1) General (weather / temperature, Internet, mobile, banks, Syrian visa, cheap flight tickets, bring/ not bring, books to buy, illness, medical insurances, hospitals)
2) Social (Syrian and Damascene people and society, being a female student, dressing, practicing sport)
3) Studies (MSA / Ammya colloquial, best choice)
4) Accommodation (where to live? Family, Living & Practicing, some conditions)
1) What is the temperature / weather like in Damascus?
The weather in Damascus is exceptionally good. As we write in our emails, "Marhaba from Sun Shining Damascus", or "Marhaba from the Always Sunny City of Damascus".
Summer is from May (25C), June (25-30C), July (+-35), August (35-40C), September (30-35C), October (25-30). The weather is hot but very dry, so easily bearable (not like Gulf countries or Florida or else where you have high temperature and high humidity).
Winter is cold (5C), even chilly (December, January, February), and very dry, but always sunny (very important for a good mood and psychology, as we always see the sun and turquoise blue sky).
April (even second half of March), end October and mid November are nice season (short springs and autumns).
Little rain in Damascus: "Ahlan wa Sahlan in Damascus where the sun shines 350 days per year."
2) Internet: Internet is good (ADSL), many internet cafes everywhere in the city (Baramka, around Hijra wa Jawazat, Abu Nur Rukn Din, Zahira Qadima). Internet in homes is weak and sloooooooow.
Wireless available in fancy districts (in SHaalan), hotels, Costa Café, Four season, InnHouse café, Pop One restaurant.
3) Mobile / SIM card: it is easy to buy a SIM card, the line costs around 7 Euros, then you recharge (400 units 5.8 Euros, 1000 units13.5 Euros). Bets company with better coverage around Damascus and Syria: MTN.
If your telephone (the one you will bring) is blocked (that you bought with the line to a mobile operator), you can buy a new basic mobile NOKIA for 28.5 Euros (at least you can write and receive in Arabic language).
4) Banks: many new banks in Syria (opened in 2008): Audi Bank, BIMO Bank, Syria and Gulf Bank (SGB), the International Bank for Trade and Finance (IBTF), Byblos Bank, Saudi French Bank,.
Foreigner student (when they stay for a long period, 6 months to 1 year) can open a bank account in Damascus, we have good relations with several banks.
If you open an account, you can have a credit card
ATM machines are spread around the city (be careful with bank commissions and exchange rate). Arabesk Studies advices you to bring cash and keep it, or leave it in deposit in our security box, or open here an account, or transfer your maney from your bank to your new Syrian bank.
International credit cards are accepted in Syria (VISA, Master card, American Express, Cyrius).
When you book with us, we will give other important advices and tips concerning banks, credit cards.
5) Visa from Syrian embassy (important and detailed information available after payment, sorry!).
6) What do bring: sleeping bag for the winter, shower towel, electronic devises (MP3, MP4, laptop, digital camera, memory camera card, rechargeable batteries).
What NOT to bring: pillows, bed sheets, drugs, pots and pans (questions already asked!), heavy dictionaries (you can buy the Handswehre in Damascus for cheaper than West), iron (available in family or Living & Practicing accommodation),
7) What to do? Everything as much as you can to improve, studying Arabic is time comsuming.
What NOT to do? Bother Syrian girl, photos of military or governmental places, use drugs, trust a person at first sight, waste your time.
8) The best airlines / cheap flight tickets to Syria: DO NOT TAKE AIR FRANCE (expensive and they loose your suitcase and they care of you, they will NEVER refund you (or style: go to our website to register a complain)), Austrian is expensive. Special recommendation for CZECH Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air Italia (Milano, Roma), BMI (British Middle East International, from London), MALEV (some American students are brave enough to travel with Aeroflot through Moscow). Look for special prices with Emirates Airlines (specially from West coast (SF, LA) or even NY). Royal Jordanian (for students from USA) also has connections with Damascus. Book your flight ASAP, even before taking any decision, just book your name, just to reserve a good price, because as time passes, cheap seats go.
9) Books to read: Culture Shock SYRIA, by Coleman South (Marshall Cavendish editing house): excellent, so accurate, easy to read, realistic objective and so funny. Congratulations to the author.
10) Common illnesses, medicaments, Arabesk medical assistance, medical insurance?
Diarrheas, flew (even in summer), headaches, stomachaches.
Medicines: don’t bring 2000 medicine and pills, you better use Syrian medicines which are appropriated and suitable for Syrian bacterias, and cheaper.
