My reflections on the first term at the University of Edinburgh

31 Jan 2018
Dalal Hamou Tahra Chevening Scholar

My journey as a Chevening Scholar started when I first met my other fellow Moroccan Cheveners in Rabat, at the residence of Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco.

We were kindly hosted by his excellency for a reception and pre-departure event, but even then, it was quite difficult for me to realise it was genuinely happening; that my dream had finally come true and that I had become part of a large network of leaders around the globe that share the same objective around making a positive change in their country upon returning home from a marvellous experience in the UK.

Celebrating the end of the first term

Four months have gone by since I first set foot in Edinburgh and the magic of this place keeps growing with every day spent in the capital city of Scotland. Everything I have learnt and every place I have been to since I came here would feed my soul each day a bit more. This city is the right place to go if you genuinely wish to be acquainted with the Scottish culture, and yet, meet with people from almost every corner of the globe to discover a bit about other fascinating regions through the amazing like-minded students and convenors you meet in the university, in the grocery shop, or simply in the street while you are trying to take a picture of yourself in front of the many landmarks that adorn the city.

Dalal in Edinburgh

Interestingly, the weather here is unpredictable, the architecture and the building’s different shades of grey facades are amazingly original, and the kindness of the Scottish people is strikingly genuine. Edinburgh is so different and everything about this very charming city contrasts with Morocco, and yet, I never felt home-sick since my journey started. I was amazed at people’s curiosity and at how interested they were in my own culture. Many of them expressed the desire to visit my country and some of them did already over Christmas. I was glad to know it went as well as they expected it to be.   

I am myself a very curious person and I was eager to deeply experience the British culture. But what better way to do that than being invited to spend Christmas with a lovely family in Hereford, England, waking up early in the morning to unpack the gifts just like a family member and spend unique and amazing moments chatting with them, eating delicious home-made food and doing crazy things like popping Christmas crackers to brag about how original the gift you found in yours is.   

The sleepless nights in the library or in my room, the stress that jealously accompanied many of my school days towards the end of the first term while preparing for the essays and exams, added to the hassle of all the administrative papers a new student to the country like me had to take care of did not prevent me from enjoying every single moment I spent and I am still spending here. On the contrary, at school, we are actually encouraged to think outside of the box, give opinions and try to come up with ideas on how to creatively solve some of the most burning issues our societies are facing today. That is how graduates can confidently know that once they enter the job market, they would be confident enough in working on any challenging issue and make sure they would leverage their knowledge and the skills they have been able to acquire and sharpen to get the job done with flying colours.

However, after the exams are over, a get-together with friends is always a good idea to have a good break and be able to start fresh again. For my case, a drink with other fellow students was in order, followed by a lovely trip to the Highlands where part of the famous Scottish TV show ‘Sassenach’ was shot. On the way to Inverness, my friends and I went on an attempt to say hi to Nessy in Loch Ness but she did not show up. The magical and timeless beauty of the region transcends into a marvellous spiritual space where nothing matters but peace, quiet and tranquillity.

Loch Ness

Many of the first term’s days had their fair share of challenges, but overall, my time here has brought me more joy than anything else. I had the opportunity to go to London as well as well, along with the Moroccan Cheveners. We were hosted by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco where we enjoyed a very enriching conversation over a cup of Moroccan tea.

Furthermore, just walking to the university every day is a pure moment of happiness. Not only because I became a student again after a quite long break from studies, but also because I know I am walking in the footsteps of the many Nobel Prize winners, prime ministers and world leaders who decided to study in one of the most ancient universities in the UK and one of the hardest British universities to get into. The University of Edinburgh even gave me the opportunity to learn a new language, the Swahili language that is spoken in the east coast of Africa, where I got to practice with native speakers and enjoy the teaching method of an enthusiastic and exceptional professor.

I would recommend studying here to anyone who would like to live in a vibrant city where everyday something is happening. The ceilidh is definitely one of them. I very much enjoyed this social Scottish gathering where I got to dance with my fellow students and members of the teaching staff in the programme. Edinburgh is truly the most beautiful city I have ever been to, and getting to live here for 12 months is simply thrilling. I feel very grateful for Chevening for this unique opportunity.

Climbing Arthur's Seat

I also feel blessed because, not only have I been pleasantly surprised by the quality of life in my accommodation in the Old Town, which won the 2016 CUBO award for ‘best student housing’, but also by how close it is to everything. Located in Holyrood Road, be it the Parliament of Scotland, the Dynamic Earth, the mighty Castle of Edinburgh sitting on an extinct volcano, the touristic Royal Mile, the shopping heart of Edinburgh Princes Street, the breath-taking McEwan Hall, the Pleasance sports centre and gym, or the National Museum, they are all within a short walking distance from where I live. To top it off, from my window, an amazing view on the tip of Arthur’s Seat makes me feel closer to nature as I wake up in the morning and constantly reminders me of how lucky I am to be here.

No wonder JK Rowling got her inspiration for Harry Potter when she moved to the capital of Scotland. What fascinated me most when I came here were the alleyways that, in Scots term, are called ‘closes’. I cannot help but feel magically transported back in time whenever I use one of the many closes that neither words nor pictures would do justice.   

I am away from home indeed, but not a single day have I felt home-sick thanks to a supportive team that helped me since the beginning of my journey to smoothly settle into university life. This team is mainly made up of my lovely programme officer and my amazing personal tutor, but also my new friends, including the Chevening ones that I was able to make from around the globe. I would not trade this experience for anything in the world as I feel I have changed as a person and I am still looking forward to meeting other amazing people, learning a lot more during the second term in this university that enjoys a strong academic reputation, and keep experiencing the best Scotland in particular and the UK in general have to offer.

Proud to say: 'I AM CHEVENING'.