Qul HuwaAllahu Ahud!
Studying Abroad: What no-one really prepares you for.
As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
I felt like writing, so... =)
I took this picture while I was studying out in Egypt. It looks so cool and 'talib al-'ilm'-y right? Studying under candlelight and all...
Pfft! Truth is, electricity had gone out for what seemed like the hundredth time, and I was reduced to cowering in my room, with a candle and a blanket, looking up sharply at every howl of the wind and then looking away pretending not to notice the dark flickering shadows across the walls and curtains that candles can make (I used to believe whoever said candles are romantic, and they are, until you're left in a pitch black apartment with winds and dogs howling outside, metal gates creaking, and those dreadful eerie shadows. The worst is when you hear something fall from the cabinet in the toilet... why is it always the toilet!)
Not to exaggerate, one thing is for sure; when the electricity blows out, life suddenly transforms. After about an hour, it makes you want to cry. I couldn't really do anything when this happened; no light, no heat, no internet, the fridge starts melting (when summer), entire street is plunged into darkness so you can't even go outside, flatmates grab you like you're the security guard, or you all sit there watching each other and then eyeing the one candle you're forced to share between you.
The reality of how people must've lived in the past and just how much our generations rely on technology kinda hits you in the face, and it's humbling.
Most students from the West often get a harsh reality check when they go abroad to study. We're fed with an idealistic view of talab al-'ilm so when we meet certain inconveniences such as lack of water or electricity, or dealing with a difficult system or people (or the bureaucracy that's associated with that), we're suddenly made to realise (and appreciate) the comfortable, protected, and luxurious life we live back home.
Maybe one day I'll write about each of these 'inconveniences' because I've unfortunately witnessed many students cut their journey in half and return home because of the shock or inability to deal with things. I remember walking down from the shops with a few sisters one time, and we were just chatting away in English (as you do when abroad... typical!), when a couple of sisters literally came running to us. They say you recognise your own, and that's a truth right there. We didn't know who they were, but straight away we knew they were from the UK.
*Shriek!* "Wa `alaykumusalam!
"OMG, we heard your accent as we passed!"
"OMG, you're from London!"
Lol, I don't know which group was happier as we all gleefully grinned from ear to ear, and caught up with each other like we were old friends. But these two sisters, poor things, had only been in Cairo for a month. They initially intended to come for a longer period, but because of the culture shock and obstacles they faced, they were already preparing to leave.
"But what about your studies?" We asked.
"Sisters, we really can't take it here, our apartment is infested with cockroaches, we had a bad experience with x-y-z, maybe we'll come back another time."
I didn't really blame them. Infestation is one thing that I believe can truly drive you insane, especially if you like things clean and orderly like me =(. But it begs the question, is it enough to make you abandon studies and depart? And it's a question that everyone who plans to go out there and study should ask themselves; will a series of issues make you turn back on your feet, or will you pull through no matter what?
You might be thinking, 'Whatever! I could so handle that.' Haha, I thought so too... until I found myself in major battles against mosquitoes and other 2cm animals every single night. Just think: sleep deprivation, trying to hit something that's flying at the speed of light, and being forced to do acrobatic moves as you leap from one side of the room to the other just to escape that.. that.. whatever that new species of animal that is!
When you see students returning humbled and shy, sometimes it's because of their studies, but sometimes it's because they've lost about 50 battles against tiny creatures and flying cockroaches.
Patience is key, and this is one major principle that talab al-'ilm (seeking knowledge) will teach you again and again. Mark my words, dear brethren.
The first ever time I went abroad, the main pipeline which delivered water into our town burst. Now, if this ever happened in England there'd probably be mass panic, emergency services would quick come onto the scene, maybe every home would be given replacement water or a water tank etc. But here, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. We were left wondering who stole our water! We called the plumbers and they left after a few mins scratching their head. Subhan'Allah as the day dragged on, I never realised just how much we depend on water; from drinking it, to washing the dishes; it's a right spectacle when a family home does not have running water. I'm sorry but I'll tell you now, the first places to suffer are the bathroom and the kitchen. We had no water for 10 days. Yes, that's 10 whole summer days. It was crazy (and crazier to realise that for some people out there in the world, this is life!), but alhamdulillah we quickly improvised and adapted, and learnt how to use just 1 bottle of water for a million uses. Everyone in town was buying water bottles until the stores ran out, and then the people turned to taking water from the sprinklers outside (until we were informed it was actually semi-filtered sewage water!). Honestly, never again did I complain about the bleached tap-water once it returned to our town and home. I drank glass after glass in sheer gratitude.
So, if you're going out there to study, have patience. And when you're coming from the West, it's the small things that can build up and really test your limits. And I'm not talking about a harf or two in the books... think of other small things (that have more arms and legs than you).
Have patience, and trust me, after all is finished and done, you'll love to return and thank every single person, creature, and eerie shadow for teaching you the most beautiful thing in life: patience and the gift of appreciation.