Three SOAS students describe their experience of the ‘year abroad’, to improve their knowledge of Hindi, Arabic and Japanese, respectively. The aim of a year spent abroad, in the country of the language being studied, is immersion in the language and country: its culture, social traditions, politics, and all the diverse ways of life, which aren’t so easily picked up with your nose in a library book at home. Sara Manni describes what it was like in Jaipur, India; Atika Dawood in Nablus, Occupied West Bank; and Isabella Lau in Nagoya, Japan.
Sara Manni (BA Development Studies and South Asian Studies) – Jaipur, Rajasthan, North India:
Thanks to SOAS I had the chance to be enrolled in an intensive Hindi language programme in Jaipur, India. The programme’s level is very high and the quality of teaching is amazing. SOAS students are enrolled in the American Institute of Indian Studies, an institution built for American scholars to deepen their knowledge of Indian languages. The school is very small, we are more or less 25 students in total. We have one-to-one tutorials two times a week, and in the rest of the classes we are divided into groups of three or maximum six students. This makes our learning experience extraordinary. Furthermore, all the students and teachers have different social sciences or humanities backgrounds, varying from PhD students researching Sanskrit texts to Master students specialised in conflict resolution, therefore, the topics brought up in class (obviously in Hindi) are always very interesting. In this programme, I am gaining a lot of knowledge related to Development Studies too, and collecting great inspiration for my further studies.
In addition, the school literally thought about everything. For students not willing to stay with host families, they have some contracts with landlords in a very nice area of Jaipur. Moreover, they made sure that all the students live in the same area.
Jaipur is a well-connected, comparatively clean and organized city to live in. It’s a great base for weekend trips and very reachable from abroad. If I compare it to other northern Indian cities I have seen, it seems the best place to live in.
Is taking the year abroad worth it? Yes, certainly. Although it will take me four years to graduate I do not regret my choice. Thanks to this programme I am not only studying the language but I am living it.
From the conversations I have with locals I feel my level is improving month by month. Hindi helps me to understand the way people think, but also, learning how people think, helps me understand Hindi more.
Sara Manni kept a blog, posting about the highs and lows of her experience.
Atika Dawood (BA Arabic, 4thyear) – Nablus (c. 63 km north of Jerusalem):
Not-so-fresh off the plane, I found myself carrying two 25kg bags of luggage up three flights of stairs, welcomed by our apartment for ten months. Filled with nothing but furniture, our excitement and the echo of no one living there, our bellies rumbled. And off we went to buy a falafel wrap, the cost of which was equivalent to £1. And that never changed. I’m not sure how many £1 falafel wraps I bought but I do remember being very appreciative of them, three-months in, when walking around Nazareth to see £5 falafel wraps everywhere! £5! 500% more than they are in my new home of Nablus – and the same price as they are a 5-hour flight away in London!
Funny how food is the first thing I mention, it’s what I left London with (my mum packed me off to the West Bank with Indian spices and Dolmio stir-in pasta sauce) and it is the thing I would base my year abroad experience on: ‘cooking classes’ at university, countless dinner invites at strangers’ homes and burning onions the first time we tried to cook a curry…
Aside from the kilos of pasta we consumed, we lived well. Nablus was cheaper than London by a lot, and the hospitality of the people was sweeter than London by just as much – or more.
Of course my time was a lot more than just food, but I don’t think there will ever be enough words to describe any year abroad experience: the slight pangs of homesickness that fade away – but then follow you back to London (or wherever you called home before the year) – the travel bug that bites you as you’re getting used to this new university system of exams all the time, and actually travelling: breathing in the culture, embracing your explicit foreignness and mounting a camel in a car park and laughing with the locals at how little of the language you can speak as you try to navigate your way around your reality for the year.
Isabella Lau (BA Japanese, 4thyear) – Nagoya, c.370km West of Tokyo, Japan:
I am almost certain that without studying abroad in Nagoya, Japan, my university experience would have not been complete. Before my year abroad, I had never lived alone, never lived outside of London and never been to Japan, and most people I asked hadn’t even heard of Nagoya.
Contrary to my expectations, Nagoya was a bustling, exciting city, perfect for studying abroad and travelling all over Japan from. Aside from improving my Japanese language skills significantly, I learnt how to live and travel independently and voluntarily venture outside of my comfort zone.
While I had always liked learning Japanese and studying languages, making friendships with a newly-acquired second language makes the learning process so much more meaningful. Moreover, getting to know people from all over the world allowed me to fully appreciate the importance of cross-cultural communication and why language-learning is so crucial.
Going to Japan not as a tourist, but a would-be member of society, I finally personally experienced a culture I had only previously observed through media and the internet: on the one hand, I felt that Japan really was like a living, breathing anime; however, its culture was so complex and nuanced that many of my ideas about Japan before coming were completely blown away.
Living as part of Japanese society has made me much more aware of simple aspects of daily life and culture in my own country that I had always taken for granted, and was an extremely valuable experience irreversibly expanding my understanding of Japan and the world.
BA Development Studies and South Asian Studies Year Abroad
BA Hindi Year Abroad
BA Arabic Year Abroad
BA Japanese Year Abroad
Languages, Cultures and Linguistics degree programmes