Leaving Paradise for a PhD (Fazeela Ibrahim)

Images courtesy of Fazeela Ibrahim
When I introduce myself and say where I am from, people often haven’t heard of my country. Who can blame them!

After all, Maldives is a country that is barely visible on the world map and has a population of just under 300,000 people!

If they have heard of Maldives, it’s usually in terms of being a paradise on Earth. 'The sunny side of life' is how my homeland is known to tourists all over the world.

Many also say, ‘Wow! You are so lucky! Why in the world would you leave such a paradise and come to a city with such unpredictable weather?’

From the outside, you might think a typical day of my life in the Maldives might include lounging on a beach with a good book, soaking up the sunshine in between swimming in crystal clear waters, breathing in super fresh air, and enjoying the soothing sound of pure nature.

In truth, you’re not completely wrong, as you can see from my images above!

I do have the option of doing all this! And it does sound like a life in paradise, but only if you can afford to be on vacation for the rest of your life.

For average Maldivians, life is not a vacation in a resort. It’s much more challenging, especially for those who are striving for a better education and hoping to build an academic career for themselves.

Maldives is still at an infant stage when it comes to higher education. We only have one national university and six private colleges. There are limited undergraduate and postgraduate degrees available and, to date, PhD courses are not offered at any of our higher education institutions. Getting the opportunity to do a PhD comes about very rarely so, when such an opportunity crossed my path, I grabbed it without a second thought and here I am in Melbourne!

Prior to my travel, I was positive that I’d prepared myself well for anything that might come with PhD territory, but reality hit hard when I arrived in Australia.

Here I was, all alone in a foreign country where I didn’t know a single person. The first few weeks were really hard for me: being alone, missing my family, friends, and - believe it or not - my old office. Luckily, I’ve got a great housemate who made it a lot easier to transition into the Aussie lifestyle. I may be crazy, but I actually prefer cold weather! Not necessarily the freezing winter, but I love autumn and spring.

So far, I am really enjoying living here. I’m still getting used to the ‘isolated’ life of a PhD student.

On the one hand, it feels pretty awesome not having to attend daily classes, listen to boring lectures, or worry about submitting weekly assignments.

On the other hand, however, I miss having classmates, socialising, and the excitement of being a carefree student.

Being a PhD student, I can’t afford to be carefree anymore. The best advice I’ve had and aim to use myself is to approach my studies as a full-time job.

I intend to polish up on both my time-management and self-management skills, and concentrate on living and breathing my thesis for the next four years of my life. Believe me, it’s as hard as it sounds.

Occasionally, I still wonder whether I’m up for undertaking a PhD. Then I’ll have a discussion with my supervisor, or attend a RED seminar, or have a chat with other PhD colleagues, and - just like that - I’m back on board and fully committed to completing my thesis.

So, no, I don’t feel bad at all about leaving the paradise that I call home in order to work on my PhD. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I intend to use it well!

Home is HOME, and it’s not going anywhere. I take comfort in the notion that I’ll always have the option of going back home - to paradise - whenever I want.


Fazeela Ibrahim was born and bred in the Maldives. She has been a primary school teacher, teacher-educator, and educational planner. Prior to moving to Melbourne, she was a senior lecturer in a private college in the Maldives.

Fazeela moved to Australia in March 2015 to begin her first year as a graduate researcher. She’s studying international students in the School of Education at La Trobe University’s Melbourne campus.

In her free time, she enjoys travelling, cooking, and exploring the history and culture of different countries. Fazeela tweets at @ffaxee.