Thomas - University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

B. Arts/Laws
Semester 1, 2018
A true highlight of Malaysia is it’s never ending food options.

Academic experience

I did my exchange at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) on my Peace and Conflict Studies subjects and studied in the Faculty of Arts, School of Politics, History and International Relations (PHIR). The highlight of the academic experience of exchange was being able to study under leading regional figures such as Associate Professor Sumit Mandal. Further, it was generally also very interesting to study Asian politics in a country with such a vibrant and changing political history.
 
A challenge of the academic system was changing due dates, general slowness of decision making, at times lack of class debate and odd faculty regulation rules. However, a bit of patience and ingenuity is all that is needed to overcome this.
 
The enrolment process was fairly straight forward, although there were many layers of bureaucracy and unpublished/ changing course lists/ unexplained program rules which did pose problems. Start it early and be ready to accept you may not be enrolled officially in your course even when you arrive. Don’t stress about this, the University mostly receives exchange students from its sister UK or China campuses and isn’t always used to dealing with external students.  Relax and enjoy your interesting lecturers, you will be enrolled eventually.
 

Personal experience

When you are in Malaysia, there will be temptation to run off and explore the rest of South East Asia as soon as your get your passport back from the department of immigration. Slow down! Malaysia is a beautiful and huge country with so much to explore and offer. I loved my time travelling domestically in Malaysia, with amazing national parks, beaches and friendly locals who are more than happy to sit and have a chat. In most places you travel to, you will be the only foreigner, with the market more geared towards domestic tourism. I experienced a lot in Malaysia that you cannot find anywhere else in Asia.
 
Also make sure to visit Brunei for an interesting time, National day is the 23rd February and a great chance to see the Sultan (I did!). Try to learn Malay! It is a very straight forward language and the hardest thing about it is finding some who will speak it with you. Due to the multi-cultural nature of Malaysia almost everyone speaks some level of English (usually fluent across KL and major cities), so if you speak Malay, a local will usually giggle and just reply in English.  But do try, they do appreciate it.
Malaysia also taught me to slow down and relax. People in Malaysia don’t rush, taking things easy. Whilst this can be infuriating at times, it does rub off on you after a while.
 

Accommodation

I spent my first month living on Campus and then moved across the road to ‘Uni-Village’ a student accommodation option run independently from the University. There are positive and negatives to both. The University will only assist you with on-campus accommodation.
 
Holi Festival in Kuala Lumpur.
With respect to the on-campus accommodation, it is cheaper and much closer to classes. However, the majority of people living on campus are foundation (pre-first year) or first year students. As a result, most people are shy and much younger, the atmosphere is sometimes lacking. There is also an oversupply of accommodation, with some of my friends being one of the only people in their accommodation wings.
 
I much more enjoyed my time living at Uni-Village and the atmosphere is much more social. There is only one communal kitchen at Uni-village, but I didn’t even notice this as Malaysia is an incredible country for food. In most instances, it is cheaper to eat out than to cook for yourself. So don’t worry about a lack of kitchens, get out there and eat the local food (you’ll save money!). A downside of Uni-village is that it can be a pain to get our bond back/ get anything fixed in your apartment. They will insist that they can only return the bond to a local bank account, but if you are persistent you will get it back in cash.
 
Uni-village is more expensive than campus, but it is worth it, and only a five-minute walk from most of your classes (directly across the road from UNMC), gym and bus stop to KL/Kajang Station.
 

Budget

Kuala Lumpur can be a very pricey city if it wants to be. However, travel 20-30 minutes outside of KLCC and the rest of the country is very affordable.  It is very easy to live on $800.00 a month including rent, and even less if you watch yourself.
 
