The following is a summary of what life is like as a foreign student in Sudan. These things need to be taken into consideration if you’re interested in studying there. A lot of what I’ve mentioned also applies to other Arab speaking/Muslim countries.
My husband and I spent 8 months in the capital, Khartoum, from mid 2018-mid 2019 to study Arabic at the Open Uni of Sudan. I’ve explained our studies in detail in Part 1 which you can read here.
Why did we choose Sudan?
It was actually our last preference. This is the list of countries we tried first:
Egypt: The most popular choice for most foreigners and most likely still the best. But we were told by many that Egypt is crowded, noisy, polluted (at least in the condensed, urban areas where a lot of the schools are). My husband is very averse to all these things and wanted somewhere chill and relaxed. We were also unsure of how safe it was given the political unrest at the time.
Saudi Arabia: We couldn’t get in because we were over the age limit of -25 y.o, or they didn’t accept international students, or they only took men (Madinah Uni).
Jordan: Has some really good institutes but too expensive for our budget.
We were then connected with another Australian couple studying in Sudan through a friend. We asked them every single question and concern we had about Sudan. It turned out it was quite cheap, pretty chill, and they recommended the institute that we ended up going to. We prayed istikhara and off we went!
Preparation & Arrival
It took us about 6 months prior to prepare for the move, save up, move out and tie many loose ends.
Expenses: We budgeted all expenses according to what our friends in Sudan told us including flights, visa, course fees, public transport, rent, wifi, groceries, electricity and water bills, entertainment money (restaurants, movies, touristy things etc) and extra emergency money.
It amounted to about $US750/ month= $US6750 total for both of us (excluding flights) and that was an overestimation to be on the safe side. That’s very affordable for Westerners! Make sure you do your own budgeting calculations. Prices in Sudan change and inflation is common. Bring US currency and change into their Sudanese pound when you get there.
Vaccinations: Tell your GP about your travel plans and they’ll ensure that you have all the vaccines you need.
Visa: This was confusing because the embassy in Australia and the immigration department in Sudan gave us different instructions. In the end we took the advice of our Sudanese friends and went to a travel agency they recommended (Tut Travel, Footscray). They arranged our tourist visa and once we arrived to Sudan, we went to the school and they arranged our student visa for us.
Housing: You can use real estate agents but our Sudanese friends generously helped us find an apartment and negotiated with the real estate agent to ensure we were getting a good place that was already furnished at a decent price. We stayed in Ma’moura which is where a lot of international students live as many of the universities are in that area. Our school was about a 10min bus ride from home.
Things I liked about living in Sudan:
- I loved living in a Muslim majority country and I saw Islam embodied in the locals and culture. Men praying outside in front of their stores, always having a mosque near you and hearing the athan, feeling comfortable wearing hijab, never seeing alcohol, never seeing ads or billboards promoting haram, everything being halal are all things I’m not used to growing up as a Muslim in Australia.
- The people are really nice, genuine and warm. Sudanese are known to be friendly and chill and this was what I observed overall with their culture.
- Daily life is very laid back and calm. Time moves slower and there is more barakah in it then the fast-paced, jam packed life back home. It was so good for my mental health and I didn’t realise how stressed and anxious I was before I got there. I had more time to self-reflect and be with myself and my thoughts. When we returned, the things that used to frustrate us didn’t. We were unfazed and not worried. The Sudani way really rubbed off on us 😎👍🏼
- It’s for those reasons above that I felt very safe, safer than I have at times in Australia. I often walked alone and took rickshaws at night a few times with no trouble. The most I got was stares which is understandable as they don’t see many foreigners.
- It’s very cheap to live there as a Westerner. You can live comfortably, enjoy restaurants and go out etc.
- You can practice your Arabic with the locals, but their dialect is still quite different to fus’ha (even though people say that it’s one of the closest to fus’ha) so it was very difficult for me to communicate as a newbie to Arabic, but my husband was able to get by as he is more advanced in his Arabic.
- I was able to focus on my studies because there aren’t many things to do: Aside from eating out and Netflix, there’s not much to entertain yourself with. The only tourist-y things I did was cruise down the Nile River and visit Masjid Al Noor and the tobe markets in Bahri, which were both fun! There are also pyramids but they are a few hours away. I didn’t mind this as we didn’t come for a holiday, we came to study. So it’s actually a good thing that there aren’t too many things to distract you.
- The wifi connection was fine. This was important for me as I was managing my small business at the same time and had meetings over phone with my team regularly.
