Omani students are settling in to Swansea marina life
FROM beaches to castles, from mosques to a passion for Premier League football, Swansea and Oman share several similarities.
And the city's marina is turning into a small corner of the oldest independent state in the Arab world.
Manaf Al-Fadhil, Haneen Al-Lawati and Marwa Al-Moosawi are among the students who call the marina home.
Four years ago there were two Omani students at Swansea University. Now there are 56, including postgraduates.
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And the word has spread to the ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Hinai. His excellency, the students and the Omani Society will celebrate their country's national day at the university on Saturday evening.
Manaf, an accounting and finance undergraduate, has overcome poor first impressions to thrive in Swansea.
Although he knew people here — and was aware of the high-flying Swans — he did not know what to expect.
He said: "The second I left the train station I thought, 'I don't like this place'.
"The hotel I stayed my first night in was further beyond the (Liberty) stadium, and I thought, 'What a disappointment'. The next day I came here to the university and I thought, 'Thank God'."
His eyes lit up again when he saw the marina — and he has never looked back. The 20-year-old, who is president of the Omani Students Society, said people back home still think his life in Wales involves being on a farm, with sheep.
He declined to say how much rent he pays for his two-bed flat, which he shares, but his monthly outgoings do not include any for alcohol.
"I might go to a restaurant for some food, or to the cinema, or to someone's house to watch football," said Manaf, adding that the university mosque was very welcoming.
Fellow Omani students and Muslims, Haneen, 21, and Marwa, 20, won't be found carousing on Wind Street either.
The two mobile communication engineering students prefer a quiet but nevertheless social life.
"I have not tried drinking — I would rather watch a movie or have dinner with friends," said Haneen.
All three students are from Muscat, Oman's capital, and feel the British university education system has cachet, with Swansea University's strong engineering reputation a real bonus.
They are proud of their homeland nearly 4,000 miles away, which has mountains approaching 10,000ft, a growing tourist industry, a stunning opera house — and oil.
According to the group Human Rights Watch, Oman's 3.5 million citizens have little opportunity to affect Government policies, as all and regulations are via royal decree.
But it added that Omani authorities generally respected the right to freedom of expression, and discrimination on the basis of gender is banned.
Swansea University currently has 10,842 full-time undergraduates, including 1,311 from Asia, 136 from Africa, 46 from North America — and 99 categorised as "unknown". Of its 1,088 full-time postgraduates, nearly half (415) are from Asia.
Undergraduate Haneen, who liked Swansea and its beaches from the off, said she advised friends from Oman to come to the city.
She said: "It's peaceful and the people are very friendly."
She added that a settling-in period at the university-based International College Wales Swansea, which many international students enrol in ahead of their degree course, was worthwhile.
"I never felt like a foreign student," she said.
Her pal Marwa has enjoyed her time in Swansea, although she was taunted for wearing a hijab, or head scarf, on her way back to the marina with friends on Hallowe'en.
She said: "This guy threw beer on me, and then he sat outside our apartment. I was inside, crying."