Arabesk Medical first necessary assistance (advising from specialized doctors, consultation and medicaments, emergency assistance 24 hours)
You can subscribe a medical insurance in your country before leaving. If not, don’t worry, here medical care is cheap compared to the West (but take one in case of accident, operation, hospital, …)
Doctors - Hospitals: your embassy and Arabesk will provide and recommend you a list of doctors graduated from your country and hospital in case of emergency. We will also assist you 24h.
1) How are Syrian people, Syrian society?
Living in Damascus is great. People in Syria are very nice, friendly, welcoming, and curious, and one makes friends very quickly. Syrians have the traditional values of hospitality and generosity, and treat their foreign guests with great respect.
The people of Damascus are friendly, opened and hospitable to foreigners. They are always willing to help foreigners to practice Arabic. You can’t imagine how much Syrians appreciate and how happy they are when you speak with them in their language. They are patient and listen to you, even if you speak slowly and making lots of mistakes. In this way, you can fully participate to the daily life of the city (shopping, bargaining, having friends, meeting people, working jobs).
2) Do I have to be afraid? Will I find terrorism? Is my life in danger?
I think it is not worthy to answer to these questions. Some suburbs and walking at night in European capital and cities (Madrid, Paris, London, Barcelona, Roma,...), and ghettoes in the States are MUCH more dangerous. The worst thing that can happen to you is a taxi driver that cheats you for 50 liras (1$). According to the ONU, Damascus is one of the safest city of the world (but as everywhere there is good people and bad people everywhere, Damascus is still not paradise), free from crime, insecurity and fear (no theft, no violence, no arms, no drugs). Students will really feel like at home, or even better. In Arabesk, we would not jeopardize with peoples life.
The only "terrorist" thing that we have here in Syria is a bacteria in the tap water that causes bad diarrheas to most of the students in the first month (but after the doctors and some pills, it wont happen again). Also polluting cars which spread a large cloud of smoke are terrorist because they are a nuisance and destroy peoples heath and children and pregnant woman.
3) Is there a problem if I am American?
No. Syrian people are clever, they make the difference between the Administration and the American people (in the past, they used to say "Ahlan wa sahlan bika (you are most welcome), but I don’t like your president Bush"). Things have greatly improved since Obama elections. People are expecting a lot and are positive. Will see!
We can give you the email of the past students (those who have been with last for the last year) or students actually in Damascus, in order you ask them their impressions, about Damascus, the studies, Arabesk, accommodation …
3) What about being a girl / woman in Syria?
Most (around 75%) of our clients and students are female. Many many girls and woman study in Damascus and they live like queens. Woman are greatly respected in Syrian and Islamic society. Here women do not queue, they pass directly to the window (even in front of 50 men waiting for hours), they don’t stand in the bus (a man will leave her his place), they don’t work as taxi, bus or truck drivers, and they don’t work too as scavengers or street cleaners, and very very few (only and snobbish and fancy cafes or restaurants) work as waitress.
There is a strong segregation between men and women. Men go with men and women go with women. But contact and conversation between both are respectful and OK. Between foreigners it is OK.
Female students might suffer from this aspect more because they have few Syrian female friends and Syrian boys are always looking for something else (visa, emigrating, arranging a white marriage or just sex).
4) Important notice about Dressing: for the clothes, Syria and specially Damascus, is quite conservative. It is a Muslim tolerant and open minded country, where the culture, the values and principles are very alive and strong. The best is "Respect to be respected".
For the women for example, short or medium dresses, naked shoulders, bermudas, tide cloth are not indicated (even though some Syrian girls wear like this, it is not the common way). The most suitable is large clothes, cotton for the summer.
For men, it is easier: you just have to avoid shorts, bermudas and short trousers. Here, as you will see, all men wear long trousers (and often with another this trouser under), and even when the sun is very hot, few people go with naked legs, only "machos" (and some tourists!!).
2) Practicing Sport: Syrian are not very keen on sports. They prefer to watch football match on television (European Cup, Spanish football ..). Their best sport anyway is to eat! Which they are very good at too!
Young people (18-28) like to go to gyms for body building or loosing weight. It is more a social meeting. It is a good way to meet people and have superficial conversations. Gyms are not mixed. There are gyms with hours for women.
There are 2-3 sportive complexes in Damascus: Al Jala' in Mezze, Tishrine and Faiha (to run, walk, play football, even rugby). There are 3-4 swimming pools: Al Jala' in Mezze, Al Nidal in Sina3, Youth Club (Nadi ash Shabaab) in Mezze, Barada in Mazra3 (hours for men, hours for women, some have mixed, but arab men go there just to look at women. Nasty!). Some high standard and expensive swimming pools: Sheraton, Ebla Cham (outside Damascus), Al Andalous, …
1) Is there a big difference between Classical Arabic – Literature Arabic – Standard Arabic (or Modern Standard Arabic) and Colloquial – Syrian spoken Dialect?
