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International Architecture Student Lina Alhaj Discusses Her Big Dreams to Live and Work Abroad

In episode 26 of Think Big Podcast I chat to Lina Alhaj who is an architecture student at the University of Khartoum, Sudan. Lina has big dreams for her future, wanting to be a registered RIBA Architect in the UK. She's been working hard on improving her English and making the most of her studies,

In this episode I wanted to get to know more about Lina's current journey and how she envisages making her dreams a reality through her hard work and tenacity. If you're a student studying in a non English speaking country and you know you want to live and work abroad you might resonate with Lina's story. We cover many topics including:

✨ How she practices drawing

✨ How she stays motivated

✨ Overcoming to fear of speaking up

Lina's details:

✨ Connect with her on LinkedIn Lina Alhaj

Tara's details:

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull


Extended Show Notes



Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to think big episode 26.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:16

Hello, big thinkers and welcome to episode 26 of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host, Tara Cull, Australian language teacher and coach, and landscape architect. And I'm bringing all these three things together to help you build more outstanding communication skills. If English is your second or your third or your fourth language, and you're an architect, a landscape architect, interior designer, or student or you work in the built environment, then you are definitely in the right place. To find out more about my coaching programmes, you can go to arky And as always, you'll find the transcript with key vocabulary, and expressions from today's episode at archy In today's episode, I'm speaking to the first student that I've had on the podcast. Her name is Lena L. Hodge, and she's an architecture student at the University of Khartoum in Sudan. She wants to be a registered architect, a registered riba architect in the UK in the future. So I was interested in interviewing her, seeing what her aspirations were for the future and what she is currently doing, and currently studying. If you're an architecture student living outside of an English speaking country, and you aspire to live and work in a place like the UK, or America, or Australia or Canada, then you might find this episode, inspirational. The other thing that I love about Lena been on the podcast is that even though English is her second language, she really put herself out there to be interviewed. And something that I've noticed lately is that, for example, Lena is active on LinkedIn, she shares her experiences and her stories. She's really keen, keen learner. And I think that really is a good thing for her to show to potential future employers. I start asking Lina, the very first thing that I really wanted to know from all architecture students, how have they found the last few years of having to work on line? So let's get into the conversation and find out more about Lena and her story and her aspirations.

Lina Alhaj 02:41

So Lina, I'm quite curious to ask you this question. Normally, I will start a podcast by asking someone, a fun fact to share about them. But just thinking about the last few years and how COVID has had a big impact on a number of us. I'm wondering, what has it been like for you as a student studying online?

Lina Alhaj 03:05

I loved it. I have a lot of points in this matter. So first of all, it just saved a lot of time. I mean, I didn't. I just woke up. A lot of times, it was just the start of class. And also, we didn't have like the time we spend on trips to school and back from school. And I just got a lot of work done that semester.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 03:35

It was actually an advantage.

Lina Alhaj 03:38

It was I I believe so. But we had a lot of debates, me and my classmates about this. Some people hated online. They (weren't) wasn't really comfortable with it. They had a lot of trouble working it out. And I know that it was a challenge to to we had some electricity blackouts. We had the internet connection would be bad sometimes. And but we kind of worked it through. And yeah, it was, but but I loved it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 04:15

Okay, well, so I'm really excited to have you on the podcast. Firstly, I think it's really interesting for me to be able to speak to a student who is living in Sudan. So I'm excited about doing that. And also, you're the first student that I've had on the podcast. So we're going to talk a lot about being a student, we're going to talk about what are your future aspirations. But before we do that, Lina, I'd love to know, what's an interesting fact about you, that has nothing to do with architecture. And the reason I asked this question is because I think we're all diverse people. We all have different interests. So what would you say is a fun fact about you?

Lina Alhaj 04:53

Well, I draw and it's not related to architecture. I know it's was one skill that It made me consider architecture more and more. But I draw or I do it for fun. And I might not call myself an artist. But I am a part of an art group. We did galleries, and we do workshops. It's just for members and stuff to like to encourage each other and share experiences. And it's really fun. They motivate me to draw and they will critique drawings. Anyone do. So I really like drawing it was something that I had since I was a little child.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 05:45

And is there a particular style that you that you enjoy drawing or particular art style that you enjoy?

