Middle Eastern students at Surrey

Insight into life at Surrey from two current Middle Eastern students

Christmas in Guildford

Today I’m gonna tell you a bit about Christmas here in Guildford. At Surrey, we have a 3 week Christmas break that starts after Week 11 (which is the last week when proper teaching happens). The only inconvenient thing about that is the fact that when you come back at the end of the 3 weeks, you only have 1 week before exams begin (exams happen in weeks 13 and 14 in semester 1) which means you will probably have to do some revision during the holidays. The majority of students go back home during this break so the university becomes rather quiet. I always stay in Guildford, mostly because I always have quite a bit of revision to do (engineering is a pretty demanding thing to study) but I do relax and take thing slow.

Guildford, and the UK in general, become quite festive and busy in the run-up to Christmas. Town centres are decorated and most houses are too. Going into town, especially after dark, is quite a spectable. A few days ago I went to town and found a large farmer’s market on the high street. They were selling everything you could think of: all types of food including meat, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, olives, honey, wines, chocolate and much more. They were also selling arts and crafts such as vases. There was live music and even farm animals on display. It was crowded and very festive. Here are a couple of pictures of the animals. I know they’re not very clear but you can see a sheep and what I believe is a couple of mules or donkeys.


It’s always nice to go for a walk in Christmas time. It’s very calm and Guildford is a great place for walking, even more so if you like nature like me. We’ve got a river passing through the entire town, and you can practically walk all through Guildford by the riverside, which is a great thing to do in spring/summertime.

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Stoke Park is one of the biggest in Guildford and has some awesome views. You can see the magnificent cathedral from it. That building in the distance with the tower protruding from the middle is the cathedral. It’s no more than a 30-minute walk from Stoke Park to the cathedral even though it seems like it’s at the end of the world in the picture.


There’s also a nearby village, within walking distance, called Shalford which is almost all greenery. I even found out that you could cycle all the way from there down to the sea (a 60 km journey) on scenic routes without traffic. I’m hoping to do that in the spring since I really like cycling. In 2013, if you’d believe it, there was widespread flooding in the UK and that whole area you see below was completely submerged. It was really a sight to behold. I was just walking around exploring and I came across the place for the first time and found it all submerged. I didn’t even know what it looked like normally until a few days ago when I came across it again.


And on the outskirts of Guildford (which is actually just beyond Manor Park, the university’s off-campus accommodation) you can even find farms with horses.


So I guess you could say like nature and walking, and peace and quiet, Guildford in Christmas time is practically heaven, as long as the weather is good. In all honesty, it often isn’t but lucky for me, it is this year and I sure have been enjoying it.



Daily life at surrey university; الحياة اليومية فى سارى


Saba7 el 5eir 3amleen eh?  I wanted to write today about my weekly life at surrey, to give you an idea of what to expect here at the university.

I arrived in the UK on the 21 of step, before any of the local students came, so I could attend the international orientation program which was pretty cool. I booked the meet and great scheme (which is for free, and I recommend everyone to book it for a hassle free experience), on arrival to Heathrow airport, there was a group of students ambassadors waiting for us, the new arrivals, took us to our new homes…..umm rooms, via busses which were amazing as you get to meet senior students, and other international students who have just arrived to the university. The first few days were for international students, this is when they showed us around town, and the county of surrey, told us the history of Guildford, some do and don’ts while in the UK, and the most important thing is that they invited us for free fish and chips organized by…. I can’t remember who, but it was free food. As the week progressed other local students started to come in, and we had our faulty welcome, registration, SU induction, Surrey Sports Park induction and so on.

