September 2009, I was in the 11th grade and sitting in my very first Spanish class. I had dabbled with other languages in the past – Arabic, French – but never really committed. This time, I was determined to become fluent in Spanish. During my last two years of high school, one of the unforgettable memories I took from my Spanish class was when my teacher described her year abroad in Spain.
Siestas, Fiestas, Paellas etc. A dream had been sparked.
Time passed and I was now a freshman in college. Before the freshman year begins, it is required for every incoming student to participate in a 9 hour orientation. I slept off during the entire orientation process except for two parts: game show and study abroad program. My dad was by my side then. When I told him of my dream, he replied “inshaAllah”. Throughout my college years, I had this burning desire to fulfil my dream. My Dad wasn’t really buying the idea and thought it was best I focus on my studies; my Mum supported me but said I had to save money. I tried saving something. Every year I would go to the study abroad office hoping there was a program within my budget but I just never had the financial means. Eventually, I gave up on my dream.
My plan then changed to graduate, get a job, go to grad school and start a family. I was in the process of this; I got an internship with a reputable company in my town, but I kept feeling empty. I did my assigned tasks, but something continuously nagged me that I wasn’t reaching my full potential. One day, my Mum and I visited a family friend and she showed us pictures of her trip with her son to Spain. I don’t know if it was her good storytelling skills or the colourful pictures, but my dream suddenly re-ignited. I saved the money from my jobs, did research on Spain for an entire year, applied to several jobs in Spain, etc. Now, I had a different plan after graduation.
So how did I do it? Let’s get down to the nitty gritty!
Research, Research, Research
I can’t emphasise this enough – it should be your first and continuous step when thinking of living abroad. There is nothing like too much research. The more you know, the better prepared you are for your destination. Topics to start researching are: country of interest; custom of country; history of Country, whether or not your goals in life match the country of interest; safety and Islamic friendliness. The list of course continues according to you.
There are tons of programs out there that allow you to travel abroad. Here’s a few:
- Teaching English: CIEE, CAPS, Auxiliares de Conversaciones, BEDA, ALA, Green Heart Travel
- Research: Fulbright, University Program
- Volunteer: Green Heart Travel, Peace Corps, GoAbroad, Work away
- Au pair: Au pair world
This was my biggest challenge. I believe the same could be applicable to others planning to live abroad. The good news is that there are several ways to fund your expenses:
- Saving from jobs – this was the route I took. I saved for my trip through my summer job and internship.
- Scholarship programs from Fulbright (U.S.), British Council (U.K) and University’s Study Abroad
- Au pair (covers only living expenses)
Some of us are guilty of not checking our local news, let alone checking international news. But if you are serious about living abroad, you have to know what’s going on in the world, especially in the country you have in mind. You would want to know the political state of the country, and how safe it is for a local or foreigner.
Connecting on Social Media
Social media was my lifeline for quick and reliable information. Find groups on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media. Connect with individuals and ask them questions.
Telling your parents about your goal and having them support you could be challenging. Every parent is different, but ultimately, all parents care about the welfare of their child. Some tips when speaking to them:
- Tread carefully. Help them understand your goal and its benefits.
- Show them your commitment.
- Involve them in the entire process.
- Inform them where you will be staying and emergency contact numbers.
Alhamdullilah, everything eventually worked out. I got a job, got an apartment, made many friends and so forth. Some may ask how I feel about travelling/moving alone especially as a girl, and to that I say just do it! I have never felt in danger through my travels as a single female. I would say that Europe is pretty safe in general for any type of traveller. However, be sure to do an intensive research on safety, culture, language, history etc., before heading to the airport. Despite what is being portrayed in the media or in our communities, most parts of the world are safer than we think. When travelling, be vigilant and always ask the locals about the environment you are in.
Whenever people hear my story, they say “Wow you are so brave and fearless.” The truth is, when I was embarking on my journey, I was very afraid, and in my own experience being brave doesn’t mean you are fearless – it means that you have decided to control that fear and just do it.
This is a guest post by the lovely Kareemah from Hijabiglobetrotter.com.