Lina Alhaj 05:52

I love realistic drawings. And I use pencils.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:00

colour pencils?

Lina Alhaj 06:02

no pencil, black and white, like graphite pencils. Mainly? I did I sometimes I would use colours, but my main thing is black and white.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:14

Sounds good? And do you have like an Instagram account or a profile that you can that you share with people showing your?

Lina Alhaj 06:21

Well artwork? I don't know, I don't have that. Because I just I'm just doing it for fun. And I haven't really done that thing. I think if I'm going to take my art to the next level, I'll be considering that definitely. But for now, it's just a me thing.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:42

So it's something that you kind of keep to yourself.

Lina Alhaj 06:45

Yes, it's It's my hobby. So

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:49

Do you feel like your your hobby of drawing you you bring some of those skills into your architecture degree?

Lina Alhaj 06:57

Definitely, I even my style I can tell in my drawings are like black and white more than colours. I, I found it really easy to create plans or sections or, like well drafted and have great tones, even digital digitally. And even when we had like classes and projects that we drove by our hands, my toes were good. Nah, not a bragging or anything, but we were really good. They got good and good marks. And so he can he can say that it had that impact that on me mean, I think my style is going through that. I never like put colours in my plans and sections. When only and only comes to like elevations and renders and stuff, then I would put colour and I'm kind of struggling with it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 08:03

You prefer the graphite?

Lina Alhaj 08:06

Yeah, I prefer the graphite, black and white.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 08:09

So I guess we're here because we want to talk about the fact that you're a student, you also speak Arabic. So you live in today and you speak Arabic? Yes, obviously a big part of your learning as well is starting to learn English. So I guess my first question for you is why and how did you start learning English?

Lina Alhaj 08:33

Okay, so it started out in school, like most people when we study English, alongside Arabic, but are still, the way that we were taught English in school is more about writing and reading, which is goes a long way with you for basically up to high school. And you taught grammar comprehension, how to write essays and stuff like that. But it's not really about listening and talking so and so I believe that was a challenge covering that area. Plus up to high school, I believe the level of elite that we were dealing with wasn't like so complicated. But then when you go to university and then you get subjects other than just the English language taught to you in English that's going to be challenging that you will be translating a lot of words and working on learning these new terminologies and topics in English. So I believe that this what helped me really elevate my English skills and also add this quiet that sound that time I said To like, watching a lot of series, movies in English in order to kind of shift, because that's the first advice that anyone would give you out here in my country about learning English, they would tell you, Oh, go watch a lot of movies, go watch a lot of series just with no translation. And I can, and that's good, because now I can basically watch any movie with no translations, and I'll still comprehend what's going on. And probably, you know, everywhere, probably, and so that that was the area that needed to work that was needed to work on. And so but for speaking, it was really hard. It's, it's not really that easy to find a place, or environment to do that. Because in everyday life, we speak Arabic. We don't really speak English. So that was a challenge.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 11:02

And how did you overcome that challenge? How did you practice your speaking.

Lina Alhaj 11:08

So I believe that it's all coming from me listening to a lot of stuff in English, you know. So, first, when I have a situation, such as this one, or like creating myself, or putting myself in situations where I will need to speak in English, so that's the main part of it. Plus, it's actually there, there is the phenomenon where when you have two languages, like I say, for, in my case, Arabic and English in your head, and so in your daily life, you will be like using Arabic and English alongside each other in sentences. So you will be like going in Arabic, then they will an English word will pop out. Will continue your sentence in Arabic? Or maybe the other way around?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 12:02

Yeah, so you get them mixed up sometimes?

Lina Alhaj 12:06

Yes, a lot of times?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 12:09

And is your is your degree that you're studying your architecture degree? Is it in Arabic? Or is it in English?

Lina Alhaj 12:16

Or both? So it's, it's in both of the teaching, it depends on the subject, really. So some subjects will be in English, and some some degree in Arabic, even. And even the subjects taught in English. When our professors and teachers will be explaining to us, they'll be explaining this, it's like partially in English. And then in Arabic, it's not like directly, like the whole course will be in English, even like the speaking. But definitely this there is a rule in my uni, that even if the subject are taught in English, or in Arabic, you have you free to answer your exams in either languages. And that's,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 13:08

that's pretty important to be able to express yourself, I guess, isn't in, in whichever language you're comfortable with.

