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Hassaan Ahmed

Writer, serial procrastinator. Wild-haired, tired-eyed purveyor of words like purveyor. Academic-in-training, Master of Communication at Deakin. @ancienthydra

The challenges of choosing the right course when studying abroad

Tell you what, there is no better feeling than sitting in your first class of a new course and getting that warm feeling of belonging, realizing that you chose right.  It could take a week, a month, or rarely, even longer. But when it clicks, it clicks.

Studying can be interesting, fun, tough, and even challenging, but it should never be the primary source of your unhappiness or regret. So, let me help you find that one course which makes your heart sing!

How I started my journey

The journey from the unhappy, struggling-to-make-it-to-class undergrad I was, to the excited, ready-for-seminars-hours-in-advance postgrad student I am today, has been long but absolutely rewarding.

I slogged through an undergraduate degree that my family nudged me into – a story many Asian and South Asian students may find numbingly familiar. And I always thought that finding the right course was a myth. Then I started my postgrad – on my own terms.

But when I made this decision, I couldn’t find any guide to help me tackle the mental pressure involved, nor how to get rid of the confusion of following my dreams versus making the “sensible” choice.


Find what really motivates you

Motivation can be so frequent yet fleeting. One day you’re excited about videogames; the next, science, or literature. With all of these options, it can sometimes be easy to end up being confused about what you like and what you really like - enough to study it for the next several years.

What worked for me was shortlisting the things I particularly liked and spending enough time with them to understand why I liked them. Having done that, I was able to start narrowing down my study areas.

Let’s take videogames, for example. A lot of us like them, but why do you like them? Maybe you truly enjoy tinkering with the game, creating mods or revamping how they play. In that case, you could consider studying coding. Do you enjoy their interactive storytelling nature and wish you could create your own? You may be thinking of studying narrative design or writing.

It’s all about spending time with them and reflecting on why they make you tick. Zero in on the source of your motivation and you’ve got yourself an exciting, viable study option!

Given the depressing state of our pandemic-stricken world today, I can understand that for some of you, motivation can be hard to find. And that’s perfectly alright because self-care should be a priority right now. Taking your time to make your choice will neither ruin your career nor lock you out of your preferred course.

How to handle external pressures

Remember when I mentioned how my family “persuaded” me into an undergraduate degree of their choice? Honestly, good intentions or otherwise, this sort of pressure, the requirement to “make your family proud” was an enormous burden on me as I took that exciting and frightening step into university life.

From what I have observed, it is a depressingly large number of Asian and South Asian parents who have or will end up doing this to their children. The “guilt” of disappointing our families is something we’ve all grown up with, and something that has negatively impacted our ability to make the right decision for ourselves.

I was once a naive, young high school grad who was uncertain on what I wanted to do, nor had any idea how to make my voice heard in the matter of choosing my own future. All of this derailed me from what I wanted to do for several years.

University hopefuls today face similar pressures, even if they are way more certain than I was on what their hearts want. Although I have used the term “external pressures”, in my case, it came from well-meaning parents who were just being overprotective.

Talk to your parents

What I did too late, and what you must absolutely do right away, is to overcome your hesitance of speaking up to your parents and sit them down for a gentle but frank discussion.

When the option to finally abandon the career my parents had selected for me came up, I’d grabbed it for dear life. Having that self-conviction allowed me to articulate my thought process in a way that wasn’t rude, but still firm.

What you can do is to plan your conversation. Take some time to write down the reasons you want to do a certain degree instead of pursuing medicine or engineering. The latter may be the bastions of safe, rewarding careers in the eyes of many parents, but it should be your choice.

You may find that writing will also strengthen your convictions – from my experience, parents respond to that sort of strength as a sign of maturity. After all, they do want what’s best for you at the end of the day.

By demonstrating just how strongly you believe in your choice and how happy it will make you will sway them out of their bubble. However, do not disregard their feelings and opinions - it will not achieve anything.

Instead, listen to their point of view, address their concerns and reinforce how your seemingly risky choice is actually a completely viable study and career option. After all, you are the one who has the access to digital media, which, if you think about it, was not even born in their time!

Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but if your family’s opposition to your choice is more deep-seated than you expected, I recommend you stand your ground. After all, you may end up living with the consequences of their choice for the rest of your life - do you really want to have no agency in a decision of that magnitude?


Know when to pause the pursuit of your dreams

For so many prospective university students from developing countries, issues like financial constraints such as massive differences in currency valuations, or cultural restrictions are very real. And there will be plenty of such hurdles to face in the pursuit of our dreams.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to immediately bring their study dreams to fruition immediately and that can be incredibly demoralizing. For some, it may even make them consider abandoning their dreams and settling for what is within grasp.

If, at this point in time, your dream course is out of your reach due to some reason or the other, accept the reality. But do not give up completely. 

Keep your dream alive when you hit pause

Knowing when to hit pause on the pursuit of your dreams is an unbelievably tough choice to make and it can feel akin to failure or giving up. However, it is anything but that.

Put a pin in it and start working towards clearing the hurdles that prevent you from pursuing your dream course. Keep your passion burning but focus it towards giving yourself the opportunity to pursue your dream.

Once I had set my sights on the kind of course I wanted to study, it took me several years of hard work to create the financial cushion that would let me undertake this degree – even then I had to accept some support.

If you were unable to get your family onboard your plan, maybe a more nuanced try in a few months’ time would work where your current one failed. Perhaps your financial situation becomes more favourable, and suddenly that immense barrier to entry is no more!

Pausing is just that – it is simply you vowing to return stronger, smarter and still burning with the same passion.

You may think all of this sounds like too much of effort for just a degree, but trust me on this. When that feeling of being in the right course hits you, there’s nothing quite like it. I am living proof of that.

Did you find this article helpful?

You can explore more stories by international students in our blog.


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