Mohammed from Gaza, chemistry researcher and consultant
Mohammed Ghalayini from Gaza gained a BSc and MSc in Environmental Science, and a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry, at the University of Manchester. Now, he is working in Manchester as a freelance consultant for the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.
On graduation day at the University of Manchester (Photo ©Mohammed Ghalayini)
'Studying in the UK is an opportunity to meet people from all corners of the world. In Gaza, it is rare to meet people from overseas because of the travel limitations, so coming to the UK was a fantastic experience for me.
'I was particularly fortunate to live in a hall of residence for international students, so I had international connections from as far apart as Tibet and Brazil, and lots of other countries in between. I met a wonderful bunch of people who became good friends.
'Of course, meeting folks from around the world is challenging – there are cultural barriers to bridge at times in relation to what is appropriate, and differences in body language too.
'A particular example with regard to non-verbal communication for me was when chatting with someone from Italy. I asked them a question and they responded by making a “Tsk” sound, which in Gaza means no, but in Italy means yes.'
Mohammed, left, with friends from around the world (Photo ©Mohammed Ghalayini)
'Beyond communication and natural cultural differences, one thing that you do realise, as clichéd as it sounds, is that in a neutral environment such as a university, our common humanity and aspirations bring us together. Students and others I met in Manchester all have similar aims and goals. We all wanted to excel at our education and have fun and new experiences while doing so.
'Of course there are exceptions to this rosy aspect. We all come to the UK with our own political identities – campuses provide a great platform for political expression where differences can arise. I experienced this personally when advocating for human rights for Palestinians on campus. Debates at the students’ union or protests occasionally got a little heated.
'Still, it was all in the realms of open political expression, and I think it is better to air ideas and views, rather than stifle them. It is the best way for us to learn from each other and come to a consensus.
'On a more positive and personal note for me, while living and studying in the UK, I made friends with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and atheist. In particular, I had a great opportunity to meet people from other parts of the Middle East, Palestine and Israel who I wouldn’t have normally met in Gaza because of the difficulty of travel.'
Exploring the UK's wintry countryside (Photo ©Mohammed Ghalayini)
'It was definitely interesting – sometimes we would disagree politically, but nonetheless I respect our shared humanity and would like to think that we learnt things about each other and that these encounters, at the very least for me, shaped our respective views on the way forward for peace.
'Meeting people with different cultural outlooks does help us challenge our beliefs – or at least make us realise that there is more than one way of doing things – and that just because they’re different it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong.
'I’d fall short of saying that international education can change the world as I believe there are other factors involved. But I am a true believer that the mixing and intermingling of cultures is a great boon to humanity if it’s done with an open mind and a willingness to learn and recognise that differences are not a bad thing – in fact our differences can be a source of strength and diversity.'