashed into the van, with people sitting on one another’s laps. We were happy to see them waiting for us at the airport and they couldn’t wait to take us back to the small village, which was about a three hour visit. It was so hot, as it was in the summertime with temperatures sometimes up to 50 degrees. When we got out of the car, we couldn’t feel our bodies! What a fun memory that is!
Do you remember one special place from your childhood?
Yes, I can remember the garden from our old home. It was a really small garden, and we could ride our bikes there. Myself and my sister could also play there for as long as we wished. Because we were the only children in the building, this garden was, to us, like our own private garden. There were some plants growing there, and a small swing set. When we left our belongings there overnight they were perfectly safe because no one else played in this secret little space.
How has your childhood inspired you to live the life that you are living right now?
I want to become a teacher of English, and my other subject is inclusion. The goal is to have every child included in the classroom. It’s not just about kids with disabilities or kids on the autism spectrum. It’s also about kids from other countries or refugee children, or children who can’t speak German. When I came to school, because my parents only spoke in Arabic with me, it was so different to be expected to participate in German. The idea was only about integrating us into the class. It wasn’t inclusion; they just wanted us to be like them. They wanted us to do what they do. So my goal is to have a classroom where everyone fits.
I think that nobody needs to change. Everyone is special.
Do you have any special books or stories that you might remember from when you were younger, or current favorites?
During my childhood I was not really reading a lot of books. Most of the time, I enjoyed stories that were told to me. I remember a book about Snow White. When I was a kid I think my mother read it to me, like, two hundred times! I never wanted to know what was in a “new” book. I always wanted her to read the same book. When she bought me another book, I was not interested in that. I only wanted to know the Snow White story.
Last year I started to read for pleasure, usually books in English although I can read and write in three languages. One of my favorites is the book Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, because I can see the world from the perspective of a girl on the autism spectrum. I can see how feelings are complicated for her, how it is difficult for her to understand emotions. Before I read the book, I didn’t know that. Now, my intention is to read as much as I can.
We wish Salma the best of luck in her continued studies! Our sincere thanks to her for participating in this interview. Vienna’s young adult population is energetic and diverse, and seemingly filled with optimism for the city’s future in a world that becomes more interconnected every day.
May the trend continue!