I had my tertiary education in Toronto, Canada. I studied there for 4 years, and I graduated in 2013 majoring in Biology and Psychology. Since I have studied overseas for four years, I think I am somewhat qualified to address some of the misconceptions surrounding the whole thing.
Misconception #1: Being overseas will make your English perfectly fluent.
Just because you are overseas doesn’t necessary mean that your English will be fluent.
Being in an English-speaking environment is a huge opportunity to improve your English fluency, but it doesn’t happen automatically. It is an opportunity, which means it will only benefit you if you choose to take it.
So don’t be surprised to find some Malaysians who come back home without having the ability to communicate in English well. One popular reason why they don’t improve their English communication skill is because they hung out with other Malaysians and ended up talking Malay all the time, in an English-speaking environment.
I am not saying that they shouldn’t hang out with other Malaysians. I am just saying don’t hang out exclusively with other Malaysians. Go out and make other friends, and grab the opportunity to not only improve your English communication, but also to learn more about cultures other than your own.
If not, then the golden opportunity that you have in front of you will go to waste.
It is common to find Malaysians who don’t take full advantage of the overseas experience. They chose to stay in their comfort zones, maybe because they don’t have enough confidence to go out and explore.
Speaking of go out and explore…
Misconception #2: Being overseas will corrode your identity.
This is more of a paranoia among many Malaysians, who are studying overseas or who are here in Malaysia. They tend to think that if you go overseas, you are going to be influenced by the bad culture or to use the famous term - westernized.
I am not a die hard fan of the west. However, to use the term westernized as a generalization that anything and everything that came from the west is bad and evil, is very misleading and very unjust. The western culture, just like any other culture on earth, has good and bad practices in it.
The thing about us is that, we tend to focus on the bad culture and we generalize it to the rest of the culture. It’s kind of like when people look at Muslims in the media and see terrorists, so they generalize that image to all other Muslims.
We hate it when people do that to us, but without realizing it, we are doing the exact same thing to other people.
So if you study overseas, are you really at risk of being influenced by the bad culture? Well, the risk depends on you. See, we like to put the blame on the culture but in reality, it is you who make the choice. You choose to follow the bad culture, as oppose to following the good culture.
You will make choices depending on the principles that you hold on to. Those principles make up the foundation of your identity. If the principles are sound and strong, then the foundation is also sound and strong. If not, then it will be easily shaken.
The focus here should not be the bad western culture. The focus here should be your foundation. What are your life principles? Do you know why you hold those principles, or are you simply following what your parents told you? Are you 100% confident in them?
It is great that so many of us were born as a Muslim, but that is not enough. Being born a Muslim is something that we can’t control. But what we can control is whether or not we choose to remain a Muslim.
We can only confidently choose to remain a Muslim if we are intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually convinced that this is the right path.
Speaking of being a Muslim…
Misconception #3: Being overseas is dangerous because of Islamophobia.
Let me be clear: Islamophobia does exist and we should be careful for our own safety. However, we shouldn’t develop a phobia of Islamophobia up to a point where this fear becomes disproportionate to reality.
Yes, there are people out there who hate Islam and Muslims. But, they are not the majority. They are the minority - a noisy minority.
In my 4-year experience being in Canada, I can probably point out one or two instance(s) where Islamophobic incident happened to me or to someone close to me. So yes, it does exist. But percentage wise, it is a very, very small.
I believe the majority of non-Muslims there aren’t Islamophobes. I believe many of them are confused, curious, or they simply don’t care either way. They just go about their lives, minding their own business. Whichever the case, it is our job to engage them. Not fear them.
Because trust me, many Islamophobes became Islamophobes because of fear. They fear what they don’t understand and it is up to us to explain it to them. In order to do that, we first have to be confident enough in our Muslimness.
If not, then we might panic whenever someone asks us a question about Islam.
We have to engage with them and confidently explain to them about Islam. Just because they are anti-Islam doesn’t mean that they are clear enemies of Islam. Using hostile language like calling them “enemies of Islam” doesn’t help in our effort to positively engage with them.
Many of them are not enemies of Islam, especially when nobody explains to them clearly what Islam really is. So, how can they be enemies of Islam if they don’t know the real Islam? So instead of calling them our enemies, call them our potential friends and engage with them intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
But in order for us to do that, we first have to be well-educated and confident about our own Islam.
Golden Key: Self-confidence
So really, underlining all these 3 misconceptions is one thing: self-confidence.
If you are confident in yourself, then you are able to benefit from every opportunity where you can improve your English speaking.
If you are confident in yourself, then you can be in any culture and not be influenced by the bad side of that culture.
If you are confident in yourself, then you can deal with Islamophobia wherever it exists.
We need to invest in building our self-confidence, not just for the interviews. We need it to live in this huge world filled with so much beauty and ugliness.
We can't stay in our comfort zone forever, because life has a way of pushing us out of it.