I recently had a conversation with Ahmed, a 29 year old student from Saudi Arabia who had previously studied in Melbourne, Australia ,and is currently studying in Cleveland, Ohio. I wanted to share his perspective on what it’s like for a student learning English to travel to an English speaking country.
Back home Ahmed completed his Bachelor’s degree in 2010 and as a next step he chose to learn English, by traveling to an English speaking country. He shared with me his unfiltered experiences and opinions. Our conversation centered around comparing his experiences in both countries, both studying and living in the cities themselves.
While I think it’s valuable for those of you thinking about studying in a foreign country to hear someone’s experience, it should be noted, that this is just his experience and everyone’s experience is different. What worked for him may not work for you. This is simply Ahmed’s account of studying English in Melbourne and Cleveland.
Studying English In Melbourne: Moving to a New Country
Ahmed chose to study in Melbourne simply because his sister lived there. This was both a blessing and a curse. At the time his main goal was to live with his sister and have an amazing adventure, but since he had nothing to do he decided to take classes at an intensive English program.
Studying English In Melbourne: Communicating without the Language
English is taught in schools in Saudi Arabia, in fact it’s University’s conduct their classes in English. However he quickly learned that his previous English education did not prepare him for assimilating in an English speaking country. When he first arrived in Melbourne he only understood 15 to 20 percent of what was said to him. Anyone would find it a little frightening to waltz into a country with such a small ability to communicate with others. However, Ahmed had a secret weapon; his sister. He really leaned on her, which was both to his advantage and a detriment. He admits that without his sister he may not have been so willing to take the plunge and live in another country. He says he may have instead chosen another path and done something in Saudi Arabia.
Studying English In Melbourne: Some Advice on Learning English
Although he needed his sister to help him be brave he says that anyone thinking about living in a foreign country to live or study should do it, regardless if they have a family member there to help them. He actually thinks that’s the better way to learn, because one will be forced to learn through self exploration and by just talking to people and trying. He admits that living with his sister may have actually been a hindrance. It made living in Australia easier, but it made learning English incredibly difficult. That’s because his sister would do everything for him. She would talk to people, and order food, and go to the grocery store. She’s even the one that taught him how to use public transportation. At home they spoke Arabic, so in reality he had little experience practicing speaking English. His only real exposure to the language was at school. In his opinion…and mine, being forced to “survive” amongst the locals is the best way to learn.
Studying English In Melbourne: The locals
His experience with the locals was a little tough…because it didn’t really exist. He did say that they were very helpful, especially when he first moved to the city and knew so little. But once again being with his sister hurt his ability to interact with native English speakers. He was also concerned that locals would be bored speaking to him because they’d have to speak slowly and repeat themselves. He was a little intimidated by the idea of talking to them, and found it easier to use his sister as a crutch. [As a side note, all students are nervous about talking to native speakers, but I always encourage them to just talk, don’t worry about the mistakes.]
Studying English in Melbourne: The school
Ahmed spent nine months studying English in Melbourne in an intensive English program. At first he found the program easy. He moved through the levels very quickly, and easily moved up to the upper levels. However at that point he found it difficult, and he wishes that he had spent more time in the lower levels shoring up those basic skills. Once he got to the upper levels he felt discouraged and actually thought he couldn’t learn the language. However, he had no choice, but to continue showing up to class. Unfortunately, he said he got little out of the classes at that point, and was just going through the motions. He would come home and get on his computer and watch movies and tv.
He thinks part of what made learning so difficult is the way that the classes were structured. Each class was two hours long (too long in his opinion) and they comprised of all of the disciplines of English. Reading, writing, grammar, speaking would all be in one class, and he found that to be confusing. He really didn’t feel like he learned much, considering the teaching system and his lack of interaction with Australians. Studying English in Melbourne didn’t go so well for Ahmed. He wouldn’t necessarily recommend studying English in Melbourne, but if you choose to (and many students successfully do), he recommends that you don’t just rely on the school, but use outside resources and perhaps get some outside help.
Studying English in Melbourne: The City
While studying English in Melbourne may not have been Ahmed’s cup of tea, it should come as no surprise that he did really enjoy the city. Let’s face it Melbourne is a world renowned city for a reason. Ahmed was most impressed by the city’s transportation system, which was a new experience for him considering that, that doesn’t exist in Saudi Arabia. He says the city boast three ways to get everywhere, the metro, the tram, and the bus. Every morning he’d plan out which method he wanted to use to get to school that day.
Taking advantage of such a cosmopolitan city is one of the reasons a student would come to study English in Melbourne. According to Ahmed “Little Italy” is the best part about downtown Melbourne. Why? Because of the food of course, like most of us he loves pizza and pasta. He loved it so much he’d eat there at least once a week. He also recommends that newcomers spend time exploring the coffee shops, he’d go there with his sister and sometimes by himself. He also loved the street performers and even had one of them draw a picture of him. He also recommends going to the beach. Melbourne has world famous beaches and anyone living there should take the time to soak in the sun and relax. While he skipped some of the nature in Melbourne, if you get the opportunity to live in this city, I recommend that you take full advantage of the scenic sights. Despite struggling with learning English, Ahmed loved Melbourne and would definitely live there again.
Read about Ahmed’s experience in Cleveland here.