So now that I have told you what the first few weeks at Surrey was like let me dive in, and tell you about my daily routine here at Surrey. I start my day at 6 am at Surrey Sports Park to go to the gym (I will write about the sports park and its facilities in details in future blogs).  Usually at surrey lectures run from 9 till 7 pm, so in these hours I do my work or go to lectures. After my hard day of work, I usually hang out with friends in the front room (SU common room, they have playstation, boardgames and other stuff). There is also a shisha place near campus (5 min walk) which I sometimes visit. Some of my non-Arab friends “be shayshow” kiwi and pineapple flavor which you don’t feel the kick, and it’s like breathing in water, so I usually go for more traditional flavor, like apple which is very similar like the one back home. On the weekends, I sometimes Hang out in Guildford town center (might do a future blog about Guildford’s town center), and Sometimes I go to London (trip to London on future blogs, costs only 13.5 pounds including a ticket to the underground for all zones), or Woking (that has a large Muslim community, lots of halal variety food to shop). On Saturdays, I go to Tesco (open 24/7 expect on Saturday, and Sunday has limited opening hours) to do my shopping. If you are into cooking your own food (which will be a lot cheaper than takeaway), there is a large variety of Hala, and middle eastern food here at surrey.

In my next Blog I will write all about my trip to London and Woking (which is only a couple of minutes away from Guildford by train), so stay tuned.


صباح الخير ، عاملين ايه النهاردة؟ احب ان اكتب لكم اليوم عن حياتى الاسبوعية فى سارى، كى اعطى لكم فكرة عن طبيعة الحياة اللتى تنتظركم داخل الجامعة. انا وصلت الي مطار هيترو بإنجلترا في يوم واحد وعشرين سبتمبر قبل وصول الطلبه المحليين حتى استطيع حضور برنامج التوجيه الدولي وكان رائع جدا. حجزت للاجتماع ، وانصح اي طالب جديد ان يحجز هذا الاجتماع وهو مجانى. وعندما وصلنا الي مطار هيثرو كان في استقبالنا مندوبين من الجامعة واوصلنا المندوبين الي بلدة جيلفرد الي المنزل الخاص بنا والحجرات الخاصه بنا عن طريق الباص وكانت رحلة قصيرة وجميلة وتعرفنا في الجامعة علي الطلبة الاقدم والطلبة الدوليين الذين وصلوا التوا الجامعة. وفي اول يوم وصولن ا إلي بلدة جيلفرد سري وهي البلده التي تقع بها الجامعة قمنا بجولة ممتعة وتعرفنا فيها على تاريخ هذه البلدة العريقة وتناولنا الوجبة الانجليزية الشهيرة البطاطس والسمك و الأهم أن هذه الوجبة كانت مجانية لكنى لا اتذكر من نظمها. وفي الايام التالية بدأت الطلبة المحليين في الحضور وتم التسجيل وعمل الكارنيهات الخاصه بنا. و هكذا تحدثت معكم عن اول اسابيع فى ساري و سوف استكمل و أحدثكم عن حياتي اليومية و الإسبوعية الروتنية في الجامعة. الدراسة تبدأ فى الثامنة صباحا حتى السابعة مساءا.فلو هناك واجبات خاصه بي ومراجعة دروسي انتهي منها حتي الساعة الواحدة بعد منتصف الليل بعد الانتهاء من مراجعة المواد والواجبات الخاصه بي اجتمع مع الاصدقاء بالغرفة الموحدة لنا التى بها بلاي ستيشن وغيرها من ادوات التسلية. واستطعت من خلال الجامعة ان امارس هواية جبيبة الي قلبي وهي السباحة فاقوم بالسباحة في يوم الاجازة من الساعه التامنة حتي الساعة العاشرة صباحا. و أيضا أذهب إلى المنطقة الرياضية الساعة السادسة صباحا أمارس بعض الرياضة قبل بدء المحاضارات حتى أبدا يومى بنشاط. فى أيام الاجازة الإسبوعية أمارس السباحة من الثامنة صباحا حتى العاشرة صباحا. ثم أذاكر بعد الظهر واحيانا أقوم برحلة قصيرة الي لندن التي تبعد قليلا عن سري وهي رحلة غير مكلفة اذ تتكلف فقط تلاتة عشر ونصف جنية استرليني. وهذه التكلفة تشمل الانتقال بمترو الانفاق داخل لندن. وهناك في لندن يمكن عمل المشتريات وبها محلات عديدة للاكل الحلال وبها ايضا مطاعم متعددة للأكل المصري والعربي . كما يوجد بجانب الجامعة مكان للشيشه العربية بنكهة الفاكهة مثل التفاح و الاناناس لمن يرغب في ذلك. وانا اقوم بالتسوق في سري من محلات تيسكو يوم السبت وبها مشتريات قليلة حلال. اما عندما اكون مشغولا فى الجامعة وليس لدي وقت فاتناول الوجبات في مطاعم الجامعة وبها وجبات دجاج حلال مثل مطاعم بيتزا مان أو مطعم ثيا. و إذا اشتقت للأكلات المصريةو العربية الشهية فيوجد مطاعم ايضا للكفتة والكباب و غيرها من الأكلات التقليدية العربية. كما ان لندن بها مطاعم عربية كثيرة، و هى تبعد دقائق فقط عن جلفيرد

