A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

By Leesa Truesdell

Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the sense of diversity on campus. Compared to Florida State University where she got her master’s, Dalal feels that USF has a thriving international community. “There is just the right balance for me. Cultural immersion is not as difficult at USF because I have Americans in my classes. I hang out with the decently sized Arab population after class and on weekends.”

Dalal is on a sponsored scholarship that lasts up to five years to complete her Ph.D. She plans to finish her degree in about four and a half years. She anticipates getting back to work in Kuwait after she graduates. Right now, she enjoys working at a university teaching English.

Here is what Dalal had to say about her career pathway to obtaining a Ph.D.

kuwait city study abroadWhat was it like growing up in Kuwait City, Kuwait? For example, what was the education system like? Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school?

“I did all of my schoolings in Kuwait at a public school up until I reached university, which was a private school. All public schools in Kuwait are segregated and subject areas are taught in Arabic. In high school, I focused on science in my educational track.  However, I decided to become a liberal-arts major at the university level.”

Did you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to Gulf University for your undergraduate studies?

“After obtaining my high school degree, I immediately enrolled at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait. I majored in English education and felt thrilled to start my new journey.”

Where did you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees? How long did it take to get a diploma for these degrees? Did you work in the field before you went back for a Ph.D.?

“I received my undergraduate degree from GUST back in 2012. I then took about a year off working as a teller at the National Bank of Kuwait with the purpose of saving up some money in order to continue my studies. However, I was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship in order to pursue my graduate degree.

Since FSU offered an excellent graduate program in Curriculum and Instruction, it sparked my interest when browsing for universities. I decided to apply and was lucky enough to receive admission. I spent a total of four years on my undergraduate degree and a total of a year and a half doing my master’s at FSU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I went back to Kuwait to teach English as a second language to native Arabic speakers at the college level. I spent a total of three years teaching English until I recently received another scholarship to continue my education in order to obtain a Ph.D.”

Why did you decide to go to the University of South Florida (USF) for your Ph.D.?

“I chose USF to do my Ph.D. because the college of education at USF is known to be one of the best colleges nationwide. They offer excellent degree-seeking programs and have accreditation by my sponsor. Moreover, USF is a research-driven university. I believe this would best help me in executing my research ideas in order to acquire more expertise in the field of English education.”

USF-University-of-South-Florida-Bulls-PHD

What is the University of South Florida known for with regard to education?

“The College of Education at the University of South Florida has multiple nationwide-recognized awards for its role in research and education. Also, USF’s College of Education received accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Furthermore, the Florida Department of Education approved the Educator Preparation Programs.”

In your opinion, is USF a good university?

“Without a doubt! USF offers a variety of opportunities. They encourage working with professors who are understanding and passionate about what they do. There is also a variety of students that come from different backgrounds that add a unique flavor to the academic settings.”

career pathway

You attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Is USF a better university? What are some of the similarities and differences?

“Once a Seminole, always a Seminole and there’s no doubt in that! FSU has paved the way in making me the educator who I am today. USF is helping me build on the training that FSU provided. I would never make a comparison between the two universities as both are extremely qualified universities that should attract students to their programs.”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

“I have always wanted to study abroad ever since I was a teenager. However, I only got the opportunity to do so after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I believe that studying abroad makes a person grow on multiple levels. Those that study abroad are immersed in a rich culture. This experience offers different opportunities to explore not only the culture but oneself, too.”

ucf college of education

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed since being in the program?

“My expectation before I left Kuwait was that the program was going to be challenging yet very informative. My expectation was certainly met. I was blessed enough to be part of a university with a department that works with capable teachers who have valuable information in the field of English education.”

What have you done since you began your doctoral program? Are there any tips you want to share with any candidates about to start their own doctoral program?

“From the very beginning (and several times early on in my first semester as a doctoral student), I sat down with my advisor. We came up with a projected course of study in order to have a plan that would create the best path for my adventure as a doctoral student. I advise whoever else who has started this journey to have this plan done from the very start. It is so helpful to refer to it when it comes to classes that you need to take that also align with your research interest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in the USA for an advanced degree?

“For those who are studying abroad, my ultimate advice to them is that they must constantly remind themselves of why they chose to leave their family and country behind and embark on this new journey. There are times where a person will feel homesick and overwhelmed with the coursework, especially as a doctoral student. However, one should keep in mind that struggle is temporary and a doctoral degree is forever! It doesn’t matter how bumpy the ride is. What matters most is that one reaches his/her designated destination.”

