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From Beirut to Belfast: Adapting and Coping with Change as a Master’s Student

Hello, world. I'm Ghada Al Fakih, a Lebanese woman, a lover of my homeland, and a clinical health psychology master's student at Queen's University Belfast.

The Lanyon Building

This blog is a raw and heartfelt account of my journey thus far - a journey of adaptation, growth, and resilience.

Arrival experience

My roots are deeply anchored in Beirut, where I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I've always been a wanderer at heart, having travelled abroad for summer camps and schools. However, these fleeting experiences paled compared to the colossal transition that awaited me - moving from my beloved Lebanon to Belfast for my postgraduate studies.

I thought I was ready. I thought I had braced myself for the giant leap. But, as I soon discovered, you're never truly prepared for such a transition until you're in the thick of it.

The moment of reckoning arrived as I landed in Belfast and headed to my dorm. With no bedding at hand and most stores shut by 6pm - a stark contrast to Beirut, the city that never sleeps - I faced my first challenge. Yet, to my surprise, the city's compact layout made it easy to navigate on foot. I was proud of my ability to adapt swiftly, proving that I could survive, even thrive, independently.

Queen Elizabeth Bridge, Belfast

The walk across Queen Elizabeth's Bridge at the Titanic Quarter

Adapting to life in Belfast

The lifestyle in Belfast was a refreshing change. Walking became my new norm, and I took delight in exploring the city on foot. The weather was a bonus, and the ease of getting around was an unexpected blessing. In the initial days, Google Maps was my trusted companion. Still, reasonably quickly, I had the city's layout etched in my memory.

Coping, however, was an entirely different story. My anxiety manifested itself in obsessive cleanliness, and my once-regular gym routine took a backseat. Yet, I found solace in walking, which became a source of relief and reflection.

Luck smiled upon me when a fellow Lebanese decided to pursue her Master’s in the same programme as mine at the same university. Our shared experiences and origins forged a strong bond between us, making the process of coping significantly less daunting. Her comforting presence reminds me of home and helps me keep my Lebanese identity alive while embracing my new life in Belfast.

Student standing outside bar in Cathedral Quarter

My biggest blessing in Human form from Beirut to Belfast, Helena

Cultural immersion

In addition to the academic and personal changes, immersing myself in a new culture has been a journey within itself. The Northern Irish charm lies not just in its scenic landscapes but also in the hearty warmth of its people. The local customs, traditions, and festivals have given me a glimpse into the vibrant culture. But what stands out vividly is the city's vibrant pub scene. The soothing hum of live music performances and the unmistakable taste of a pint has been a delightful cultural experience, adding to the city's charm.

Moreover, the city's diversity has allowed me to connect with fellow students from various backgrounds, enhancing my understanding of different cultures. This multicultural exposure has been a great learning experience, shaping my worldview and enriching my personal growth.

Trees in Beirut, Lebanon

Trees in the David Kier Building backyard

A shot of the sky and trees at AUB my previous university in Beirut; and at Queen's University Belfast, in the DKB backyard.

A supportive community

Queen's University Belfast has been instrumental in my journey, providing invaluable resources that eased my transition. I am forever grateful for this supportive community that has become my home away from home.

For those who find themselves in a similar situation, here's my input: your feelings are valid. Coping looks different for everyone; do what works for you. It's a trial-and-error period. Keep in touch with your loved ones. Maintain a journal to document your experiences, achievements, and challenges. And don't underestimate the power of a good movie or TV series to provide a much-needed escape from reality. Most importantly, reach out if you need help. You are not alone.

In the grand scheme of things, moving from Beirut to Belfast is more than a geographical shift. It's a journey of personal growth and discovery, a test of adaptability and resilience. It's about finding comfort amidst discomfort, establishing connections amidst solitude, and building a home away from home. It's about embracing the unfamiliar while keeping my love for Lebanon alive in my heart.

Skyline of Waterworks in Belfast

Biosphere reserve in Beirut

A shot of the sky at Waterworks in Belfast; and a shot of the sky in Lebanon, in the Al Chouf Cedar Nature Biosphere Reserve. 

This is my story. A story of a Lebanese woman in Belfast, navigating through uncharted waters and emerging stronger with each passing day. This is a story of adaptation, resilience, and perseverance. And it's far from over.

As my journey continues, I hope my experiences provide solace to those navigating similar paths. Remember, change is the only constant, and with change comes growth. Embrace your journey, and let it shape you into the person you're meant to become. You are not alone, and you are stronger than you think.

Find out more

Lebanon Admissions Guide

Postgraduate study at Queen's

Clinical Health Psychology (MSc)

Ghada Al Fakih

Clinical Health Psychology | Postgraduate Student | Beirut, Lebanon

Ghada Al Fakih is a passionate, hard-working, and selfless individual, devoted to helping others grow, while elevating surrounding vibrations with harmony and positivity. She is a well-rounded and accomplished individual with a strong passion for helping others. She is a valuable asset to any team and is sure to make a positive impact on the world.

Ghada is pursuing her Master of Science in Clinical Health Psychology at Queen's University Belfast. She has a strong background in psychology and public health.

She is a certified Emotional Liberation Breathing Practitioner and has completed a clinical psychology rotation at the American University of Beirut Medical Center.

 Ghada Al Fakih