Syrian people speak a colloquial Arabic (Al A’mmia or Syrian dialect) is very close (with Yemenite) to the Classical, formal Standard MSA Arabic (Al Fus-ha) and is easy to understand standard due to historical and geographical reasons (near Saudi Arabia, where Arabic came from). The Syrian spoken language remains the closest to Classical Arabic, enabling the students to continue their lessons outside the classroom, practicing in everyday life, with almost everybody. If you are a beginner, you will obviously think that these are 2 different languages, but little by little, you will get used to it and appreciate all the similarities.
Syrian Arabic is the most useful and accessible of all the Arabic dialects. It is almost identical to dialect in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan (and part of Iraq) and it is widely understood all over the Arab world. This gives the great possibility to use classical Arabic with Syrians, who understand it perfectly.
We don’t advice you to study Ammya (colloquial or Syrian dialect). A student doesn’t pay money to study slang or inferior quality language (I wanna, I gonna, You aint, ). You can get this free in the street, listening around you, riding taxis, meeting people, going to the hairdresser, having language exchanges, in your family homestay or accommodation, with your private teacher in the last 10-15 min of the lessons (just for fun and to relax). You need solid foundations in MSA in order to master Ammya. If not, you don’t know anythinmmg of anything, you will speak Arabic in broken language and further more with mistakes!! Ridiculous!
2) How long do I need to master Arabic? It depends of your initial level and your skills and your personal work. Arabic lanagueg is wonderful, intensive, time consuming and breath taking. If you start from beginner, you can count 1 year (to be fluent and feel confidential).
3) What is Classical Arabic – Literature Arabic – Standard Arabic (or Modern Standard Arabic)? It is all the same, but in the past (Islamic times of Prophet Muhammad, and much before, they didn’t use to talk a lot about politics, financial crisis, peace conference helicopter, tanks, bombs, terrorism, presidential elections, economy, ) with is now more present and used in our everyday life and Medias (newspaper, news, Al Jazeera TV). Obviously, this last language (MSA) is weaker and poorer than the Classical arabic.
4) What is the best: group classes or private lessons?
We are not going to say that group classes in Damascus University or Mezze Instiutte are better, or that ARabesk Studies private lessons are better
5) Why this price difference between Damascus University and Mezze Institute for example?
We will send you an email, we do not publish our comparison on Internet.
7) Islamic institutes have been OFFICIALLY CLOSED in 2008 for foreigner students. They are not allowed any more to accept foreign students. You can have private tuitions for traditional Islamic Sciences with Arabesk Studies and high caliber teachers (Fiqh, Usul Fiqh, Hadith, Ulum al Hadith, Ulum al Qoran, Tafsir, Sira, Advanced Grammar (Nahu, Sarf, Balagha, Al Ajrumya, Qatr Nada, Shuthuir az Thahab, Mughni Al Labib, AuDah al masalik), History (caliphats, Ommeyade, Abbasides, Ayyubis, Mamlouk, Ottomans, Ibn Kathir, Al Asqalani, ))
6) What is the best Study solution?
We always recommend to the student to combine between University Institute and private courses. Many students in fact advised us to motivate students to make combinations between group classes and individual classes. Both are useful: the synergy of the group and the focus of private lessons. The teacher can take much better care on you, and do things that you can't in group: improve your conversation, your reading, your writing, correct your mistakes and work on your weak points. And the student goes much faster.
Coming to Damascus in an unique occasion, an investment, so you have to take a maximum of profit.
7) Payment by Bank transfer to our international bank account (it takes 2-3 days). Full payment before arrival, the soonest the best, in order to book accommodation and private teacher. When we arrive to this step, we will provide you with all the useful information to make a wire transfer.
1) Professionally, we advise you to avoid Bab Tuma or Bab Sharqui (families or rooms for rent), and this, for different reasons that concern particularly the students and Arabic studies.
Since 3-4 years, we hear more and more complaints about accommodation there. Many students (that didn't came through Arabesk, because we never chose this district) have been complaining:
dirty houses, small rooms, bad conditions, noisy, materialistic families that only think about the money of the students, they don't take care of the students, don't help them with their learning or practising). In the past, it was really nice, but people there have changed a lot and they abuse of foreigners.