The Trek: Damascus to Guildford

Today I’ll be telling you all about my journey to come here. It certainly wasn’t easy so I am writing this in the hope that if you read it, you’ll know what I did wrong and be able to avoid it so that your arrival can be as smooth as possible.

Let me first tell you what happened with me. I set out from Damascus to Beirut with my parents (there are no flights to Europe from Syria these days) who then dropped me off at the airport. I had booked a flight with a stop in Istanbul (I recommend getting a direct flight if you can, it’s much better and faster). I arrived in the UK at around 9:15 pm so I just missed the International welcome (more on that below) which meant I had to make my way to university alone. The university’s ‘Pre-departure Guide’ had instructions on how to get to university by public transport (I didn’t want to take a taxi because my friends were waiting for me at Guildford train station) so I thought I’d follow these and be fine. So I took the underground into London and got off at London Waterloo, which is the station from which trains to Guildford run. Unfortunately I arrived just past midnight which meant the last train to Guildford had left. I was advised to take the train to Woking (the closest town to Guildford) and then continue the journey in a taxi. So I took the train, arrived in Woking, and got a taxi from the train station entrance (you will always find taxis at train stations). I told him to take me to Guildford train station, rather than the university because my friends were supposed to be waiting there. It was past 1 am at this point, but my phone was dead and I had no way of contacting them so I didn’t know if they were still waiting. The taxi dropped me off at the train station at about 2 am. It was quite dark and I was very tired and sleepy so I couldn’t even find my way into the station. I looked around for a bit, concluded that my friends had left, and started trying to find the way to university. I spent nearly an hour wandering the streets with my heavy bags in tow; every time I saw a light in the distance, I would think a shop or something was open and I was saved but when I would get there, I would find the place was actually closed. It turns out most shops and offices don’t turn their lights off at night here for some reason, which is really annoying. Eventually I found some people working at a construction site who told me the university was just a few minutes’ walk away. I got to the campus in the end, but it’s a big campus and I was supposed to be collecting my key from a specific building and of course I had no idea where it was. I ended up wandering around a little more until, luckily, security found me and took me to their office, where they gave me my key and took me to my room. And that was my very exciting journey. I can happily say that since that time, the university has put in a lot more maps and signs around campus so finding the place you want to go to when you still don’t know your way around is now much easier.

Now to tell you what to do to avoid ending up in a situation similar to mine.

First off, what to bring with you. Remember that power sockets in the UK are different from the ones we have in the Middle East so if you can find one, bring a UK power adaptor with you. Alternatively, just carry a portable charger. One thing you really don’t want when going to a new country (probably alone) is your phone dying and having no means of communication with the world. Your parents will probably panic (as mine spectacularly did) if they don’t hear from you an hour or two after your plane was supposed to land and have no means of getting in touch.

My most important piece of advice for you is this: arrive during the day. You really do not want to be arriving in the dead of night. Unlike most places in the Middle East, Europe in general, and small towns like Guildford specifically, sort of shut down at night. You’ll barely find any people in the street. Moreover, during the day public transport operates more frequently so using it will be faster and easier. And most importantly, if you choose to arrive during the university’s main moving-in weekend, during the day there will be Fresher’s Angels around who will tell you where to go and what to do when you get to university. They’ll also carry your stuff to your new room for you which is a big plus.

