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!

 

An American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos Balbuena is 29 years old and was born in Mexico City. I had the pleasure of teaching him English while he was studying at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Carlos was a quiet student who was eager and curious. I remember when I took a group of students to Barnes and Noble. Carlos was the student who had picked out at least six books that he wanted to buy. The first week he arrived, he spent half of his spending money on books for leisure time. He has a very well-read mind and is very inquisitive — this is what makes his writing so unique.

student group

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

“Definitely pop culture and literature. I grew up watching movies and seeing all those places, landmarks, and people traveling. I read my father’s city travel guides all the time. By the time I was an adolescent, studying abroad was something I was really looking forward to. Then I began to read literature – specifically Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That was pretty much the final bump that led me to actually pursue studying abroad and do it.”

student abroad

What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything I thought came from pop culture, books, and my imagination. I wanted to have a great experience, so in order to do that, I knew I had to leave any expectations behind and just enjoy things as they would occur. I needed to be receptive and open to everything in order to get a real grasp of what life is like in the US.

As I grew older, my perceptions of the US changed. I was a little scared of being targeted in some way. In general, us Mexicans hold a (wrong) opinion about the average American, so we are constantly defending ourselves. I think this works both ways, as Americans generally have a wrong opinion about us as well. Yes, radical people exist, but they exist despite their nationality or political affiliation. It’s human nature at its worst and it could happen anywhere or anytime.

The important thing is that there are always more good people than bad ones. In the end, I’m really happy I went because every single person I met in the US was amazing to me. Oftentimes, I hear loose comments on what Americans are like. I hope I left a good impression on the people I met in America so they feel the same way I do when they hear a loose comment about Mexicans.”

What did you not expect?

“I didn’t expect to talk to so many people. I was able to look back and be very glad that I went, and I actually miss it all the time. Talking to lots of people, especially as an introvert, was a huge success for me. It was also a warm and welcome surprise to be complimented on my English. It made me realize that I was going in the right direction.

interview abroad

I wasn’t expecting to end in bad terms with my fellow Mexican travel companions, though. I guess it’s ironic that I got along pretty well with the locals but not with most of my countrywomen.”

What’s your next step?

“It’s been a very hard year for me, guys. Everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong. So, in all honesty, I’m not sure what my next step is. This year, to me, is about getting the hang of things as they are now. Recently, I had a difficult loss in my family. Right now, it’s all about taking care of things. I want to travel again, soon, but now isn’t the right time. I would like to live someplace else but I’ve become aware that it may take a little bit longer than I thought it would originally. Ultimately, it’s still what I want to do with my life. I’ll just have to be patient.”

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to study abroad?

“Surf the Internet: search for local scholarship programs and see if you fit the requirements. If not, then work to fit them. Study and improve your notes, then apply again. If you have an interest in a specific country or a city, soak yourself in it. Watch YouTube video blogs about it, listen to local music, read books related in any possible way to it, and study the local language. Don’t let fear grip you. It will be hard, but it would be harder to look back with regret for not trying.”

florida agricultural and mechanical university

Good Memories of an American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos made friends while in the US, which is arguably one of the most important parts of studying abroad. He made an everlasting impression on many of the people he interacted with in Tallahassee and I am so glad I had the pleasure of teaching him. I was able to catch up with Carlos this past April in Mexico City while visiting on a vacation. I met Carlos before my grandma passed away and since then, I have moved to Madrid and have moved back. While living in Madrid, I experienced the greatest loss of my life… my grandma passed while I was abroad.

My own grief has taught me that the way to let someone know you care about them is to tell them. When we met, Carlos was experiencing grief and I could sense that it was very painful. I want our readers and Carlos to know that the memory of our loved ones who pass never fades. The pain gets better with time and life sorts itself out. Hang onto the good memories and let go of the bad ones. Carlos, life is full of opportunity and for you — it’s just begun.

The American experience studying abroad not only provides education but also introduces you to new cultures. Many students who leave to study abroad are leaving their home for the first time. Dreams Abroad has created a Facebook community for travelers, students, and educators to share their passions and stories.

by Leesa Truesdell