Things to Know About Studying in the Middle East
Want to study in the Middle East? Depending on where you’re from, you might experience some culture shock. However, a study abroad experience in the Middle East will also give you an eye-opening, rewarding experience, allowing you to broaden your horizons and get the benefits of different perspectives.
However, as with any study destination, it’s a good idea to do your research before you go, so you have an idea of the laws and customs, cultural norms, and the current political situation at your destination country. Read on for some practical advice on studying in the Middle East.
Of course, this one goes without saying, regardless of where you’re studying, but is particularly important in Middle Eastern countries as they tend to be more conservative and have different etiquettes and customs which may seem a bit unusual at first. Something you might have done without much thought, such as the thumbs up gesture, could be deemed offensive if you’re studying in Iran, for example. Public displays of affection are also often considered unacceptable, and you shouldn’t accept food or eat with your left hand, as it’s considered unclean.
While you might be curious to document your new home with photographs, you should do so carefully - don’t take pictures of government buildings, and only take photos of local people with their permission. It’s also important to not disrespect the government or the country’s monarch, if it has one, as penalties can be severe.
This ties in with being respectful, as many Middle Eastern countries expect people to cover up, with varying levels of how strictly this is enforced. In general, both men and women need to wear loose fitting clothes that cover the shoulders, upper arms and knees, and beachwear is only acceptable at the beach. In Saudi Arabia, all women must wear an abaya (long cloak) and a headscarf, and men should not wear shorts. While some countries, such as Morocco, may be more relaxed about the dress code, it’s better not to attract unnecessary attention.
Stay safe and well-informed
While some countries are in a state of political unrest and shouldn’t be visited (such as Syria and Iraq), the Middle East is relatively safe, so long as you respect and follow the local laws and customs, learn some of the local language and avoid large crowds and political demonstrations. You should keep up-to-date with developments in the political situation and do your research before you decide on your study destination. Government sites such as the UK government’s foreign travel advice section are useful sources, with information on the latest developments in your selected country, and (if applicable) which areas you’re advised not to visit. Be well-informed and take suitable precautions, but don’t miss out on the study abroad experience. Also, don’t forget to get travel insurance!
Be prepared for the heat
It’s no secret that the Middle East is hot, but in the peak of summer it’s not advised to walk in the sun for too long - temperatures reach a whopping 50°C. Thankfully, air-conditioning is widely available, particularly in developed cities such as Dubai and Doha.
Costs of studying in the Middle East
As with any region, the costs of studying in the Middle East vary by country, with more developed areas and large cities being generally more expensive. The Gulf countries (the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar) and Israel are generally more expensive to live in than countries such as Egypt and Yemen. You can use sites like Numbeo to get an idea of how the costs of living compares to your home city or country. Below are examples of tuition fees at some of the region’s top universities:
- King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Saudi Arabia: US$0
- American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon: US$13,352 – 20,280 per year (bachelor’s degrees)
- Qatar University: US$220-275 per credit hour
- United Arab Emirates University: AED57,600 (~US$15,700) to AED72,000 (~US$19,600) per year (bachelor’s degrees)
- University of Jordan: US$250 per credit hour (master’s degrees)
Have you studied in the Middle East? Why not share your experience in the comments below? Or you could even write for us as a student blogger!
This article was originally published in October 2017 . It was last updated in June 2023