Lina Alhaj 13:14

Yes, but you but some, some teachers are like, okay, you can use both in your exam. But it's all it's mostly about you choosing some language, say like, when of the two and then sticking with it throughout your answers. So you need to decide that is you're probably decide if you're going to take this in Arabic or translator into English or do whatever you need to do up front so you can study well before your exams.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 13:47

And so what do you tend to choose when you're doing writing your answers or responding to your questions? You choose Arabic or English?

Lina Alhaj 13:56

Well, I, what I do is if the materials that we we got was in Arabic, then I will do it in Arabic, if the majority of the materials were in English, and I'll do it in English, it really depends on the content available on the subject. But the thing is, this may seem like okay, so half of your subjects are in Arabic and half of them are in English. Actually, no. The amount of subjects that are taught, or at least I took in Arabic is tremendously decreasing. I mean, I just thought about it. And so the semester before the last one, when I took the my our my examinations and then it's finished. I had seven subjects and six of them. I completed them in English. Wow. So what keeps only one?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 14:56

What keeps you motivated as somebody who's studying in a non English speaking country to learn English?

Lina Alhaj 15:13

Okay, so in the matter of learning English I, because I want this word, a English speaking country when I graduate Charlo. So I need to work on that area perfected as much as possible. Just get comfortable.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:36

And do you find, I guess, before I asked you about how you got into architecture as well, do you find there is a big difference between learning English in a general sense, compared to learning English for architecture, so to be able to express your ideas

Lina Alhaj 15:54

in architecture? Well, for sure, I mean, that's a very, when we went about learning architecture, I believe it's a very academic area. And so it's like the difference between academic English and English of everyday life. So that's really sophisticated. I mean, we will be dealing with references and terminologies. So it's really different. I mean, you will you need to be a part to maybe speak and write in a certain way when it comes to that matter. Yeah, that's a difference.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 16:40

Yeah, and as my like, as, as I am a lecturer in a university, so I lecture in a university in Thailand. And the subjects very similar to you, their subjects are taught in English. But some of their subjects are in Thai, as well. But often what we're finding is we're having to help them with the vocabulary, say, for example, how do you describe a plan? Or how do you describe a site analysis? Or how do you describe your, your design and trying to teach them that vocabulary is about not just about translating, but about the ways that we express express it as well. And that's really different, that can be really different to what you have learned in the past about different grammar rules or different rules. And then sometimes those those certain rules might come through, like, for example, when do you use articles? Or when do you use conditionals? And so we have to kind of go over those things and how they relate to architecture. So how did you get into architecture in the first place? What interested you in studying architecture?

Lina Alhaj 17:50

As so? Okay, um, so is the first year of high school, you can say that I knew there, I'll be studying something related to architecture, not I, it wasn't like necessary architecture as a discipline or major. But then, when I went to the second year, we you, we actually in our third year, we choose our majors. So I had to choose a major. And by a major, I mean, if you want to be like anything related to engineering, there's certain subjects that you will need to be taking. So I had to take that decision. So what I knew that I didn't want to go any further with biology, and so I considered engineering. So then, from there, I took then I took these classes. And by the end of the year, I when I as you can say, when I evaluated all the skills and all of my qualifications, and plus my interests, I can tell that okay, architecture will be good for me. And it was basically a logical decision and turn out to behind me so far.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:12

Yeah, so I was gonna say is, are you enjoying the degree so far? You're glad you chose to do architecture?

Lina Alhaj 19:20

It is. And part of that, I believe, is that we never get to do the same thing twice in architecture, even if it's the same. I mean, if you're designing a house, and then you go to the signing of the house, it's not the same. It's certainly different. And that's a very part of why I'm actually now loving it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:49

Yeah, and are there many people that study architecture where you where you live and that you're University?

Lina Alhaj 19:55

Is it common? I can say it is common Because May the number of students in my fratelity it can be on the high side, I believe, on the upper side. And yeah, so it's common. Okay. So what?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 20:19

So you're studying architecture and you've been studying for three years, you've got two more years to go. What would you like to do in the future? What what is your I know you talked about you want to be registered as an architect for the for Reba? So what are your future? Thoughts about how you want to where you want to take your career?

