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Alaa Hassan
Alaa Hassan

New worlds, new selves: How much will studying abroad change you?

‘It was a new life, new people, new system’

KUWAIT: Visiting a foreign country for a vacation is enjoyable as long as you know that it’s just a couple of days and you’ll be returning home. But what if those days turn into months, the months into years, and before you know it, that unfamiliar place becomes your new home? “It didn’t sink in until I arrived at the airport. As soon as my parents left, I realized that I am actually on my own,” Alaa Hassan, 23, said, as she departed to Canada five years ago to study engineering. At first, the challenges were as simple as not knowing how a washing machine works.

With time, the hurdles grew, forcing her to pass through prolonged stress and multiple breakdowns. As it was her first time out of Kuwait, she said, “It was a new life, new people, new system, and new everything. I reached a point where I had to fight battles that my parents knew nothing about.” But it’s the kind of stress that made her grow to become “emotionally resilient,” as she said. One simple instance is when she had to independently move from her apartment seven different times and manage the hassle of that hectic process every single time.

“I used to feel disappointed that everyone in my neighborhood had their family around, helping them in packing and transferring their stuff,” she added. By the end of her journey, Hassan was surprised to find that she had the capacity to endure more than she ever thought she could. Even though she was never a multitasker, in her last college year, she said that she could handle working in five different roles along with her studying.

Ali Hamza
Ali Hamza

Similarly, Ali Hamza, a 17-year-old who went to continue his high school education in Turkey, found himself maturing rapidly during his time alone. At such a young age and unfamiliar with Turkey’s laws, he struggled to manage various government-related issues related to his education, housing, and bills. What made things worse is that in Turkey, children under 18 must have their parents or lawyers complete legal procedures for them. Language barriers also posed a significant challenge, since very few Turkish people speak English.

“Even Google Translate couldn’t always help, because some places require you to bring an interpreter with you,” he said. He advised any student who’s planning to go to boarding school in a foreign country to be prepared to face a lot of hardships. “All you need is patience and wisdom to handle them properly,” he added, however noting, “age doesn’t truly matter, as long as you are mentally capable of taking good care of yourself.”

Soha Kassab
Soha Kassab

For Soha Kassab, traveling to the UK two years ago for English language study was more of a “self-searching experience than it was just for the sake of getting a degree. We are a lot stronger than we think we are,” she said. At first, maintaining self-discipline without the supervision or guidance of her parents was the most intimidating thing for her. “I was scared I might not be able to take care of myself the way my parents did,” Kassab said.

She suddenly found herself the one in control of feeding herself, setting her own curfew, waking herself up on time, and most importantly, making sure to remain safe. Kassab equally had the fear of not blending in with the new world she became part of. “Because I am visibly Muslim and different from most of the people living in the UK, I had a fear that I wouldn’t be accepted, or I wouldn’t find my group of people so easily,” Kassab added, referring to her headscarf, which made her identity very easily revealed.

However, by time, she reached a new understanding. “I stopped caring about fitting in anymore,” she said, realizing that the best approach to standing out was to simply be herself. “The same things that made me scared of looking different are now the same things that I hold on to so tightly, because they make me proud.” This even reflected on her perception of her mother tongue, as she added, “Everyone here seemed to be so proud of their language, which made me motivated to develop my Arabic language skills because it’s a huge part of who I am.”

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