In my time, as an international student coming to start your first year, you could sign up for an international welcome where the International Student Support office here at the university would come and pick you up from the airport on specific days and at specific times. I am pretty sure that scheme is still running; I would really recommend signing up for it if you don’t want to wait until moving-in weekend to arrive; you get to see friendly faces as soon as you get here and you get a free ride straight to university without having to pay nearly £50 for a taxi or having to go through the effort of a segmented journey on public transport, which will be confusing the first time you use it. Bear in mind that this scheme operates only up to 9 pm on the days it runs.

To be extra safe, you could carry a map of university with you (I think you can print one from the university website) and also perhaps a map of the route from the train station or bus station to university (Google Maps could be a good way of getting that).

In summary, try your best to arrive during the day, preferably avoid public transport just to make things easier for yourself, and if you can, arrive either during moving-in weekend or when the International welcome is operating.

That’s all from me today. Here is a picture of Guildford castle during the night, just to show you how dark it gets here. You would think it was in the middle of nowhere judging by how dark the surroundings are, but it’s actually in the heart of Guildford. Just to show you that arriving during the day is a lot ‘clearer’, if nothing else.


Why I choose surrey ; لماذا اخترت كلية سري لدراسة الماجستير

Hi, I am Mohamed Gamal from Egypt, and I am one of 2 new student ambassadors for the entire MENA region. I did my undergrad in Egypt in electronic and communication, and now I am currently studying in the euro master, electronics engineering program at University of Surrey. The Euro masters program at surrey offers a chance to take a 6-month placement. The placement was the primary reason I chose to do my degree at surrey, it’s an added value to your cv. Plus if employers like you, I heard there is a greater chance to get sponsored by the same company that you interned for, but a word of advice, if you are going to opt for a placement is to start looking for placement early as it takes a lot of time to get one.
From The academics point of view, it is great here. In my department, The department of electrical and electronics, the whole program has been designed based on the research centers they have, and are taught by leading academics, and researchers. Like for example in the nano-science and renewable energy masters it is being taught by professors from the ATI research center at surrey. These professors leading the way in their prospective field which is something you don’t get exposed to in an Egyptian university. Not only that in your dissertation you get to actually work with cool stuff in these research centers which is pretty cool especially as an Egyptian, because they have equipment’s that we don’t have in Egypt (some of them are pretty expensive pieces of hardware). At Surrey you really, you are really taught to analyze, and think outside the box which is different from the way I was taught in my undergrad.
Surrey university also has a large proportion of student from the MENA region, with lots of society that cater for the MENA student region like the Egyptian association in the university which has shisha nights. Guildford itself, were Surrey University is located, is a great town with proximity to really cool places like London. I will take more about the student life, and my experience at Surrey in details in my next blog post, so stay tuned, until then Salam.

انا الطالب الجديد في جامعة سري ,محمد جمال الدين ,في الماجستير الاوربي اليورو ماستر الذي يتيح لي فرصة للتدريب في الصيف حتي نهاية الترم التاني من السنة القادمة  وفرصة ان احصل علي توصيه من احدي الشركات الإنجليزية واضيف تدريبي هذا الي السيرة الذاتية الخاصة بي و لكان انصح اي طالب جديد بالبجت عن التدريب مبكرا.
ومن الناحيه الاكاديمية التعليمية فإن منهج قسم الكهرباء مبني علي مراكز أبحاث يتولي الإشراف  عليها أساتذة  أكاديمين. ففي تكنولوجيا النانو والطاقه المتجدده يقوم بالاشراف عليها أساتذة من مركز ابحات ati تابع للجامعه وهو مركز أبحاث  متقدم يقدم كل ماهو جديد.  ليس هذا فقط بل إن المشروع الخاص بي سوف أقوم بعمله في مركز ابحاث حيث المعدات الحديثة المتقدمة والتمينه لاتتوافر في مصر. أضف الي ذلك ان الدراسة في سري علمتني التفكير التحليلي الإبداعي والتفكير خارج الصندوق وهذا مالم توفره لي الدراسه في مصر.

All About Me

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.

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