Located in the Old City, there is a touristic influence, which makes that people there try to speak english with the students “Hello! Where do you come from? Welcome Welcome! Please”. The student practise little arabic as he is always considered as a foreigner or a tourist (if he is not considered as a “walking” dollar or Euro money bill !). They try to practice their english or other languages (french, italian, german, spanish, or any, they are quite good in imitating languages) and they absolutely do not take into consideration that you came from far away, you too, to practise your arabic.
As they is a concentration of foreign students living in this part of the old city, the students are always among themselves, go out between themselves, talk among them in english, french or other language, and do not practice, despite themselves, their arabic.
Located in the Eastern part of the Old City, which is in the East part of Damascus city, it is far away from University or Mezze or other institutes. Students loose a lot of time in transports.
Furthermore, we can not call this “living in a family ”, because interaction with the “family” is minimum, as you live in the second floor of an arabic house, and they live down stairs, you cross them when you go out “Bye, Maa salama” or step in “Marhaba ! ” or if you take a cup of tea with them. There is not an interchange, an immersion in their lives, traditions, way of life.
For these reasons, we prefer that our students live in other districts, like Midan, Muhajirin or Baramka, where they mix to the population and society, and are considered as one more neighbor,and not a tourist: “Marhaba! Ahlan wa Sahlan! Kaifak al youm? Min ayna anta? Tafaddal !!”
2) Will living with a family reduce my freedom?
NO, at all. Our families are carefully selected, they are experienced in treating with foreigners, open minded and tolerant, but you have to know that you are in a new and different culture (Arabic and/or Islamic), there are some limits (boys/girls, not late at night).
3) is there a curfew?
4) Are they Muslim families?
It doesn’t matter, they are Arabs and proud of being Arabic.
5) How are families like?
Generally, female families, women living alone (divorced, widow), mother with elder daughter or mother with children. Some families are typical families (mother, father and 2-3 children).
6) Significant advice for L&P accommodation:
1- Phone is available at home for local phones or people to call you (family or friends).
2- The rent (Living), the tutor (practicing) is included in the price, but not the electricity / phone / water bills (it depends of the flat and the students consumption). Usually we have to count 22-30 Euros per month per student (specially in winter with heating or if students uses Internet connexion).
3- alcohol, feminine visits and smoking are not allowed in the flat, for culture reasons and for the sake of the studies.
4- For the cooking, OR each one on his own OR shared together (make a box for weekly shopping expenses, everybody puts 250 or 300 liras for food, meet, vegetables, bread, fruits, sugar, tea, etc…). shared shopping, going with Jibril or Abdel Karim.
7) Significant advice for Family accommodation?
1- Phone is available at home for local phones or receive calls from your family or friends.
2- no boy visits are possible at home for cultural reasons (Arabic and Muslim society) and student should come back no too late (21.00) when she goes out (if she is late, please text or inform family), because they will be worried about you and for the sake of the studies. Alcohol, smoking are not allowed in the families.
2- The charges are included in the rent (bills for electricity, water, phone, but it always depends of the students consumption (electricity), specially in winter). Maybe the family charges a supplement of 16-20 Euros per month (specially in winter with heating).
3- For the meals, as specified in the package, you agree directly with the family. It depends of the students (some are vegetarian, vegans) how many meals you wish (full board, breakfast + diner, only lunch which is the main meal here, only diner, …)
8) What about if I am not happy?
1) Most of the planes arrive late at night or early morning. Will someone will come to pick me up at any time?
Most of the airlines effectively arrive at night time (Turkish Airlines, Air Italia, Aeroflot, British Airways, Czech Airlines, Malev) because it is cheaper for flight companies (only Syrian Airlines, and rich Emirates Airlines, or Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain can afford). But don’t worry, now, after so many years of experience, we are used and the Studies Manager personally or the Students responsible will be at the airport upon your arrival.
2) What happens if there is nobody at the airport?
Don’t worry, your flight might have arrived in advance, or you might have finished customs quicker, so we must be arriving. Anyway, before you arrive, we supply you with our mobile phone number, emergency number, family / accommodation numbers, so "ma fi mushkila"
3) What do I need for registration?
Passport and you physically. Arabesk takes care of the rest or will inform you on due time.
4) When do we have to go for Residency permit / Iqama / visa extension / Hijra wa Jawazat / emigration department (all these name for the same thing!)?
After 15 days of your arrival, we take care. We go with you, it takes 15-20 minutes.
5) What about if I have one entry visa and I wish to go to Jordan or Lebanon?
You can buy a new visda at the border when you come back (for 25-30 USD). Please note that American citizens (with a single entry) have been disturbed and they had to wait for 5 to 8 hours at the border, waiting for a telex from the Ministry of Interior allowing the person to re-enter (like a security clearance). We will tell you how to avoid this asshole.