Experience of an Indian Muslim Woman
Author : Sania Mariam
Dual and joint degree programs between Indian and foreign universities are on the rise for undergraduate and postgraduate levels for a wide range of subjects. The first such collaboration was between IIT Bombay and Monash University for research. The second is between IIT Delhi and the University of Queensland. There are a few others coming up, such as between Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Monash University at the Masters level.

Dual and joint degree programs between Indian and foreign universities are on the rise for undergraduate and postgraduate levels for a wide range of subjects. The first such collaboration was between IIT Bombay and Monash University for research. The second is between IIT Delhi and the University of Queensland. There are a few others coming up, such as between Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Monash University at the Masters level. Apart from the fact that the Ph.D. program is for four years (shorter duration) with a decent stipend (at least higher than the JRF offered in India) and a simpler application process, there are several other things one can expect additionally. It is an opportunity that Muslim students must try to avail themselves of the wide exposure it provides. It is a bit of both the worlds: the desi and the pardesi!
Quality Education:

Studying at two world-renowned universities enables you to witness the best learning and teaching practices in both and also assess what makes one better or different from the other. Moreover, in such a program, you have access to resources of both the universities and the expertise of your Ph.D. supervisors on both sides of the globe. What you will witness is a definite upgradation of knowledge and skill through interaction in the campus spaces of both the colleges, as these spaces are very different in nature.

While IITs are definitely at par with their infrastructure, sporting facilities, and natural beauty, there is a substantial difference in pedagogy, so at times it might come as a surprise how interactive learning can be in a foreign university. Moreover, the relationship between professors and students shifts from that of obedience to that of colleagues. Yes, you address your professors with their first names!
Multicultural lens: Most collaborated foreign universities have more than 40% percent of International Students. In a workshop I attended, the person sitting next to me was from Beijing, the one in front of me was from South Africa, the one on the other side was from Indonesia, and one other was from Nepal. These differences seep into food, dressing, and languages, making us more aware and sensitive of each other’s cultural norms and mores. Sometimes, it marks the beginning of an everlasting friendship. However, multiculturalism does not come at the cost of one losing oneself. As an Indian, you will easily be able to locate Indian stores, restaurants, and clothing shops dedicated solely to your palette. From paratha to mango pickle, there is nothing you will not get. Moreover, along with it, you will have easy access to Middle Eastern, Greek, Pakistani, Turkish, and Southeast Asian restaurants where they clearly label whether the food is halal certified or not. This also brings me to my next point.

Dignity:

There is recognition and respect for your identity, no matter who you are. Your being Muslim, wearing a hijab are non issues. Most campuses have a designated space inside the campus where you can offer salah/prayer. There is also an officially recognized and designated Muslim student’s body (such as Monash University Islamic Society) which creates and manages all Muslim social events throughout the year. Along with weekly Halaqas, events like Ramadan and Eid will not be isolated experiences. The above might seem odd at first for people like us who at times were made to feel shameful about our identity in the past, scurrying for some corner to offer namaz, apprehensive about whether hijab will affect our job prospects. Even in the most liberal Indian universities, Muslims debated for hours on the naming of a WhatsApp group for Muslims so that we don’t get targeted or come across as communal. This will definitely be a liberating experience in more than one way.

Safety and security:

A lot of women are concerned about safety issues. Some have even asked me if there is a fatwa regarding traveling without a non-mehram for educational purposes. Rest assured, these university spaces are way safer than our average neighborhood. To put it simply, it is easy to be a woman here. No ogling, no unwanted comments. In a way, the system is designed to make things easy for you, and the first reaction is that of trust rather than someone trying to loot you. Overall, the fewer people on the streets coupled with less judgemental views will provide you the mental space to focus on your academics and live life to the fullest. However, this should not be taken to mean that life is easy over there. Most of your time will either be spent studying, buying groceries, washing dishes or cooking! Carrying heavy groceries from the market to your house may not have been the picture you had while thinking
of studying abroad, and it will take you out of your comfort zones at times. No one else is going to do these basic things for us. That again brings me to my next point.

Food:

If you are planning to study abroad, a helpful tip would be to learn basic cooking. Most colleges in India have hostels and mess facilities. Well, this is a privilege that cannot be taken for granted in foreign universities. IIT Bombay provides amazing food at a cheap rate, and so are the hostel expenses. Moreover, because most of the students in IIT stay on the campus, the campus life is much more alive compared to foreign universities where students come to the campus mainly to study. There is a clear work-fun demarcation. There is no dining hall or a mess. Neither is food planned as a weekly menu. Everyone has to make food for themselves and live in residential apartments. Although a number of halal food options are available, let’s be real, no one is gonna make daal-gosht as good as you do. Of course, once you learn it…

All in one, I believe one must strive to get the best learning experience. The Mumbai monsoons are as unpredictable as the Melbourne weather. The experience of living and learning in two different cities itself is empowering, and you will come out of it more confident than ever, In Sha Allah. Start checking out universities, build your resume, talk to your friends there, apply for scholarships well in advance, and you are good to go! The process can be tedious but extremely rewarding. So what are you waiting for?

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