Sondos from Gaza, BSc in Psychology
Sondos in Manchester, where she's now studying psychology
Studying abroad can be a fantastic experience, but it’s not always easy. Stress, homesickness, culture shock… at times, student life can be challenging.
For students worried about their families back home, life can be even more complicated.
Sondos Ghalayini from Gaza moved to Manchester, UK, aged 16 and is now studying Psychology at the University of Manchester. Here, Sondos shares her experiences as a student in the UK, and her advice for staying calm in times of trouble.
I was 16 when I first left Gaza and came to the UK.
'At first, it was a real culture shock. In Gaza, people are direct and open. Here, people are a little more private until they know each other.
'I’d learned English at school in Gaza, but only the formal, textbook kind. I found it hard to understand other students in my class at first, as they used a lot of slang.
'I was scared that people would judge me for being different and that it would be hard making friends, but after a difficult few months, I settled in. The students were actually really nice, and I met good friends that I am still in touch with now. The teachers were really supportive too.'
My advice to other students moving abroad: Stay friendly and positive, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
'If people are chatting and you don’t understand them, just ask! People are usually very happy to help you. Take every opportunity to go out with your fellow students, and you will soon make friends.'
After graduating from college and gaining my A-levels, I went to the University of Manchester to study Psychology.
'It was going really well at first. I was living in halls of residence, made lots of friends, and really liked the course.
'But after the first term, I got really stressed out about the security of my family back in Gaza. I was missing my mum and dad, and worrying about their safety. I got behind in my work as a result, and that made me feel even worse.
'Fortunately, the university was really supportive and said that I could take a break. I rejoined my course the following year when I was ready.'
Life is not perfect. Being a student can be challenging anyway, and if you are worried about your family, it can be tough.
'Getting a good qualification is useful, but your health and happiness are the top priority.
'If you go through a hard time, speak to your tutors and staff on campus – ask them for help and advice.
'They may be able to give you practical support – for example, you might be able to get an extension for your essay deadlines, or they might have some good ideas on how you can beat your problems.'
Family time: Sondos, second from right, together with her mum, brother and sister
'Make sure that you take plenty of time to rest too. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, take exercise, see friends, and do things you enjoy to unwind.
'Summer 2014 was a hard time for me again, due to the conflict in Gaza. I was desperately worried about my family, but I coped much better this time by following these steps.'
My campus is really international.
'I have made friends with students from all around the world, of all different religions and cultures. Sometimes it feels like being at a United Nations convention!
'Being in this environment has made me a lot more open and accepting of other people’s ideas. Everyone is equal on campus. The more people who study abroad, the better, I think.'
The social life here is awesome
'At the University of Manchester, there are over 300 student societies that you can join. I go to a Ceilidh club – Ceilidh is a type of traditional Scottish and Irish dance with live music. It is a great way to meet new people. I have also been going to debates, political discussions, hiking club – all sorts.
'Living in a hall of residence is a great way to make friends too. In my hall there are over 100 female students from the UK and other countries. It is a good mix and we all get on really well.'
I love exploring the UK’s countryside and culture.
'The countryside is so green, it always makes me feel at peace. There are some beautiful areas close to Manchester, like the Peak District and the Lake District national parks.
'There are loads of exciting activities on offer too – museums, art galleries, music festivals, plays, sports and more.'
Hiking with friends in the Peak District
'To me, the UK is a place where everyone can express themselves. Manchester is particularly creative – there is a real hippy, "do-it-yourself" scene where everyone is into music, art, politics and having fun.
'It’s also great to be able to travel to Europe so easily. You can get flights to places like Rome, Paris and Budapest cheaply if you shop around, and there are good deals on the trains too.'
After I graduate, I plan to do a Master’s degree in Clinical and Health Psychology.
'For my career, I want to specialise in insomnia and sleep problems. Sleep is crucial for our physical and mental health – but there is more pressure than ever on us to work and be connected when we should be relaxing.'
Student life does have its challenges, but it has made me who I am.
'People in the UK are, on the whole, very kind and warm, and there is a great international atmosphere. I love it here, and I hope you do too if you come. Just remember to put your health and happiness first, and to ask others for help if you need it.'