Coming to America to Get the Degree: Ebrahim’s Story

A few months ago (yes, months – sorry for the delay), Ebrahim Alattar posted on our Facebook wall offering to share his experience coming from Kuwait to study civil engineering in the U.S.  Since we love to learn from others, we took him up on his offer, and asked him your questions…and some of our own.

Lots of reading!
Creative commons photo by Flickr user Stephanie Graves

Abdirahman asked how studying engineering in the U.S. compared to Ebrahim’s native Kuwait.  According to Ebrahim, it was the differences in academic styles between the two countries that motivated his decision to come to the U.S. in the first place.  He says engineering studies were easier in the U.S.

… i had started the academic study at Kuwait University.. and there the study was very hard than you can imagine especially in the third year of study engineering.  … finally.. one of cousin who had started study in the USA refer me that the study is easier than in Kuwait university !!

Ebrahim cautions that this isn’t the case for every university.  Some American schools are harder, and some are about the same, but in general, “the reason for international to select engineering study in USA because the nature study of engineering in their native countries is much more difficult than the study of the same engineering major in USA…”

By contrast, he says he found humanities courses much more difficult in the U.S., struggling more with literature and history classes; the exact opposite of his experience studying in his native language back home.

In order to prepare for studying in English, Ebrahim had taken English classes at AMIDEAST in Kuwait and spoke English as a second language, but he still spent a semester doing an intensive English class in West Virginia before enrolling as an engineering student there.  He says his English was “good at the beginning,” but not good enough for academic study, particularly in the arts and humanities.

For anyone thinking about doing one of these programs, Ebrahim describes his experience like this:

The intensive English program is a program that offer in some universities in the USA to the international students who have a score in the TOEFL test less than the required points that is required in order to start the academic study.. its usually started from 9 am until 3 30 or 4 pm with one hour break or little more ..this program includes reading,writing, grammar,american culture and optional TOEFL class.. and these are very helpful..also there is something called the conversation partner which is an american native speaking who is interested to talk with international student to strength the English language in speaking …

Though he enrolled in the engineering program at West Virginia University, during his time in the U.S. Ebrahim took courses at three different universities…and lived in three different states.  He spent time in Morgantown in West Virginia, Toledo in Ohio, and Dearborn in Michigan.

Ebrahim says the experience showed him the importance of location in choosing a university.

… for me for example and because i was a private student, the cheap university and city was something very important because i need to spend as an average of about 1500 $ per month for living expenses.. also the existing of some halal restaurant at least one place is something very important.

Morgantown, West Virginia (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Scott Koon)
Morgantown, West Virginia (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Scott Koon)

Ycca asked on Facebook about Ebrahim’s overall impressions of the U.S., but he says the experience was very different in each of the three locations.

Morgantown, West Virginia was his favorite, he says.  It was a safe town, cheap to live in, and had students from all around the world.  In addition, he says the American students there “are very friendly which is hard to find something like them in different state.”

By comparison, although he says he felt like he was at home in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Arabic-speaking and Muslim population, he says he also felt less safe there because of its proximity to the large city of Detroit.

Ebrahim now works in the field of civil engineering back in his native Kuwait.  He says his degree in engineering was necessary to get his current job and current salary.  But did his degree directly prepare him for his current position?

… my US education is only necessary to get a degree in engineering in order to recognize  my job title and therefore to get my salary based on my degree only.. otherwise ,the nature of my work has nothing related in direct of what i study in theoretical study in the USA.

4 comments

  1. Hello.I found Ebrahim’s story extremely interesting and motivating since I study civil engineering too.There are some things that I have not quite understood and some questions I would like to address to Ebrahim.First of all,I would like to know how Ebrahim dealt with the different units.I mean it can be a little difficult to use different units that those you are accustomed too and Ebrahim’s perspective on that would be very interesting.Secondly,I would like to ask how difficult it is to get a civil engineering degree in the US.I mean one must study 16 hours a day in order to get A’s and do well in the courses they have selected?Thank you very much and I’m sorry for my lengthy comment.

    1. Thanks for the questions. I sent them to Ebrahim to see if he will answer them. I may post them on Facebook as well and see if anyone has an opinion to share.

  2. Pursuing a degree abroad isn’t just about having an advantage academically or perhaps getting acquainted with foreign people rather being driven with the thought of a better career opportunities in the future. However, this kind of trend is gradually making a huge gap particularly amongst Asians between those who were able to study abroad from those who graduated in one’s country for it’s a fact that most companies would prefer the first one. I always find this thinking very discriminating for it hinders any individual to excel in the field he is most probably good at just because he hasn’t got that ticket from America, Europe or Australia.

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