Global Development Institute Blog

Hamza M. Arsbi, MSc International Development and CEO of Science League

The University of Manchester is a world-renowned institution with an impressive record, which is why I choose to study my Masters in International Development at its Global Development Institute. However, the city of Manchester itself, still trying to grow beyond its industrial past and compete as an international hub, is still a very underappreciated city. My year at The University of Manchester has taught me so much more than what my course curriculum contained. The city, the University, and its people have given me a transformative experience.

Of the University

When first arriving as an international student, the University’s Welcome Week with all the friendly student ambassadors and diverse events gave me a dazzling introduction of what to expect. The mix of serious orientation gatherings, free pizza events, and all night parties combined to make me feel at ease in these strange lands. When lectures started, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the content as I did not feel it was as deep as I expected. Considering this now, I realize that what I was meant to learn went beyond theory. While I had hoped to dig deeper into political concepts, my biggest gain from this course was in the way I think about the world and analyze information. In lectures, private meetings, and at pubs, the discussions I had with lecturers, colleagues, and supporting staff had reshaped my thinking and developed me as a human being and as a researcher. I will always be thankful to the University and the remarkable staff at the Global Development Institute for the experience they have given me.

Of the City

Throughout my career, I have travelled to cities around the world, I have seen both modern and ancient wonders. And while Manchester is neither the prettiest, biggest or most wondrous city I have ever seen, it will forever have a special place in my heart. I was amazed how a city so underappreciated by the rest of the UK can house so much diversity, so much history, and so many wonderful contradictions. From the first days I arrived, I loved walking from the young and hip Northern Quarter, across the always busy city centre, down Oxford road, passing the libraries and museums, to the Curry Mile for some shawarma which tasted of home. Later in my year, thanks to the Free Manchester Walking tour, I got more hooked on the history of the city. It’s role in the suffragette movement, the labour movement, the industrial revolution, and even the US Civil war. Its diverse and inclusive atmosphere, amongst so much history, gave me a chance to look within me for my authentic self, and think about my life free of judgment and suppression. This is in no way a perfect city, and there is so much to be fixed. But the soul of Manchester and the ideals of its people give it the resilience and potential to be better.

Of its people

Manchester has the worker bee as one of its symbols, for a Mancunian works hard within a group, and I love the addition, produces work as sweet as honey. Like many international cities with a large student population, a Manchester Mancunian is very hard to identify by an obvious stereotype such as race or language. For me, the spirit of a true Mancunian is in their resilience, inclusiveness, and diversity. If this includes many non-natives from around the UK and the world, then that is exactly the point. Throughout my year, I have been privileged to meet people who embody those qualities, they offered friendship, love, and mentorship. I was taught to work hard, but to dance as well. Joy is in doing what you love, being kind to others, and learning to relax. During the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attacks, I was taught that there is a way to channel rage into unity, hard work, and a refusal to fall victim to fear.  No matter where life takes me, I will always remember the lessons I learned from people in Manchester, the images of humanity I saw, and the ideals that a Mancunian strives to achieve.

At the walls of a restaurant on Oxford road, a quote by the traveler and historian J. G. Kohl in 1844 reads ‘When entering for the first time a town like Manchester, a stranger, overwhelmed by the new and interesting spectacle presented to him, scarcely dares look this giant full in the face at once’.  This quote still holds true today. At least within my story.

To a city which can hold a party until past dawn, then provide us with some of the best minds in the world. To a city which can be so filled with ancient history, yet vibrant with a youthful attitude. To a city which can turn a tragedy into a call for unity and strength.

My love to this wonderful, mad giant.

Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.