When I discovered that my language degree required me to spend a year's study in the Middle East, I couldn't work out how I felt. Was it excitement or apprehension? Becoming an international student means many things; poor exchange rates, unfamiliar culture and language barriers are to name but a few. So why, after arriving only two months ago to study in Jordan, do I now not want to go home?
A good place to start is the money, or its lack of, as a student. As you've probably heard, in 2012 UK students' tuition fees for attending most British universities lurched to an eye watering £9,000 per year; so today, many students are looking at cheaper options overseas. I was one of the lucky ones, slipping into the system pre 2012; I didn't think my £3,000 per year was anything to lose sleep over. It was.
As an international student at the University of Jordan, Amman, I pay £1,725 per year. This puts my UK fee to shame. On top of this, any maintenance loans or grants stay relative to the country's economy, so you won't feel shafted when budgeting for your time abroad. What's more is that Jordan, if you know where to look, offers the opportunity to live extremely cheaply; so after spending two years as a cash-strapped student in London, this really isn't hard at all.
Now it's a well-argued point that paying a premium for UK university gives you excellent standards of teaching in return. When applying in 2010, I bought into this. Refusing to look at any institution that didn't hold a prestigious status, I needlessly narrowed my options. Studying in the Middle East has since shattered these prejudices. In my experience international students have the potential to reap more rewards here than back at home. Jordanian hospitality makes it easy to form employment connections, and tutors' focus on their tutees is excellent. Being a small class (of about 10), we are given the freedom to choose which topics, books and theories to study. Although a shock at first, this informal method of teaching is already having a positive effect; I haven't missed a single day and I'm quite enjoying Harry Potter in Arabic.
Of course, difficulties may arise when studying abroad; conversations can become strained when the language barrier gets in the way. As a student of Arabic it's vital I understand local expressions, grammar rules and exercises, which are explained best in my mother tongue; so my tutor's weak command of English sometimes hinders our progress. Thankfully, this is not the case for all international students; subjects where graduates will look to gain jobs in the international market (Chemical Engineering, for example) are largely taught in English. International students are thus left to learn the local language at their own pace, outside of class.
Other extracurricular activities consist mainly of exploring your host country and understanding its culture. Unlike the UK, I have seen few student societies, sports teams and certainly no protest movements. The Arab Spring has shown that counter-culture can be found in the Middle East, but the risks posed to foreigners mean it's not worth searching for. The UK Foreign Office backs me up on this one, currently advising I "don't attend mass gatherings".
Thus, the political instability of the region cannot be ignored; studying in the Middle East has its dangers. At the time of my arrival the US was about to bomb Assad's Syria, Jordan's northern neighbours. The predicted repercussions didn't bode well for anyone, least of all my studies. Thankfully my fears were not realised and attending university in the Middle East remained a possibility. It's an added bonus when your peers back home look to you as an authority on the region's conflicts.
It's hard to regret my choice to study in the Middle East. Whether it's all the sun, or the easy-going lifestyle; my student needs are satisfied. Sure, you might say that the culture is a bit too much, or the desert temperatures are overwhelming; but having studied abroad will make you a valuable asset when you graduate. So while my time here may be short, the benefits gained will certainly be many.