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

If you are thinking about getting a Ph.D., Dalal talks about five steps to take before leaving for the USA. She went back to Kuwait last summer and plans to return again this summer. I asked her what she misses most about Kuwait while living in the US. She explained that she misses the professional part of her life — the part of being a teacher. She wants to apply the techniques she has learned in attaining her Ph.D. on her students. More specifically, she wants her students back home to learn how to make their voices heard when applying the English language. We will be keeping up with Dalal to see how her final classes go and also discover what her dissertation will be!

 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Tally Cat Cafe after graduatingZoe Ezechiels was born in Norway and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. She thrives in an environment that is filled with diversity and challenge. She studied abroad in an exchange program in South Korea for a year. Recently, she graduated from Florida State University with a BA in both Media Communications and in Theatre. 

Zoe is a writer and video editor at Dreams Abroad and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. She is also working as a freelance copywriter, part-time barista, and a preschool photographer. Zoe plans to move to Oregon in the new year to continue working as an onsite photographer. Read on as Zoe shares what she has been doing after graduating from Florida State University!

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I heard about Dreams Abroad in the most random, roundabout way. During my senior fall semester, I took a class about media and the environment. In that class of about 120 people, I only knew two classmates. One happened to be a good friend who I have worked within student theater (among other projects, like a Jonas Brothers Sing-a-long musical). If you haven’t read Grace Perrotta’s article about her Ireland travels, take a minute of your time to check it out. 

It was Grace that told me about Dreams Abroad. We were sharing exchange student tales (she about Ireland, me about South Korea) and We Study naturally fell into the conversation. Before I was overseeing the We Study section, the beautiful Marina was at its helm. She had contacted Grace to do an article originally. And because I had also studied abroad, Grace acted as the liaison between Dreams Abroad and me.”

FSU graduation fountain

Now, I’ve been working with Dreams Abroad in various roles for about a year. First, I began as a writer and video editor then I moved on to working with the We Study program. Currently, I work as a writer and editor again in order to focus more on my journey and travel after graduating from Florida State. We’ll see where the future takes me with Dreams Abroad.” 

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was finishing my final year of university when I first joined Dreams Abroad. I was experiencing major senioritis at FSU as a dual degree student. Specifically, I was in my Media and the Environment classroom, not paying attention to the video that the professor was playing, when I first sent the email to Dreams Abroad.”

How has your life changed since then?

Zoe Ezechiels and her friend

“I graduated from Florida State University with two bachelor’s for one thing. Immediately after joining Dreams Abroad, I got really high grades in that Media and the Environment class. I did really well in my final two semesters of school (by nuking my social life, if I’m being honest). I made a lot of amazing friends and had people leave my life. Fortunately, I got to spend an amazing spring break in Portland, Oregon (where I fell in love — with the city). I grew a lot and have reached new levels of self-love. 

Directly from Dreams Abroad, I learned that my writing has value and I have a strong voice. I have become more confident in my skills (though I still have a long way to go). Overall, the glow up has been real.”

What did you learn from your experience of traveling abroad?

“Oh, where do I even start with this. I think I’d need an entire article for every time that I’ve been abroad. But, if I could cut to the essentials, I would have to boil it down to two main things. 

The first and most important thing is that I know that I’ve always got my own back. This means that I will never give up on myself. No matter how suicidal or depressed I get (medicated and blessed), I will still fight for my own life. Being cold and alone in the dead of the Korean winter taught me that I am my own ride or die. 

The second thing I learned is that wandering is your best bet. This is literal and metaphysical. Getting “lost” isn’t as bad as you think it is. As long as you’re careful and really aware of the time or place where you’re wandering, you have nothing to worry about. Metaphysically speaking, wandering in your mind is wonderful. Questioning everything, getting lost, and going deeper all sound terrifying but it’s super refreshing.” 

Tally Cat Cafe

What have you been doing this year? 

“I’ve been on that hustle. Since the beginning of this year, I have taken various work positions. I’ve been doing Dreams Abroad and copywriting since the beginning. Around March, I began to work at Tally Cat Cafe as a barista. I can make a mean cat-tuccino now. Over the summer, I took the last two of my classes to graduate in August. While I was doing that, I worked with FSU Special Programs as a Peer Mentor. I got to work with wonderful students from Macau, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan. 

Since graduating, the Special Programs job ended and I started working with LifeTouch as a preschool photographer. The job allows me to get my kid-fix without being 24/7 responsible for my own. It also has awesome travel perks (I’m writing this from a cafe in Gainesville — LifeTouch provided me the resources to be able to photoshoot over 200 preschoolers during a period of three days in a place two hours away from home).”

