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How I Earned Online Degrees While Living Overseas

"If you haven't started your journey of hope, I urge to to do so without delay."

By Lea Marie Rash

Updated December 08, 2012
I found myself doing it again today--looking back to August 25, 2012 and wondering how I managed to survive the discovery that day that I was now my husband’s primary health caretaker due to his paralytic stroke. Feeling numb and at times angry, I was forced to jump daily through a relentless killer wave until one day I somehow emerged on the other side, shattered yet still intact.

I’ve now realized that we both endured the worst of it because of the safety net I had just completed after 10 years of hard work: a net made of hope that was reinforced with the most important social security a woman will ever have--an education.

My choice of direction after high school was fairly typical of young American women. I worked for three years and then got married. After having three children, I worked hard alongside my husband to raise them and get them educated on our two modest incomes. By the time I was in my 40s and my two oldest kids were in college, the simmering desire to earn a useful degree for myself boiled over. The only problem was that by then we were living overseas in a predominantly non-English-speaking country.

By the end of 2001, I was asking myself where I could possibly find a bachelor’s degree program offered in the English language. Five months later, an answer to my prayers appeared in a local newspaper: In partnership with a local university, the Open University of Milton Keynes, England was now making available some of its degree programs.

Aimed at working adults, students were only required to spend 28% of their time on campus attending classes and taking exams. Study time and assignment preparation were expected to be accomplished on one’s own time. This suited my schedule perfectly.

After having a look at the university’s contemporary and very challenging curriculum, I decided on their combined literature and linguistics program. The only hitch from the local Ministry of Higher Education was that all students also pass classes in Arabic (or beginning Arabic for foreigners in my case) in order to graduate, effectively turning it into a five-year degree program! After taking a deep breath, I plunged in, adjusted to taking classes with Arabic-speaking students, and never looked back.

In June 2007, I graduated with honors at the age of 50. Two weeks later, I moved to Oman where a new engineering firm had hired my husband. After quickly settling into life in English-speaking Muscat, I began to notice that international teacher training courses were plentiful in the city.

By the end of October I was accepted into a rigorous CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher training program (required for college teaching employment in Oman), from which I graduated in January 2008. A few months later I began teaching English to adults in a language center.

Because I couldn’t get enough of learning, questions starting popping into my head:

  • Would a master’s degree be the ticket to a better teaching job in Oman?
  • Would it facilitate being hired in another overseas country?
  • Would studying online by distance education save me time and money?

The problem was that I didn’t know where to get professional advice. My mind continued to form questions:

  • In which countries were accredited online master’s degree programs being offered?
  • Which countries had the most experience in offering online degree programs?
  • Which universities offered specialized degrees of interest to me (e.g. TESOL)?
  • How affordable were each of these universities?
  • When could I enroll?
  • How long would it take me to complete the degree?

Fate led me to a local IDP Education office, which is an international representative office for all Australian universities (In the U.S. see: www.usa.idp.com). Since I wanted to continue working in Oman, I also had to ask which university distance education programs were recognized by Oman’s Ministry of Higher Education.

The MOHE’s requirements quickly narrowed my choices down to four well-known accredited universities, all with excellent, long-standing, and affordable online programs. The IDP office representatives were extremely helpful in guiding me (free of charge) until I finally decided on the University of Southern Queensland’s master of applied linguistics (TESOL) program.

With IDP’s help, I enrolled in November 2009 and graduated in February 2012 with honors after a fantastic learning experience where my academic writing and research skills bloomed. I highly recommend USQ or any other Australian university to anyone contemplating online study.

Although I’ve had to postpone teaching for a while due to my husband’s health issues, I am considering USQ’s online doctoral programs for future enrollment. For one thing, having a doctorate degree will grant me more occupational staying power! At the same time though, I’m curious to find out more about doctorate programs that offer a choice of doing either a dissertation or applied research project (the difference is explained on Columbia Southern University's website). Currently, I’m getting ready to purchase Bear’s Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning (either the 14th or 15th edition) for descriptions of other innovative, non-traditional (but accredited) doctoral degree programs.

If you would like to exchange information about your continuing education journey, why not share it here? Then again, if you haven’t started on that journey of hope yet, I urge you to do so without delay. You won’t regret it!

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