What a year in Malaysia taught me (Katharine Desgans)

By the beginning of second year, I had decided to go to Malaysia to study abroad. I was terrified, yet thrilled at the same time. The reason behind choosing Malaysia was evident to me: if I study development, I need to witness first-hand what the experiences are in South East Asia. This is a continent that inspires many scholars from the development field into enhancing the understanding of complex context-specific workings of the world. Indeed, Malaysia did not disappoint. There is no doubt in my mind that living in Malaysia was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.

As I begin to write about this experience, I can definitely say that Malaysia shaped me and taught me things I could have not learned by choosing anywhere else as a destination for my study abroad. I grew as a person, but also as a student. I have no idea where to begin to describe the life-changing experience Kuala Lumpur gave me, but I guess if I had to start somewhere, it would be describing its great advantages. First and foremost, if you are looking for year-round tropical weather and incredibly warm people and cheap authentic Asian food, this is your place. Culturally, Malaysia is one of the most “westernised” Muslim countries in the world, which never seizes to amaze you when you visit. The mix between a Muslim Chinese community, a Malaysian community, Malay people, ex-pats, makes accessing the country and communicating with people incredibly easy.

This picture was taken in Redang, Malaysia, a few meters away from shore. They have a turtle bay, where the turtles are monitored and live in open clean waters.

 

For my fellow travellers and curious people, I believe you would want to know that it also hosts large rainforests, waterfalls, islands, rare species and shares its borders with incredible countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia. Its proximities to all South-East Asia makes it ideal for travelling. Kuala Lumpur is one of the centre cities to travel the continent from. I visited Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and most of Malaysia, and would have loved to have gone for more. All for flight tickets for less than 80 pounds each, or bus tickets less than 10 pounds both ways, 5 dollar Airbnbs, 1 dollar Vietnamese Pho, and free incredible landscapes and cultural sites. Malaysia itself has incredible sites, like Redang, Penang, Perhentian, Borneo, Tioman, Langkawi, Melaka (trust me, you need to google-image these places). You can travel all over the country by bus, by plane, by ferry. It is incredibly safe, and super accessible.

Furthermore, from an academic perspective, Monash University is a global well-known university. The lecturers and researchers from all disciplines that teach there are highly influential, and specially in that part of the world. We had incredible speakers come and give talks, such as former Ministers, global companies, international and national NGOs and important researchers. However, the most gratifying experience from going there was that I managed to decide my dissertation topic, consult with lecturers, and have some academic references for my Masters this following year. The school also helps you get an internship during the break if you want to. All in all, the staff are undoubtedly incredibly supportive and reachable. Another benefit was the freedom and variety of modules to choose from. Although this degree is in Arts, I joined the Business School in Monash and have lectures about those topics as well.

Also, Monash hosts a fairly large number of study abroad from all over the world. I met people from Austria, Denmark, France, Australia, South Africa and the US. What is also incredibly interesting is the diversity within the university. Students in Monash come from Mauritius, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, and Indonesia mainly. This teaches you how to be communicative, tolerant, and open-minded. Encountering people from literally every corner in the world allows you to truly understand what DID wishes to teach us: the importance of understanding problems from a context-specific setting.

Here are also some cool videos of other trips my roommates and me made during the year: Perhentian Islands Malaysia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf6nW1_TNkI&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop

From a personal standpoint, I lived in Colombia my whole life so getting to know South East Asia made me realise that we, as people, are not that different despite our cultural setting. Going to Malaysia really helped me to become a more open-minded and tolerant person. As meeting people from this part of the world allows you to overcome every single mental image/concept you thought you had of the place. I felt like the world opened to me and I realise how small I am, which can be terrifying sometimes. But this lesson enables me to be a better person, more compassionate. As someone that lived in a European household within Colombia, highly Catholic country, going to live in Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, all your biases disappear. And I believe that as a development student, cultural awareness-skills and open-mindedness are key to have.

All in all, Malaysia is an incredible opportunity as a study abroad destination if you wish to push yourself to experience something unimaginable. To get a grip of what development looks like. To witness one of the most influential South-East Asian economies and see what they are lacking and where they are ahead. But also, a chance to meet incredible people, to grow professionally and personally. You never stop learning over there. From the class room, to your travels, to the people you encounter. Going to Malaysia and joining Monash taught me life lessons I will never forget.

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