3,500 miles from home

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Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Noor Sabha
Features Editor

Noor Sabha on being an international student at Glasgow University

Leaving your country, your family, your home and your way of life behind is a daunting experience. I know because I’ve done it. In September 2017, I moved from Jordan to Glasgow to pursue a degree in psychology.

Coming from a country in the Middle East, I expected to be plunged into a culture immensely different from my own, and I wasn’t disappointed. The littlest things made me feel like a stranger – even earlier mealtimes were enough to remind me of how much things had changed around me. Little by little, I found myself adapting to a different lifestyle. I was confused, I was stressed and I worried that I would never quite fit in. But I was also excited.

The move surprised me in other ways. Coming from an Arab country, I wasn’t typically used to queuing or being patient; in Jordan, people usually just push through, or they’ll have a connection with someone that would allow them to skip ahead. Living in Glasgow taught me patience.

Another major difference between the culture in my country and that in Glasgow is the way people have fun. In Jordan, getting publicly drunk with your pals or even just going on nights out is not really normal, and generally, we don’t have as much freedom as people in the West are able to enjoy. This meant that I was given a lot of extra freedom, and I had to figure out how to use it. If you’re anything like me, you will too.

I didn’t struggle much with adjusting to the new culture mainly because I graduated from an American boarding school where the culture is relatively similar. One thing that shocked me, however, was the lack of international students that I met. The University of Glasgow takes pride in accepting students from 140 countries, but it seemed to me that the international student body at Glasgow Uni is not as big as it seems. I found this only exacerbated my homesickness at times; all of my friends were able to take a train back home when they missed their family, but I could never just get on the next plane home – I had to book a ticket months in advance. It was moments like this that made me realise just how far away home really was.

On the other hand, going abroad to study can truly be a life changing experience – if you allow it to be. Being exposed to different cultures, making new friends and learning how to be responsible for your own life makes you realize that there’s more to life than your friends and family back home. You will learn how to live, how to communicate with all sorts of different people, but most importantly, you will learn how to be independent. However, in order to absorb all of this, you need to approach all that comes your way with an open mind and an open heart; learn to appreciate all the opportunities that come your way, because there will be so many.

My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to experiment in order to find your feet in your new home. Try new activities, try hanging out with different groups of people, go to different events, try different sports, and slowly but surely you will find yourself. You will figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. You will also learn that even though it might seem like university comes hand-in-hand with a heavy drinking culture, there’s so much more to it There are so many morning and afternoon activities going on during Freshers’ Week and lots of societies to join. One thing that surprised me was the fact that everything I was interested in had its own society or club. Rest assured that when you come to university, whatever it is you’re interested in, someone already has a group of people that are interested too. There’s something for everyone – you just need to put yourself out there.

Deciding to move abroad to pursue something you’re passionate about is a very brave decision. You will grow as a person, become wiser, more self-aware and more responsible. It won’t always be easy, but when the going gets tough remind yourself that everyone at university is in the same boat as you are. Everyone just wants to fit in and make new friends, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Take hold of new opportunities and remember that there’s much more to life than your family and friends back home.