Lina Alhaj 20:42

Well, so far, I know that I want to be working like not, maybe, I'm not really sure on being on the academic side. I know, a lot of people are like, I will never pay in uni, I will be want to be teaching in the future, but I don't think that's for me, at least now. So what I want to do is I want to be working in the field. And so this and I want to be working in the UK. Maybe not really, the plan is, so far as I know, to be to sort of for you to work in the UK, to get registered there. So that's where I will start.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:25

Okay, so you've got you've had this big dream to, to work in the UK? And what's what do you feel is helping you get there?

Lina Alhaj 21:34

What do you need to do? So for sure, I will need to work on my English even more, I will, because it's a part of the registration process, you need to take your isles and there were there is, you know, certain marks for these. They want like a certain level of proficiency. And that's like step one, you need to do that. Then step two, go with the other maybe paperwork and you know, work portfolio stuff. And then it goes to the examination and other parts of the whole process. Yeah.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 22:16

So it seems like you've worked really hard on your English, you have a really great level, you feel confident when you're speaking. And so I guess my question for you would be, because I have spoken to lots of students, I obviously work with students who live in non English speaking countries. So what advice would you give to students who, who may be studying architecture in a country? That's where they don't speak English as their first language? What advice would you give to them in order to improve their English or to be able to, to work in an English speaking country.

Lina Alhaj 22:55

So first, thank you very much. So my advice would be, you need to practice. It's all about practice. You need to push yourself, you are doing this for yourself. So put yourself in situations where you need that level of proficiency, where you will be you will you will need to speak out. For example, if you're working on your speaking for example, if you want to work on your listening pictures for just turn all your social media in English just like though that's the way I did it that starts on my social media or in English, so any video any, any art, maybe even posts, they will pop up in English, though. I'm not real. So you will be in contact with the language. Read books, do your research, your search in English, just drive including that in your daily life. So your planned practice will even be a habit is this common for you to see the language to interact with? And that on long run, I believe will get you the results that you want easier, and maybe faster.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 24:23

Yeah, so consistency is key. Doing it daily. And maybe even like what you're talking about, you've got this big goal in mind, which is to be registered as an architect in the UK, you know that that's what you're working towards, and you do something every day to to put that in front of you. It's like dangling a carrot in front of you and saying I'm going to get there I'm going to get there every single day and you remind yourself so I think that's really great advice. And, and also I think it's important to, you know, to also recognise that what you're doing is, is really good like they able to speak two languages is such a great skill to have. Okay, so we've asked all the questions that we had, were going to talk about, is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you wish that I had asked you?

Lina Alhaj 25:17

Well, no, I believe we covered it. covered everything.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:23

So in two years time, you'll be finishing your degree, and you're hoping to be one step closer to living and working in the UK.

Lina Alhaj 25:34

Yes, child.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:37

Well, I wish you the best of luck, I hope that it happens. And thank you for sharing your story today. It's one thing that I was going to say too, is that I think it's great that you reached out and, and when I, I'd put a post on the architecture, social asking if anyone would like to share their story. And I think that's great that you responded, you put your hand up. And that is, again, for me an example of somebody who is willing to put themselves out there to share their voice to share their story. And that's what I'm really passionate about people being able to do. So I think that's great. And that's what I really would recommend to a lot of students is to when an opportunity comes your way. And when somebody asks you to do something, then say yes, and have a go at doing it because you never know what might happen. And you never know what that opportunity is going to, to go towards. So thank you, Lena. I've appreciated our conversation. And if anyone wants to get in touch You're welcome. Do you have a LinkedIn account? Or what what do you have that people can contact you with if they want to reach out to speak to you?

Lina Alhaj 26:50

So yeah, I have a LinkedIn account. It's the same My name Lina Alhaj, so you can reach out to me there.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 27:00

Thanks again, Lina for joining me on the podcast and well done again, it's not an easy thing to appear on a podcast but I think you did such a great job. That brings us to the end of the episode. As always, thanks again for listening to think big English for architects. If you've enjoyed this episode, make sure you share it with somebody who you think might find it useful. Remember, you can find the free podcast transcript with key vocabulary, any grammar points and useful expressions at So I look forward to sharing my next conversation with you very soon.

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