Choosing to study abroad is by far one of the most challenging yet the bravest chapter any student must face in their young adult lives. At least, for me it is. Without a doubt, it is a “stepping stone” in entering the world of adulthood; one step at a time; a step to in-dependency.
There are a few things one should expect before living abroad on the other side of the world. Of course, I could not speak on behalf of all the student as how people portray life is differently than I do. Here are some inevitable challenges or expectations of an Asian student, that would be me, must face entering the Middle-East.
Being an adult version of yourself without your parents guidance is definitely something we all have to experience sooner or later. Being in this situation really brings out my independent nature. These challenges ranges from how to pay your monthly bills, to rationing out your monthly groceries and even personal challenges where the relationship between yourself and your roommate, who you have to live with – or rather “stuck” with for the rest of the semester can be distressed or literally hanging by a threat. Well, what can I say? that is the uniqueness of life in itself. He give and He take.
It’s impossible or rather, unavoidable, actually to not grasp the opportunity to discover different culture and also potentially, discovering yourself. Being in a new place by yourself can be overwhelming at times, and it tests your ability to adapt to diverse situations while being able to problem solve.
Two years back, I had to live in Oman for a semester as a part of the programme in my University. When I first received an acceptance email from Oman. I was nervous and anxious. I was only 23 at that time, and never have I ever been apart from my family for that long of time.
First of all, Oman is an Arabic speaking country, and the languages that I was comfortable with was English and my mother tongue; Malay. I knew nothing more than the relationship of Oman with my country. Neither do I even know capital city of Oman at that time. I was both nervous and excited. Excited to go to the souqs for the very first time and to actually be exposed to a variety of different types of Arabic people. And its carpets!
Of course, being sent to Oman, I wasted no time and started researching everything I could find on the internet about that said country. The language, the culture, as well as the “do’s and donts”. Interestingly enough, what I googled was all that I got; deserts, hundreds of mountains, countless of caves, souqs and camels.
3. Parted Away
The day of my flight, I have to say is by far, was the most dreadful yet the most anticipated day in my life. Saying goodbye to your immediate family members whom you see everyday since the day you were brought into this world, the ones who you exposed your inner self to, the ones who’ve seen you at your worst and at your best was definitely the hardest thing one could do. Parting ways was definitely the hardest. I grew up thinking that I was strong, – or maybe I mastered the art of acting strong.
4. Expect the unexpected
As cliche as it sounds, but this is what you should instill in your mind especially when you are about to spend half of your year in an unknown country. The first time we arrived in our University, we were greeted by the hostel supervisor who initially thought we are very much fluent in Arabic. Apparently, the University we were sent to was an Arabic based University with zero to minimum English spoken. Thus, safe to say we were somewhat doomed at that point.
The supervisor had to use sign language with much irritation in signing us up to our respective rooms. Myself and the other student whom was sent with me, both requested that we preferred to be put in the same room for security reasons.
5. Culture Shock
Everyone from right to left told me that I’ll be experiencing a different kind of culture shock once I reached there. If only I took in what they’ve told me from day 1, but as per usual, I did not. The first few nights in our hostel was somewhat eerie; we were the only ones staying at the University at that time as the semester has not officially started yet.
The campus supervisors were there on sight, however, even they weren’t comfortable in speaking in English. I even had to rush over to them as they blatantly ignored me and my roommate when I called out, “excuse me”. I went up to her, out of breath and simply asked, “Kiblat”. Shocked and surprised to find out that we are actually Muslim, she smiled and pointed to the direction of the kaabah. I have never been degraded by a single look before, not even in my own country. But the coldness in her eyes were enough to make me weep my heart out while praying for protection from The Almighty.
I remember projecting the image of being utterly weak in the eyes of my roommate, but she understood my situation as I, also caught her crying during one of her prayers, only days after. Desperate and alone, we contacted our country’s Embassy in Oman and asked if we could stay over for a couple of nights until the rest of the international students arrive. We were desperate to be united with a familiar people who spoke similar language and dialogues, and those who understands what we were going through. The lady was very acceptable in accepting us the very next day and she and her husband brought us all over the city in Muscat. And for that reason we were very grateful and thankful for them being punctual and eager to help us, students, who were 2 hours away situated in the innards of Oman.
6. Ability to adapt
The biggest expectation, or rather preparation before you enter a foreign country. One of the careless mistake on my end before entering Oman was taking the Arabic language too lightly. For some odd reason, I thought the people in Oman would immediately knew that we were foreigners and that they would pardon our excuse for not being able to understand and converse in Arabic.
Last but definitely not least, you will certainly see home in a different light. However being abroad, home is simply where your laptop is automatically connected to the Wi-Fi.