Hello, my name is Alaa (علاء). I am a 4th year studying MEng Aerospace Engineering. I am currently in my final year, doing my Masters, but technically I am an undergraduate since I enrolled in a degree known as an Integrated Masters (more on that later). I am from Syria; Damascus to be exact and I have been living in the UK for more than 3 years now, although I do still go back home every summer.
Here at the University of Surrey, we have started a Middle Eastern blog for everyone from the Middle East and North Africa, or the Arab World, to provide an insight into life in the UK in general and at the University of Surrey specifically for anyone considering coming to study here. Hopefully hearing from students will be very useful to you. I can tell you from personal experience that just reading things off websites is certainly not enough.
The first obstacle we ran into when we started this blog was what language to write in. We decided to use a mix, so writing some entries in English and some entries in Arabic (possibly with some franco-arabic included). I suppose in an ideal world, we would have had one person from each country in the region writing in their own Arabic dialect, because let’s face it: for most of us, reading entries in formal Arabic (فصحى) would probably not be very appealing, especially since they are written by students, but unfortunately there are only two of us. However, we will try our best to make our blog as accessible and friendly as possible.
Let me start by telling you why I chose to study Aerospace Engineering, and why I chose the University of Surrey. In high school (Pakistan International School of Damascus, or PISOD), I was one of the best academically; I was especially good at maths. Back home, the only things you could study to have a good chance of getting a job were medicine, business and engineering. I hated business, and I never had the stomach for medicine, so I chose engineering. I chose Aerospace specifically because planes were just fascinating to me and I thought studying Aerospace would be much more exciting than studying Mechanical (for me at least). My dream had always been to go study in the UK and being in a school that operated using the British system (we had IGCSE’s and AS levels) made achieving that dream a little easier. We were taught everything in English from 1st grade, so my English was already very good. Consequently, I preferred to only go for higher education at an English university. America was mostly out of the question, because my parents (my mom especially) didn’t want me going half-way around the world (I’m sure many of you can relate to that) so I focused on the UK.
We had a teacher at school who had connections in the UK and he had already helped quite a few of my friends to come to Surrey and start their foundation year after they finished 11th grade in school. I stayed for my 12th and final year to do A-levels then hopefully go straight to first year at university.
All I had to go on when choosing universities was league tables and websites. I ended up applying to Cambridge, Imperial College and Surrey. I got invited to an interview at Cambridge but I couldn’t go because the date clashed with my school exams so that left me with Imperial College and Surrey. I got offers from both, but Imperial only offered me a course in Aerospace Materials and I wanted to do engineering. Besides, it was way too expensive (almost £10,000 more per year than Surrey at the time). So I ended up choosing Surrey. I figured it would be really good since it was pretty high in the league tables (and it has climbed quite a bit since I came here). Even better, many of my school friends were already there so I knew I would really enjoy it and settling in wouldn’t be half as hard as it is when you go to a new place where you know nobody. And I have to say, the past three years and a bit have been some of the best of my life. Coming to Surrey was certainly a great decision.
Next week, I’ll tell you all about my journey from Damascus to Guildford, with some very helpful tips about exactly what NOT to do when you first come to the UK.