- Travelling anywhere exposes you to different people and cultures and I learnt alot from the Sudani way of life.
Challenges we faced living in Sudan
- Living in Sudan can be rough if you’re not used to the living standards.
- It. is. hoooootttttt. The average temperature was 35-45 degrees. So hot that 30 degrees felt cold after a while. So hot you can barely function. And it’s dusty. You’re basically in the dry dessert and we often walked through pots of sand when the pavement stopped. School was only 2 hours per day but when we got home by 12 noon we’d be absolutely drained, sweaty and dirty from the dust and too tired to function for the rest of the day. Solution: we followed the sunnah and the locals by sleeping between Dhuhr-Asr which is also the hottest part of the day. It helped us feel fresh and energised when we woke up.
- Water and electricity would go out quite often and at random times and durations. So you could be left with no A/C, or no way to flush the toilet and have a shower for anywhere between 30 minutes or 6 hours. Solution: We would have large bottles of water stored away for emergencies and make sure our portable batteries were always charged. The hottest period also coincided with Ramadan, and there were water and electricity outages almost everyday in the lead up which was not fun.
- Cleanliness: Water is not safe to drink. Solution: We bought large tanks of water once a week from the dukkan (cornerstone) down the road. You can also boil the water. We got food poisoning quite a few times eating out at local joints. Solution: We cooked most of our food at home, and stuck to certain restaurants that were consistent in cleanliness.
- Sickness: Your body might have difficulty adjusting to the change in climate and food. I became ill with a fever 3 times and this was the reason we had to leave a month early.
- Lack of customer service: This is not a concept in Sudan, or most of the Middle East and Africa region 😅 Workers are generally not very helpful and will do the absolute minimum begrudgingly. It can get frustrating very quickly. Solution: Don’t waste your energy getting angry. Be firm but not rude. Be patient and don’t take it personally. Also try to sympathise with them because they’re probably not being paid much.
- Getting ripped off: Rickshaw drivers will especially give you a hard time as you try to get a decent price on your trip. Solution: Be firm and keep insisting on a decent price. But don’t haggle just for the sake of being cheap. Many people are not well off and the economy is bad. You can easily recoup the $5 you paid when they probably rely on that to feed their families. Be aware of your privilege and help others more in need.
Life during the revolution
This was something we didn’t expect to happen. In fact most of the locals were surprised by it too. We had been living there for a few months when the protests started to really grow in January. The protests were concentrated in the central areas where all the government buildings were, far away from where we were in the suburbs, so we were pretty safe. It was still a bit scary though as we had no idea how it would play out. Our school told us it was still safe to go to school, so we continued living as usual but only went out if we absolutely had to: for school and for groceries. So overall it was okay, but we did see army tanks, soldiers with guns, gunshots in the distance and smaller localised protests from time to time.
It was a crazy experience but I will say this: Sudanese people are truly amazing and courageous. They put their entire lives on the line for the sake of the betterment of their country and I just watched in sheer awe. Seeing it unfold first hand made me respect and admire them on a whole new level.
If you travel to study in the Middle East or Africa, you can’t really predict how safe/unsafe it will be. What us Westerners don’t realise is that we live in a bubble of peace and safety. You just have to realise and accept that political instability is the reality for most people in the world.
My overall experience
I disliked it for the first few months as I found everything so foreign and difficult. After a while I got used to it and enjoyed it. I look back with very fond memories and a love for the people and the country. It was the perfect place to leave the distractions of the dunya and focus on my Arabic and what was important for my akhira. My deen ripened in that environment and you can’t put a price on that. I’m really grateful for my time in Sudan, I don’t regret it and I’m so glad Allah put us there.
Would I recommend others to study Arabic in Sudan?
Yes, I would recommend it but with a few conditions:
- Look into all your options first. I still think Egypt is the best option as most people go there to study, and we would’ve gone there instead if my husband wasn’t averse to the idea. Still, Sudan is a fine alternative with many advantages (mentioned above) over a place like Cairo.
- Remember that you are going to study, you are not going on a holiday. So don’t expect to have “fun” in the usual sense. A place like Sudan is perfect if you need to put your head down and do the work.
- It really helps to have connections there and we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of things with ease without them. It’s still doable if you don’t have connections but you may face more challenges.
I hope this helps you in your decision making process. Just remember that everyone experience is unique, and you can prepare as much as you want but in the end it is all in the hands of Allah. The best thing you can do is make a lot of sincere dua and purify your intentions.
May Allah put barakah in your journey to seek knowledge!
Anisa, aka your sis Nis 🌞