What are your future plans?

canoeing Graduating from Florida State University

“That’s still up in the air at the moment. I plan to move to Oregon with the coming new year, which is the only for-sure thing I know. Hopefully, LifeTouch will be gracious enough to allow me to switch districts (since I’d like to continue working for them). I also hope to work with editorials, magazines, and publications in order to continue cultivating my writing. 

Eventually, I want to go to graduate school but first I’m focusing on gaining experience and saving money for now.” 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Zoe has been a stellar member of the Dreams Abroad family and we look forward to working with her as long as she is able. We cannot wait to see what her future holds after graduating from Florida State. She also will be working on our upcoming annual holiday video this year. It’s an exciting project for our members and a time for our team to be featured together. Please be sure to check it out — you won’t want to miss out on her video making skills!”

by Leesa Truesdell

ESL Certifications: Where to Begin

by Caroline Hazelton

The world of English as a Second/Foreign Language teachers is a delightful one, whether we are teaching it where it’s the dominant language to non-native speakers (English as a Second Language) or in another part of the world where it is a non-native language (English as a Foreign Language). There are literally so many situations you can find yourself in if you love other cultures and languages. You can:

  • build an American dream in an immigrant child or adult learning ESL
  • teach brilliant international students in English for Academic Purposes programs
  • teach English online in dozens of countries from your own office
  • go abroad… and have a “Dream Abroad!” 

However, every dream has a road, and every road has a starting point. How do you get to all of these places above? After all, you’re going to need some formal training to explain such cases like “I have eaten,” which means “I previously ate, my previous eating still affects me now, and will continue to affect me into the future” kind of grammatical teaching and understanding. 

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

English as a Foreign Language ESL Certifications

Here are a few steps to gaining ESL/EFL credentials in specific situations.

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s or higher. This is true in nearly every English teaching case. I suggest majoring in ESL Education or in a related field. 
  2. Gain cross-cultural experiences as a volunteer, either abroad or both.
  3. (Recommended but not required) Study a second language. 

Foreign Language teachersSteps 1-3 are your “launch pad.” Once you’ve done these things, you have three other options to figure out where you wish to be:

Option A: Earn your ESOL certificate or endorsement to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in public K-12 schools.

Option B: The universally-accepted TEFL certificate lets you teach abroad or in many online English teaching platforms. In my case at EF, my degree credentials substituted this requirement.

Option C: If you wish to teach ESL in a university or in a college, a Master’s is usually necessary. Again, you can either major in ESL Education or a different field such as linguistics, English, Education, etc. Note that teaching English as a Second Language or English for Academic Purposes is usually for non-credit courses. If you wish to train future English as a Second Language teachers, a PhD in one of the fields mentioned above might be necessary.

My ESL Journey

I want to end this on a personal note, as I realize this article has been on the technical side thus far. Teaching English as a Second AND Foreign Language in my case has been a delightful experience, but figuring out how to get where I wanted to go was overwhelming in my early days of undergrad.

I come from a tiny community in the rural southern United States. There were no opportunities in my hometown that would prepare me to be an ESL teacher. Instead, I had to leave. I had to volunteer in Texas, travel overseas multiple times, and volunteer with international students at my university. This was all in addition to learning Spanish and getting both degrees before I was even truly qualified to teach ESL. I’ve held several positions in different cities and states as my personal life changes. While this field requires a unique set of skills, it also allows flexibility. 

ESL Certifications

Start Seeking Opportunities with ESL Certifications

This guide is coming from someone who knew in the very beginning of undergrad that I wanted to teach both Spanish and ESL. For some of you, you may not have even considered ESL/EFL until recently. Oftentimes, there are many interests, goals, and dreams that might not happen the way we imagine. In other cases, we don’t realize a passion that we have for a cause until later in life. If that sounds like you, figure out the skills and education that you already have and start seeking opportunities to add to your repertoire. For example, a former colleague wanted to teach English as a Foreign Language overseas for the Peace Corps. Despite her education, she was rejected for lack of ESL experience. She made up for this volunteering at one of the last schools I taught at, and I hope she’s gotten where she wanted to go.

Teaching English as a Second Language is both satisfying on the intellectual and humanitarian level, not to mention, quite fun! I hope to see many of our Dreams Abroad readers join me in obtaining their ESL certifications!

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

Traveling Through Germany to the Black Forest and Rhine Falls

Traveling Through GermanyTraveling through Germany is always fun. However, it’s important to take a breather. Read about how I made sure to relax abroad in my last article!