Rent:
  • Between Campus and Uni-Village there are a variety of room options and add-ons. During my time, I paid about $250.00 a month including internet.
  • A/C is extra so costs will depend on how much you use. It can be topped up via a card at Uni-Village or invoiced to you monthly on Campus.
Food and Drink:
  • A true highlight of Malaysia is it’s never ending food options. Meals on campus or in a local place will usually be less than $4-5 including a drink. Meals at more upmarket places are still affordable, but the price can creep up on you.
  • Tea, Coffee, Juices or any other speciality local drinks will usually only set you back $1-2. Try them all.
  • Food from the supermarket is generally more expensive. Cheaper food can be purchased at local markets. You will find almost all vendors outside of tourist areas to be very honest and reasonable, it is rare to be ripped off or over charged in Malaysia.
Transport:
  • UNMC is a while outside of the city (45 minutes with good traffic) (prepare yourself for next level traffic), however the university runs a free bus to KL, Kajang Station and Tesco’s several times a day seven days a week. Taking these busses is a good way to save costs and spend some time with friends.
  • From Kajang station for less than a dollar you can get all over KL City in about 30-40  minutes. Kajang station is the last line on the brand new MRT system which is very efficient and well air-conditioned (important). Tickets are less than $1.
  • Download the Grab app before arriving in Malaysia. Grab is a popular ride sharing App in South-East Asia and is much cheaper and more trustworthy than Taxis. It would be my advice to avoid taxis unless necessary as they have a very bad reputation and will rip you off. A Grab from campus to KL will usually only costs around $10-$20 depending on demand (surge pricing applies).
  • Sign up for Air Asia email alerts to get the cheapest flights (flight can be less than $20.00 internationally and domestically).

Challenges

A challenge that may be noted by some is that due to a number of various reasons, racism and discrimination is still an issue in Malaysian society. Students may find themselves at times in situations where some races or religions may be bought up as a negative. Some people may go to lengths to try to convince you of their prejudices.
 
This can be a very uncomfortable and confronting experience, but you will get better at politely and respectfully disagreeing as well as avoiding these conversations all together.
 

Professional development and employability

National Day in Brunei.
Malaysia has an incredibly pluralistic cultural make up which further developed my cross-cultural communication skills. Daily interaction with different ethnic groups heightened my awareness of differences in communication as well as different cultural understandings of politics and society. As a result of my exchange, when interacting with people from other backgrounds I see differences with greater understanding rather than confusion.
 
It sounds very simple, but I also became a much better listener. With so many new and different people around I wanted to actually hear what people were saying rather than tuning in and out and making my own assumptions. This skill has really helped me down the track both professionally and socially.  
 
Following my exchange and travelling I also took a semester off and completed a couple of internships in Singapore and East Malaysia (Sabah). I set these up independently, at whilst it took a while was not overly difficult. If you time your exchange right you could easily fit in an internship either before or after without having to take a semester off. It is a great chance to extend your time in country as well as put to work some of the cultural and language skills that you have learnt.
 

Highlight

Beyond the incredible friends that I made, the highlight of my experience was the never-ending opportunities of Kuala Lumpur. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. A city often written off as boring, KL will test you to dig deeper, and those who look are rewarded.  From hip hidden bars, retro markets, pop-up exhibitions to mamaks serving roti 24/7 - there is so much to be found. Keep an eye on local pages like ‘Says’ and ‘Timeout-KL’ to find some the city’s hidden gems.

Top tips

With respect to the Visa, start the visa application as early as possible as bureaucracy is lengthy. The visa bond is actually a fee and you will not get this back from the university.  During the Visa process have patience, things move a little slower and what we consider urgent in Australia isn’t always seen the same way in Malaysia.
 
Also prepare yourself for roughly one month without your passport. You will lose your passport for the first two weeks of semester while your visa is issued at immigration and for the last two weeks while your visa in shortened. You can only shorten your visa within the period of one month before your exit ticket out of Malaysia. 
 
As part of the visa process you will have a urine and blood test to be screened for drugs and HIV/AIDS. If you have taken any medication at all (including Panadol) in the month prior keep packaging so you can claim it or you run the risk of failing the test.
 
The University is located in Seminyih, a town almost an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur. Although this might appear a bit disappointing or isolating at first, embrace it. KL City can be very westernised, so enjoy the rare chance of living in more day to day Malaysia.
 
Your exchange is your exchange, do what you want with it, but make the most of whatever you do.