We’ve all had to attend farewell parties for school friends who are packing up their lives, preparing to scatter around the globe for the great adventure that is university – leaving us to fend off strangers on campus alone.

Let’s face it, the Egyptian educational system isn’t the best, and has been deteriorating in recent years, particularly at overpriced universities in our hallowed capital. Studying abroad seems to be a growing trend, with more students than ever standing at Cairo Airport’s Passport Control queue come September.

University is the time when young people begin figuring out who they are and what they’re made of – developing into the adults they will inevitably be. Those who stay at home often find themselves leading similar lives to the lives they lead in high school – seeing the same people, having the same fights with their parents, going out to the same places. Those who make the move abroad don’t have the luxury of comfort zones, they don’t have familiar shoulders to lean on. They are left to fend for themselves in a ‘sink or swim’ situation, and, while it can be drastic and traumatic, the ones who come out of the other side are ultimately better for it. They become independent in ways that living at home for university will never foster.    

Traveling gives a sense of cultural awareness – it allows you to examine yourself outside of the social and cultural constraints of Egypt, and within a culture that contributes to self-growth, development, and independence.

Those of us stuck at home get a hint of what their lives are like through Instagram posts – festivals, galleries, country-sides, sports events, and (sometimes) celebrities, while the most exciting event of our week centres around catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and going to the gym. We often don’t realise that the creature comforts we take for granted (somebody taking care of you when you’re sick, clean laundry, a driver…) are not available to them. Those who stay at home don’t feel lonely or isolated in the way that being transplanted as an adult into a completely new environment will make you feel. 

They’re there; you’re here, and there’s an incredibly long distance between you and friends who you used to see every day. Viber & Skype become your new best friends, and you wait for calls at ridiculous hours because of the time difference. You spend an hour on the phone catching up on their week and experiencing tiny twinges of jealousy, because all you do here is go to classes, do the same things, and struggle against the same restrictions, day after day.   

Maybe the difference between living in Egypt versus living abroad is personal freedom and freedom from labels. You’re more anonymous abroad, and can pretty much do whatever you want – within the constraints of the law. Egyptians often know everything about everybody, are happy to share it with others, and will add their own personal touches to stories about you.   

An often overlooked aspect of this conversation is that those who go abroad and come back build lives for themselves abroad, and then abandon them and have to start all over again in Cairo, while those who stay here often have consistent friends and networking opportunities.

We’re left with so many questions. Is it better to go to university abroad or at home? The new & exciting, or the comfortable & safe?

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