After our pit stop in Cologne we headed for Frankfurt. Unfortunately, we were only there for a single evening. We were merely able to glimpse what Frankfurt had to offer. What was most striking, though, was the strange blend of architecture. Next to sleek modern towers stood  Gothic churches and the quintessential timber-framed buildings. Although nobody mentioned the building dichotomy it was very striking to see the architectural results of World War II decades after the bombings.

We dined at a traditional German restaurant — complete with pints of beer, long benches and tables, and even a candelabra here and there. Nikos bought each table their own pitcher of apple wine, which I was thrilled to indulge in. I wound up trying a venison dish complemented with steamed vegetables and herb dip simply known as “green sauce” — the highlight of the meal.

 

Frankfurt

Pit Stop While Traveling Through Germany at the Black Forest

The next morning, we all woke early to continue our journey south towards Italy. As I watched the rolling hills turn into the dense forest, I heard someone mention that we were going to take a pit stop in the Black Forest. “Wait… really?” I asked, eyes widening in amazement, “I thought that place was just a fairy tale!”

A misty bridge in the middle of the Black Forest.

Much to my chagrin, everyone around me erupted into laughter. Why the English major didn’t know that the Black Forest was a real place was a loss even to myself. Nonetheless, it was exciting looking out the window into the impenetrable forest. Hazy fog swirled between the trees, adding an air of mystery to the whole day. I thought about all the Grimms’ Fairy Tales I’d heard as a kid — both the nice versions and the not-so-nice ones. Satisfied with the other worldly view outside the bus window, I returned to reading my copy of The Hobbit and listening to The Cranberries. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop to reading a fantasy novel.

Clocks O’Clock

House of 1000 Clocks

We pulled to the side of the road where there was a narrow pathway that led towards a small bridge that crossed a creek. I could hear it babbling as it passed over the river rocks. I spent a long time just looking around, trying not to squeal. I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy novels and experiencing such a magical place made it easy to see why the Black Forest inspired so many of them. As we walked along the trail, an enormous clock came into view — it was the face of the House of 1000 Clocks. It seemed like some sort of tiny village way out in the middle of nowhere. There was a hotel, a cafeteria, and lots and lots and lots of clocks.

I ran into the gift shop/clock shop to look around. It was filled from floor to ceiling with cuckoo clocks in different sizes and intricacies. Unfortunately, most of them were well out of my budget. I didn’t want to go and blow over half of my spending money all in one place, barely halfway through our trip. But boy, do I wish I had one of those cuckoo clocks. They were beautifully crafted. I couldn’t help but think of the giant wind-up grandfather clock my grandparents had when I was a kid. I settled on buying matching beanies with all my friends (I still wear it on especially cold days). We stayed long enough to watch the giant clock outside chime, and then we were on our way again.

A Spontaneous Detour to a Swiss Waterfall

As a surprise, Nikos took us on a small detour to visit Rhine Falls, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The view from above was stunning, but was even more awe-inspiring after a trip down the glass elevator. The only other waterfall I’d seen before had been Niagara Falls. It almost seemed to pale in comparison to the Rhine, just because the viewing platforms were incredible. We were able to stand incredibly close to all of that powerful water, and at different levels to boot! After a decent amount of time gawking and imagining the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water rushing by, we decided to take a quick hike along the water’s edge and explore downstream.

rhine falls swiss waterfall

Surrounded by forest and traveling down a knobby path, I quickly began imagining all of the fantasy settings I’d ever read. It was so easy to place myself into all of the old stories that had filled my head as a kid. These were the stories that had inspired me to become a writer myself. After waving at some canoers, we decided to head back to the bus. It was just a few more hours until we reached Lucerne, Switzerland.

 

Traveling through Germany is an experience I will never forget. I hope you enjoyed reliving it with me. Join me next time for our first day in Lucerne and our visit up the Swiss Alps!

rhine falls traveling through germany

 

Valuable Lessons I Learned

by Leesa Truesdell

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It’s been a while since my last post, where I spoke about one of my very first pieces: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine. Then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end, and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

With each day that passes, I grow as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth. I consider time, even though it’s technically free, to be priceless.

About Me and Who I Am

I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors were from Mallorca. On my first day at work, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Tata. I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did.

Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. I started to teach English because of her. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Leesa and her grandmother Lessons
Leesa and her grandmother

Valuable Lessons in Resilience Abroad

Spain has taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I felt extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly. If they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset. Just remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go, and carry on.

‘Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey