Study Abroad: Getting There
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Studying abroad was one of the best experiences of my college life. A professor of mine used to say, “Nothing rounds a student out more than international travel. It definitely makes your resume stand out.” Growing up I always knew that I wanted to travel: the culture, history, people, and beauty of other countries have had an eternal allure and a pull that’s always nagged at me. I had a feeling that there was so much to see beyond where I grew up. When I came to college, I knew that if I could find a way to travel and study together, it’d be the experience of a lifetime.
The obstacles I overcame ranged from the cost of travel, getting my family onboard, and integrating the trip into my degree plan. Undoubtedly I put in a lot of effort into making it work. A perfect plan will not drop into your lap, but when you first step onto that plane, take the first step on a new adventure, it all instantly becomes worth it. By Moula TUS good graces, it all worked out and I can tell you today, I couldn’t possibly encourage study abroad more!
The first step was to find a program. I knew I wanted to go abroad for a whole semester, so scheduling it was a little more challenging when considering miqaats. I’d recommend having a hijri calendar open while looking at different program dates. I only looked at programs during the spring semester (January-May), because at the time Ashara was during the fall semester and Ramadan was in the summer, and I wanted to make sure there was no way study abroad would interfere with either one. Ashara Mubaraka with Huzurala (TUS) is its own study abroad, and missing my faraiz in Ramadan wasn’t something I was interested in, even though there were some really cool summer programs.
I used a UH resource called ViaTRM, which allows you to filter all of the programs.
I narrowed my list down to about 2-3 programs and then I set up meetings with the UH Learning Abroad advisors and Global Guides. I also attended info sessions with the program providers who told us about how study abroad works, including details such as expenses, tickets, healthcare, food, a homestay family, and everything I had concerns about. (More on this in part 2)
Once I had decided on a program, my next step was to get raza. In order to help me convince my family, I tried to figure out how to get raza for this venture on my own. This led me to talabulilm.com.
Talabulilm is set up for education raza, not necessarily study abroad raza, so I had to categorize my program as a “certificate program,” but other than that I was able to put all my program details in. Raza came through shortly after, and everything just fell right into place.
This is when I went to my parents, showed them the program I was accepted into, the scholarships I had received, and the Raza letter I got from Talabulilm. I’m so thankful that my parents were supportive of my dream to study abroad. I know a lot of us struggle and are on the receiving end of familial pressure in regards to things like this. The best thing we can do is never give up. The moment we resign ourselves to the fact that our parents will never say yes is the moment it all ends. Keep showing them more information (I had so many excel documents!) and Huzurala’s TUS Raza letter, and eventually, they’ll be on your side. They only want the best for you!
After I got Raza, I really started working on getting ready for the program. If you’re applying to study abroad with faculty from your own university, then things are pretty simple. You fill out the application, get confirmed, settle financials, and you're on your way.
If you apply to study abroad at a different university, however, you need to complete an academic planning form, (called a CEF at UH) in which you detail which courses you want to take at the other university, and your college translates the classes into applicable credit at your home university.
They’ll tell you what will and will not apply towards your major, and which classes will only transfer as completed units. Some internships are also eligible for credit! Once I applied on the online portal and uploaded all the required documents (passport, transcripts, and a travel authorization from your doctor), my application was nominated by the university and then approved by the international university where I registered for courses.
Your university will tell you exactly how much everything will cost from day one. There should not be any hidden fees, and you generally have to pay most of it upfront. You’re usually obligated to tuition and fees, a semester/quarter abroad fee, and accommodations and services abroad fee courtesy of the college. Along with that, you have to pay for your own roundtrip airfare, your own meals not provided by the university, other program expenses (course books, passport and visa fees, etc.), and any personal excursions. It tends to add up to quite a lot.
Fortunately, University administrations really want students to study abroad! As such, they’ve made scholarships and access to financial aid abundantly available. Even outside your University, there is an exorbitant amount of money out there for young students with an eye pointed outside their country. Especially look out for programs where the US government will pay for your time abroad (CLS, Gillman, etc.) or for affiliate scholarships that your program may offer just because you go to the University that you do!
I got a full-tuition scholarship from my program provider, and I got a small scholarship from the UH Learning Abroad Office. My homestay provided breakfast and dinner, and my program covered transportation costs and issued a stipend for lunch! I also was able to apply the scholarship that I normally get at the University of Houston to my semester abroad, so I actually ended up with an extra $1000 that went straight into my bank account, and I was able to use it for my weekend trips!
After securing financials, we’d have meetings every few weeks leading up to departure day, in which we’d get the info of our host family, have a chance to approve or ask for another recommendation, meet our fellow study abroad-ers, and interact with faculty. There was a one-day pre-departure mandatory meeting, and then, finally, departure day!
Continue on to Part 2 to see the actual experience!
Authored by: Tasneem Bootwala
Edited by: Taher Lokhandwala