Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Studying in Egypt

Sadiya Jalal, a Nigerian experiential learner, shares her experience in Egypt

At the Pyramids

When I decided to travel and study in a foreign country, I knew it meant going to a different country with the genuine intention of doing more than just sightseeing and marking places off a list. It’s a great way to learn in an immersive environment and take classes in a new context.

Egypt was actually the first foreign country I had ever visited, so I had my own doubts and fears since I had no idea what to expect. Before coming to Egypt I had read stories about the country, especially its history, so I had expectations of an old and beautiful world with modern infrastructure. I wasn’t disappointed. One fascinating thing was the language, which, though it’s beautiful and different, I don’t speak. Before coming to Egypt, I thought that since I would be studying mass communication I should not worry about the language as some people would speak English.


Representing Nigeria at 6 October University International Day; On the River Nile with father

Well, I was wrong. Every student in my faculty speaks Arabic, and I am actually the only non-Arabic-speaking student, so there is no reason to teach in any language apart from Arabic. Then came the adjustment part: I had to make the decision to either study in a class where I had no idea what the professor was saying or to fight for English to be spoken. I say fight because it was a struggle. Even today, whenever I request the lecturer to teach in English, I’m told that more than half the students only understand their mother tongue.

I eventually made a request to meet the dean, and later it became a rule that English should be mixed with Arabic when I’m in class. But studying in another country is not only about being introduced to the world outside; it is also about introducing a new me to myself. It is about being pushed to learn not just about the country, but also about how I am interacting with my new friends and environment. It helps me be more empathetic to be around people who have very different world-views and life experiences and to welcome them as friends and protectors. Being in a foreign land and not knowing what is going on means needing all the help that is available.
I soon began to recognise when a person was being sincere or potentially harmful. At the university, I became an interesting item, a mystery of a kind to my fellow students. They all wondered why I had chosen to study in Egypt when I didn’t understand the language. I tried as much as I could to explain that I had no idea that the policy of the university actually meant no English at all.

A lot of the students were supportive, and some were very curious. Questions were thrown at me about my country and the language we spoke. I tried to answer as much as I could because I couldn’t resist doing so, especially with the excitement in their faces. I was even saved a spot in some classes, usually the front seat, and I didn’t have to explain my situation to lecturers as the few friends I had came to my rescue and explained it for me. I was asked questions relating to my country in the middle of a lecture, especially its politics and religion, even its education system.

I discovered Egypt in a peculiar way, being introduced to food, slang and a lot of interesting stories. My friends thought it was cool for me to know songs, so they made it a habit to translate songs for me into English. While some students found me interesting enough to make me their friend, it was the opposite for others. Maybe it was the language barrier, but the only response I could get from some students was an occasional smile or eye contact.

They just didn’t know how to interact with me: some told me they didn’t understand English, but I realised they were afraid to embarrass themselves by making mistakes. It was hard, but I tried my best to explain that English was just my country’s official language, not my mother tongue, so I wasn’t going to chastise them for making mistakes. This worked for a few at least. Some even asked to be my friends so I could help improve their English and they promised to help me with Arabic.


Interacting with colleague

For me, life is about taking big leaps, going with the flow, thinking in new directions, adventuring far and wide, overcoming challenges, and raising cultural awareness. Studying in a foreign country definitely has its perks. It is an opportunity to meet new people, learn their culture, and even pick up good behaviour. People have tried to make life as easy as they could for me at school. We are asked to do group projects for a lot of our courses, and I was told that I could do mine alone if I wanted to, which I did a few times. But being involved and interacting with the other students has made my life easier, so I eventually stopped working alone and joined the groups, which was fun and educational.

Going out with my new-found friends also proved to be educational. At the end of the day, they’re just young adults like me who are trying to figure out life. As a result, I have blossomed from the dark-skinned English-speaking foreign student riding taxis that I was when I arrived in Egypt to the girl who goes on the bus and is familiar with Arabic words. Out in the markets, bargaining became easier, seeing as they’re the same back home, even though my Arabic was nowhere near good enough at first, though I have become more confident.

Being here has brought out my independent nature, and I’ve discovered myself at a different level. My life at home was simple and easy, and I relied a lot on my family for almost everything. Little things people my age do on their own I didn’t use to do, so one of the low points of studying on my own has been getting used to running errands by myself. In a short time it stopped being an issue, however. Slowly, I began discovering things about myself — I had no idea about how I’m almost never late, for example, always making sure I don’t let someone else wait on me.

When I was at home I developed an interest in photography, but it was here in Egypt that I finally bought my first camera and started practising the art of taking pictures. Maybe it was the atmosphere here, or the fact that it’s a different environment, but I have slowly started having the courage to do things I’ve always wanted to do. Even though I love staying in, I realised that I don’t mind going out to places that interest me. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted to major in before I started university, my reply would always be journalism.

Being in Egypt has opened my eyes, and now I finally have genuine reasons to be a journalist, and I’m seeing a future where my work is going to make the world a better place.

This chapter of my life is about to end, but it’s one I’ll never forget. There are memories I’ll forever cherish, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

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