From Syria to the UK: My First Year Insights as an International Student

This month we published International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision by Anas Hajar. In this post the author talks about his own experiences as an international student in the UK.

My first study abroad experience dates back to 2009 when I joined a postgraduate programme in English language teaching at Warwick University in the UK. Like many international students who study abroad, I aspired to establish meaningful interactions with locals – interactions that go beyond commercial exchanges and small talk in student cafeterias. However, I ended up spending most of my free time with two Syrian fellows and some other international students from China, Greece and Italy.

The superficiality of my interactions with the British stemmed mainly from my little awareness of learning strategies that can help enhance sojourn outcomes. I had limited experience in technology to check the latest social and academic activities offered by Warwick University. In addition, academic study pressure was extremely high and my ultimate vision was to complete my academic requirements and expand my knowledge in my specialisation. I was afraid of failure and of letting family members down, since I was government-sponsored.

My perspective about the myth of the “native speaker” as the ideal teacher changed at the end of my Master’s degree programme. To my surprise, two tutors who inspired me in the programme were non-native speakers of English. They seemed to me quite aware of the needs of international students, probably because they themselves experienced first-hand the phenomenon of international students pursuing their academic studies abroad through the medium of English. The two tutors gave a clear vision about the taught modules and interesting materials. They also provided useful, detailed and timely feedback on my written work. My dissertation supervisor passed on effective strategies that helped me make my writing more critical and develop a new identity as a neophyte researcher.

In Middle Eastern countries, the youth rarely leave their family and live on their own before marriage. Studying abroad made me grow into a more independent person, since this was my first experience of living apart from my parents. I had to be responsible for my decisions. My personal independence was reinforced through endeavours to meet personal life needs, such as purchasing household goods, finding and cooking Middle Eastern food, opening a bank account and searching for prepaid SIM cards to make overseas calls.

I felt homesick especially during celebratory occasions in Syria. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the gatherings organised by the University of Warwick Chaplaincy during Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, in which Middle Eastern food was served and people from different nationalities met and exchanged experiences.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths.

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