Reflecting on our amazing experiences in the Middle-East, the inevitable nostalgia is enhanced by the realization that a few weeks before we departed, I wasn’t even sure if I should go. I had a difficult choice to make, knowing that my Masters dissertation was due smack bang in the middle of our trip, and that I wasn’t even close to finishing. I was faced with having to miss the trip to ensure I got it done properly, or risk writing most of it whilst on the tour, with no guarantee of Wi-Fi and knowing that it would be extremely hard to find time in our packed schedule. In the end, there was only ever going to be one choice – I couldn’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! So I packed my laptop, crammed as many books as possible into my luggage, and hoped for the best!
The month that followed was one of the most intense and exciting experiences of my life, and truly challenged the limits of my mental and physical capabilities. I had the least sleep of any of the team, with many a late night spent typing away whilst others slept. I even tried to get work done on bus journeys, but often the deep team debates or the regular eruptions of team banter that surrounded me would prove too tempting to ignore. As the team dynamic got steadily stronger it became difficult to detach myself from these debates and bonding sessions, which nevertheless provided a welcome relief from much academic head-scratching!
As the deadline approached menacingly, I found myself having to miss matches and activities to try and get it finished. Luckily, the team were very understanding, and our hosts were also incredibly helpful on every step of the way. For example, in Nablus our hosts at the Yafa Cultural Centre even let me stay for a few more days as the rest of the team continued travelling around West Bank, and I was able to use their Wi-Fi to get most of it done, with my parents providing excellent support via Skype! I re-joined the team in Bethlehem on the night of the deadline, which would have been a fitting location in which to finish, had there been Wi-Fi at the proverbial “inn”! Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi cut out, and I missed the deadline as the next morning we left for Jordan. The disappointment of losing marks for lateness was soon forgotten in the intensity of the final night of work in Jordan, where I used the extra time to try and perfect my work. I was ably supported by the team, as Alex Skinner helped type up transcripts and Mesh worked 8 hours straight on my references, and everyone else took turns to give me words of encouragement. I dosed up on strong Arabic coffee and sat trembling from the lack of sleep, cutting down my word count, right up until the last minute.
At the end of it all, I crashed into a 13-hour sleep. I awoke with a huge weight off my shoulders and a burning desire to get back to the football. The team welcomed me back with open arms and I was able to enjoy the rest of our adventure knowing that somehow I had managed to write a dissertation and still be part of an incredible journey. The sacrifices had been worth it, and the experiences and team dynamic had inspired me to write what I felt was a fantastic dissertation. In the end, I knew I’d made the right choice, and it’s a choice I will never regret.