♫ LINA AL KAISY travelled 3,032 miles and would travel 3,032 more, to be the girl who flew 3,032 miles to go to the University of Chester. ♫
I was 40,000 feet high in the sky for six hours, with 399 others and a crying baby, when it started to sink in. I was flying 3,032 miles to study at the University of Chester!
For as long as I can remember, I wanted my own spontaneous travel adventure, like the ones I read in books. But I never would have predicted those dreams would become reality; that I would be welcoming independence so far away from my family and friends. As resident in a country so different to England, many thoughts flooded my mind. Will I fit in? Would I make new friends? How can I get over being homesick? And what is all the hype about fish and chips!?
Home is where Qatar is
I grew up in a tiny dot on the map – Qatar - a beautiful developing country that, until recently, was mainly well known for its scorching heat and magnificent dates (the fruit that is) and not a lot else, despite being one of the richest countries in the world. I would usually be met with confused stares at the mention of my homeland - resulting in me awkwardly pointing out that “it's right next to Dubai!” Being a small country did not attract many tourists or celebrities, meaning that festivals and concerts were almost non-existent – until now! All of that has changed since leaving for university; the FIFA World Cup Association has chosen Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup. Inviting many celebrities and artists to the country– all these matches are taking place in my untimely absence.
One of the many things I love about Qatar is its diversity. Only 15% of Qatar’s population is made up of Qataris. This is because of its hundreds of nationalities, enriching the country with many unique cultures and traditions.
Come fly with me
I was experiencing a range of powerful and confusing emotions on that six-hour-long flight. Excited. Nervous. Sentimental. Or just overwhelmed!? Perhaps the sense of sublime would be the most accurate description of how I felt when I first boarded the plane - complex and mixed feelings that are difficult to put into words. It is the sensation that the English philosopher Edmund Burke explores in his ‘The Sublime and Beautiful’ essay (Published in 1759). Through his writing, I discovered that I could, in fact, feel all those emotions simultaneously. Leaving the country I grew up in was hard, but nowhere near as challenging as leaving my parents and younger siblings. A lot
of time, money and effort was exerted to ensure I got the opportunity to study in the UK. Visa applications, searching for the right accommodation and travel procedures all had to be organised before I was able to set foot in the country. However, I was fortunate enough to have my family help me with all these requirements and I am extremely grateful to have my twin brother by my side in this new-found adventure.
I’ve only managed to explore a small part of the UK since my arrival, but I’ve already concluded that Qatar is completely different from the UK, in every possible way.
I was met with the cold rain and the scent of fresh grass and morning dew. It was unfamiliar compared to the warm sunshine and the sand of home. But the beautiful nature and wildlife (as well as the weather) in the UK is a welcome contrast. Although Qatar is very modern, with magnificent skyscrapers and buildings, it lacks the mesmeric natural scenery that Chester offers. Neither place is better than the other - they just diverge in interesting ways. Walking around the city and finally getting to see a squirrel is one of my greatest experiences. This might seem mundane and insignificant to those of you in the UK, but to a person who has only seen those fascinating creatures on television–it was a dream!
As well as wildlife, I have noticed that Chester is a very pet-friendly environment. I have spotted dozens of cute dogs walking around with their owners and find myself constantly fighting the urge to go up and pet every single canine I lay my eyes on. Unlike Qatar, the streets of Chester are remarkably busy, with pedestrians strolling about. That is very uncommon back home, as many people prefer to use air-conditioned transportation to avoid the scorching heat of the weather. A fun fact about Qatar is that the weather can get so hot that it regularly exceeds 40c. Despite the complaints from my friends that grew up here, this really makes me appreciate Chester’s rainy days!
Throughout my childhood, I was lucky enough to attend an American curriculum school that introduced me to elements of western culture. This has enabled me to adapt to living in the UK, having had enough basic information to help me acclimatise.
Nonetheless, there were some important adjustments to make on arrival. For instance, until now, I never knew there were so many ways to tell the time! ‘Nineteen-fifteen’ turns into ‘seven-fifteen’ or ‘quarter past seven’.
The terminology used for British meals takes some getting used to. Somehow ‘tea’ refers to having ‘dinner’ but a ‘cuppa’ means ‘a cup of tea’…. I’m also really having fun learning all the different UK slang terms and the various texting abbreviations.
Being a Muslim from a Muslim country has influenced my UK lifestyle. Students commonly socialise and hang out at night in Chester by drinking and clubbing. I assumed this would negatively impact my friendships and the bonds formed with others. However, I’ve been lucky to have met and made friends with so many incredible and respectful people, that settling and fitting in has not been an issue. Everyone at Chester University is extremely kind and welcoming.
Something feels a bit fishy
Being away from family is always going to be a challenge. Frequent calls to my parents and brothers has alleviated my homesickness. I have never lived away from them for so long, and am very grateful for the opportunity that they have given me. I continue to miss them and count the days to our reunion. Thankfully, moving next door to the familiar face of my brother has made traveling abroad a little less lonely.
I’ve been looking forward to new experiences, such as the amazing fireworks show on bonfire night and exploring Chester city centre with my friends. My bucket destination list includes Chester Zoo and the city centre Christmas market.
I can’t finish without admitting that not long after I arrived in the UK, I succumbed to the pressure of seeking out an extremely popular English cuisine by frequenting a fish and chip restaurant. It is definitely worth the hype. I’ve just added ‘going to the chippy’ to my vocabulary!
↳ currently playing ;
[The traveling song] - [Will i am]
0:56 ——•———————— 3:25
↺ << ll >> ⋮≡
🎶 🎶 🎶
Written by Lina Al Kaisy