LIVING WITH THE STRESS OF WAR
When she moved back, Syria was different. She had visited several times while in school, but says that you don’t really notice the differences until you live there day to day.
“We never had to worry about safety in Syria before,” she says. “But right now it’s more like, well, this is the case. It’s sad. It’s terrible. But we also can’t stop our lives. People are picking up and going to work and doing the best they can.”
And exposing herself to the Syrian workforce was eye-opening. Everyone has work stress, she says, but when you see people living with the stress of a war, and still doing all the things they need to do, it’s inspiring.
“When you ask people how they are, they said they’re good – much better than others. Before I went back, I thought they would be complaining about all their problems. But people are as positive as possible,” she says.
Almost none of Altabbaa’s friends returned to Syria after graduating. They found jobs or master’s programs in other countries. But she was able to make friends quickly, and says the transition wasn’t as difficult as she expected.
‘YOU FACE MORE UNCERTAINTY’
Working as an auditor at Deloitte in Syria is both exactly like working at Deloitte somewhere else, and completely different, Altabbaa says. Deloitte has a standard procedure that auditors carry out wherever they work, but at the same time, there are differences in day to day life.
“You wake up at seven and you drive to work, but there are places you don’t go because it’s not safe,” she says. “And in terms of business, you face more uncertainty.”
Currency rates changed often, so every day at Deloitte, Altabbaa faced a new type of problem. “It’s not identical to the work you might do in the UK, it can be more surprising on days, depending on what happens,” she says. “In the UK, the pound dropped after Brexit, and this impacted financial institutions. But in Syria, instead of a the pound dropping a bit, Syrian currency dropped dramatically over five years. It’s a bigger reaction that our clients had to deal with.”
After two and half years working there, Altabbaa says she’s grown professionally and learned important lessons. “No amount of work stress can break me, because I’ve handled work stress and war stress at the same time,” she says.
MBA AT OXFORD
Altabbaa is now in the one year MBA program at the Saïd Business School. “It was always a plan of mine to pursue higher education. Maybe the timing has changed. The average age in my class is 28, and I’m 24, so the learning curve is quite high,” she says. “Because I moved back to Syria, and at Deloitte I worked quite hard, this allowed me to apply early.”
She arrived thinking she wanted to pursue consulting, but says she’s more open to other options now, and is has taken several classes on fintech. “Consulting is still on my list, but I’m choosing not to limit my opportunities. I’m open to different things,” she says.
As before, she’s also open to working anywhere in the world. “I’m the sort of person who chooses career over location,” she says. “As long as it’s the right job for me, I’ll take it.”
And she hopes that more Syrian youth are able to make the most of challenging times. “They’re still thinking of the future. They’re studying and learning extra languages,” she says. “Given all the difficulties they face, they’re still looking forward and saying ‘Yes, tomorrow will be better because I’m making it better.’”