My Malaysian Experience:
I was so excited to embark on this new journey, especially since I was the first to go to Malaysia from Stellenbosch university, it had a sense of exploring and discovery to it. Unfortunately, my excitement mixed with stress when I had to wait longer to go to the orientation week in the University of Malaya because of my visa. Make sure you follow every crucial detail of your visa requirements to prevent delays. Make sure you research the weather for the months you go on the exchange. I did but didn’t think it would be as humid as they described it (prepare yourself for a climb out of a hot shower feeling). Pack few clothes, I promise you, you won’t wear all the clothes that you have packed. Take a bag you can fold up with you, for if you want to return with more things that you have bought. Make sure you take an adapter (for the plugs) with you that fits the Malaysian standard. I struggled to find their adapters and thought it was ok I’ll find a South African adapter there…I didn’t find one and ended up borrowing someone else’s computer for a semester.
Nothing could prepare me for going to Malaysia. I read other people’s experiences on the internet, but to experience it yourself is totally different. The weather plays an important role. Make sure you get yourself a sturdy umbrella, you think the rain helps cooling you off, think again because the rain is just as hot as the air is. You get used to it after a while, I promise. Malaysia is beautiful with its green forests and plants. The infrastructure there is also amazingly planned, and transport is super cheap. Use Grab the app (works as an uber) as a way of getting around, but if you get off at the airport try using the bus services. It will cost you way less. In the university itself you will always use bus services. The busses are neat and safe and on time. The campus of the University of Malaya is massive, we had to take busses to our faculties.
The food there is mostly halal food. No porcine products can be cooked inside the residences if you stay on campus. It was something to get used to since I love cooking and especially bacon.
I stayed on campus and shared a room with a Chinese exchange student. It helped me a lot to adjust to the new culture by staying on campus. A lot of other exchange students stayed off campus.
It is of my opinion that you get to meet a lot of new people when you live on campus and it is also easier getting around campus that way.
Malaysians are kind and helpful. The language spoken there is mostly Malay, but in Kuala Lumpur they are very proficient in speaking English. You will find that it is very diverse there, much like South Africa. I think that made me less homesick.
The food is spicy, and they love chicken and fish with rice. I later discovered a Pakistani canteen around the corner from my residence and spent my dinners there.
Because of the heat during the day, people tend to come alive at night. They love playing badminton and basketball until 12pm. They also enjoy walking at night around campus and the security there is on point. The campus is safe, and I walked around at night in campus without feeling threatened at all.
University of Malaya uses a practical approach to education. All my classes had tutorials where we had to present every week. It was mostly group work and detail orientated as well. We also had a lot of projects to do. That is why I would say it is a university worth attending. It was also ranked as the 87th best university in the world in 2018. Its postgraduate programmes are very popular, since most people I met were postgraduates that studied there. It was a very interesting experience to write an exam in another university. I was stressed because I did not know what to expect, but once I started with my exams it went over quickly and honestly you know your work more because you do continuous assessments in your tutorial classes and it keeps you up to date with your work.
Attending classes was fun, since the classes were small, and the lecturers get to know you by name. the only thing you must get used to is that classes are two hours long.
I learnt a lot during my exchange and especially how to work well with others and how to work on a common goal. Life lessons and skills were learnt.
The nightlife in Kuala Lumpur is one to be experienced, it is filled with energy. The malls are always busy at night and there is always something to do in the city.
Luckily the transport is not expensive at all to visit places. This makes travelling easier. Thailand and Bali are just a three-hour flight away and they could easily be visited during a long weekend. Many of my exchange friends travelled a lot during the beginning of the semester, I travelled at the end.
I would really suggest that you should travel when you have time. Do not regret the chances you did not take!
I will honestly miss Malaysia and all the friends I made there. The feelings I felt there were mixed with happiness, freedom and awe. It is difficult to explain without being there yourself.
Returning to Stellenbosch:
The day arrived when I had to go back home. A lot of my friends stayed longer after exams to travel for a last time. I had to go directly after my exams because of residence responsibilities back in Stellenbosch University. I did not cry when I greeted my friends, it was a see you again. The bond you make oversees is strong and you realise distance is not a limitation.
You’ll meet people you will always remember. And they will remember you too. The flight back I tried to sleep the jetlag away. Honestly a six-hour time difference is not to be laughed at. I always ended up sleeping late just to talk to my friends and family after their days have ended.
When the plane landed it still did not feel like a reality that I was back. I was four months away, how could that have gone so quickly?
There were times yes where you miss home so much you crave to watch rugby even though you don’t even watch it. This is when it is important to ask friends to send some of your favourite South African things to you in a parcel. I promise you, around month two oversees you will start missing a few things.
It is good to be back, even better when you realise the things that matter and the things you missed most have new meaning. You see things differently and you appreciate it more.