How not to suck during a year abroad

Lily David, BA Arabic and Politics

Moving abroad is a big deal. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it isn’t. It’s exhausting, exciting, and at times, bewildering. Around this time last year, approximately thirty SOAS students headed off to Amman, Jordan on their year abroad. I was one of them. It was a daunting life change at the time, as I had only ever lived in the UK. I didn’t really know what to expect, or indeed what was expected of me. Multiple questions came to mind. How often is it ok to go home? Will I miss my parents? What if I hate it? Will people understand me? How many adapters should I pack? Do they have Cadbury’s Dairy Milk over there? All of the important things.

SOAS, true to its reputation, didn’t offer us the most organised of experiences. I remember a scrap of paper being torn from a student’s notebook and handed around a lecture approximately six months before we were scheduled to depart. On it, we were to write our preferred destination: Alexandria, Nablus or Amman. From my understanding, students at other universities have a somewhat more organised procedure. At the time, my friends from high school (also studying languages) were filling my Facebook News Feed with photos of official-looking forms, eagerly filled in and stamped by their faculty offices. They were heading to France, Spain, Italy or Germany. We were heading to one of the most politically unstable regions in the world and our department seemed relatively relaxed.

Nonetheless, it proved to be the best year of my life so far. The sun shone almost every day, the food was good and the people were nice. University classes were short and we enjoyed a three-day weekend. After a few weeks, I decided to put all of that spare time to use – the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan was worsening, and I wanted to get involved in the relief effort. So, one Thursday, I took a taxi around the city, visiting major NGOs with copies of my CV. I didn’t expect much to come of it, but it was worth a try. Two weeks later, I was offered an internship at the United Nations. I was lucky enough to be given my own project, visit Zaatari camp and help distribute financial aid to those most in need. It was the best experience of my life, and all I had to do was ask for it one hot Thursday afternoon.

The first two years of my degree were not easy, and I doubt that anyone who has studied Arabic at SOAS will tell you that it’s a straightforward course. It was easy to forget why I had chosen Arabic in the first place, the grey drizzle of London dampening my spirits as well as my shoes. But the Year Abroad was a nudge in the right direction – a reward for sticking with my degree despite the difficulty, and a reminder of what lies ahead. I got my passion back, became excited again and even a little proud of myself. If you’re heading on your year abroad, my advice is this: don’t wait for anyone to help you, get out and do it yourself. Ask for something that you think you have no chance of getting – it happened for me, so it can happen for you. But most of all, remember why you study what you do and enjoy the gift of learning – it won’t last forever.


Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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