Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience for students, exposing them to new places, customs and foods, as well as new ways of thinking.
For students from the Arab world, studying abroad within the Middle East and North Africa can have particular advantages, says Walid I. Moubayed, professor and dean of admissions and registration at the University of Balamand in Koura, North Lebanon, which currently has 602 international students.
Being closer to home makes it easier for students to travel back during holidays and for parents to visit. Moubayed points out that students staying within the Middle East for college or graduate school are less likely to face the language barriers they would encounter in other parts of the world.
But that doesn’t mean that the adjustment will be easy for everyone. Brian Moran, dean of graduate affairs at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, says, “Some [KAUST] students from the Middle East have expressed that they didn’t feel they experienced a drastic culture shock, while others have felt that even coming from within the Middle East there was a big difference in the culture, weather or environment.”
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Regardless of where you are headed, there a few things you can do to help ensure you have a positive study abroad experience.
Be in the Know Before You Go
Before you travel, taking the time to familiarize yourself not only with the university where you will be studying, but also with the city will help make the transition upon arrival a little smoother.
Moubayed advises international students coming to his institution to “make sure to learn about Lebanon ahead of time, including weather conditions, transportation systems, what facilities are provided in their residency, whether on or off campus, areas of attraction and leisure activities.” He also suggests finding out whether the university you will be attending provides transportation to campus for international students, so that it can be arranged ahead of time.
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Omar Almasri, a Syrian software engineering student at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, recommends visiting the country before moving, if possible.
“If you can have a tour inside the country, go for it,” he says. Since campus housing is not available for male students at the college, Almasri used his visit to Jordan to find the apartment he now rents.