Jordanian doctoral students appreciate Swedish order

From Jordan to Lund: Sahar Al-Rabadi and Marwa Al-Khalidi have got off to a good start as PhD students in architecture at LU. They are the result of a revitalised agreement with Yarmouk University.

Sahar Al-Rabadi o Marwa Al-Khalid LITEN

PhD students in architecture Sahar Al-Rabadi and Marwa Al-Khalidi outside LUX, a building they find architecturally interesting.

“I love following rules and here there are rules everywhere. Everything is not just organised, but well organised. It’s so much better for everyone in society if there are rules that everyone follows. I am still incredibly impressed that trains that should leave at 18.37 actually do!” enthuses Marwa Al-Khalidi.

Sahar Al-Rabadi has been in Lund for three days and Marwa Al-Khalidi for three months when we meet. A third architecture student from Irbid is on the way. They have encountered cold and rain, but also warmth and friendship, at the department and in the families they are lodging with.

“Living with Swedes is so rewarding. I’ve learnt all sorts of things by sharing their daily life – Christmas traditions, public holidays (very important!), their faith. They also ask me a lot about my faith and my country. We swap words every day – I learn a Swedish word and they learn an Arabic one.”

They find the people of Lund friendly and reliable, and are amazed that you can do everything online. As architecture students they are of course interested in the buildings, particularly the way in which old and new have been integrated in the city centre, and how public spaces are planned. Sahar Al-Rabadi’s thesis will be about urban planning and quality of life, especially on how to integrate walkability – the possibility of travelling by foot. She is trying to walk everywhere in Lund.

“I am fascinated by the public spaces, with pavements, playgrounds, trees, lighting. In Jordan, there is no long-term town planning. No care is given to what is between buildings; children play on the street and it is often difficult to move around without pavements to walk on.

Henry Diab o sv masterstudenter vid Yarmouk Universityx

Henry Diab with Swedish Master’s students at Yarmouk University

Henry Diab, director of studies in Arabic at SOL, has fought for 20 years to establish exchanges with Arab universities. He took the initiative for the agreements that are now in place with the University of Jordan, the American University in Beirut, Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, among others. Henry Diab is nearly 70, but he has made a number of trips and put a lot of effort into reinvigorating the framework agreements that have existed with Arab universities and Yarmouk since 2006. This will perhaps be his final contribution to creating ties between the Middle East and Lund.

“I just want to make it work. Internationalisation is important both for individual students and for research, and even for international relations between countries. Having three doctoral students here from the same department will mean a lot for their department when they return home.”

Marwa Al-Khalidi is focusing on the right of citizens’ to have their say on new construction projects for her thesis. She thinks there are interesting examples in Sweden of when protests have stopped or modified construction. In Jordan, there is no functioning system to object to building plans; tower blocks spring up out of the ground regardless of the views of the neighbours and local population.

Research studies programmes are more individually tailored in Sweden and Marwa Al-Khalidi is delighted at the way of working, which includes lively discussions among the multicultural group of doctoral students.

“For us, Lund is the key to Europe and to the world. That is invaluable for us. We will not break off our contact with Lund, and we are also gaining friends and contacts from many different countries.”

Both Marwa Al-Khalidi and Sahar Al-Rabadi have already taught at Yarmouk University, and when they return they will be offered permanent posts as senior lecturers. Teaching is a focus and a passion for both of them.

“Our time here will make us better teachers and I will be able to encourage my students to think and discuss creatively and with an open mind, which is essential for architects. We get to experience new approaches to teaching that we can take back with us. I hope that we can bring renewal to undergraduate education at home.”

Yarmouk University has recently established two scholarships in Henry Diab’s name that will enable two students from Lund to study there each year for the next four years. The two, and soon three, doctoral students are also being funded entirely by Yarmouk. Students at the Department of Architecture and the Built Environment at LTH will also be offered the opportunity to do fieldwork in Irbid, a city that has received over 140 000 refugees from Syria and that is facing major challenges when it comes to new construction.

“We are already in the process of selecting the students who will study Arabic at Yarmouk and they will be received like kings there”, says Henry Diab, showing photographs of Master’s students who did fieldwork there last spring.

Sahar Al-Rabadi, who has only been here a couple of days, has not yet got used to the loneliness and not being surrounded by her parents and siblings.

“You’ll soon make friends. There are lots of opportunities to drink coffee and chat here. ‘Fika’ is probably the most important word to learn.”

Text: Jenny Loftrup

Photo: Gunnar Menander