Tuesday, July 24, 2012

If You're Nervous About Studying Overseas, Then Please Read This...

It was in September 2010 that I came to the University of St. Marks and St. Johns (MARJON) of Plymouth in England as an international student. Growing up in Malaysia, a moderately conservative society, one can only imagine how anxious it would be for me to come not only to study, but to live amongst people of a different culture.

A teacher back home in Malaysia once told me, “There is nothing like studying English in England.” It is not just a golden opportunity; it is also a sign of prestige. With the recession that had recently hit Malaysia, all foreign twinning programmes like the one I am part of is temporarily stopped. I am the last batch of English language trainee teachers to pursue a B. Ed degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). MARJON is not something totally new to Malaysians as it had produced many English language educators who are currently serving in schools and colleges in Malaysia.

At that time, one advantage I assumed I had was that I had more than a hundred fellow Malaysians studying on the same campus. There was a time where I would always cling to my own kind out of fear of how the locals may perceive me. Do I look funny? Does my accent sound strange? Do I appear too awkward and nerdy that I may never fit in with the locals? Instead of going through all the trouble to discover the answers for these questions, I rather stick my own than face the unknown.

But as time passed, I realized I only had myself to blame for all these misconceptions. Today, I am sincere when I say MARJON is a beautiful place to be, and I consider myself gifted to be sent here to pursue my degree. The same people who I feared would look down on me were the same people who helped me through my stay here. I have the most loving and loveable tutor, Katy Salisbury who is kind enough to guide me in whatever issues I face. Apart from having taught Malaysian students before, she has lived in Malaysia for a few years and is no alien to people like me and our way of life.

As I am not very good in my assignments, I always turn to the staff at Student Support who always welcomes me with a smile, as it is indeed their job to assist me with whatever problems I have, including those not academic related. A close friend of mine was having major difficulties in time management and keeping friends. She is close to solving her issues and she has one of the counsellors at Student Support to thank.

The only time I have to spend with the local students in order to understand their culture more and to get out of my comfort zone is during my elective classes. During autumn and spring term, I took ‘Introduction to Creative Media Practices’ and ‘Introduction to Drama and Film’. I soon realized my accent may sound funny but people here definitely understand what I am saying. A usual question I always get is, “Since when have you been speaking English?” which is fine to me, as most people might not know that Malaysia is a former British colony and English is just as important to us as our national language and our mother tongue.

One of the minor objectives of this twinning programme which I am part of is to mingle and socialize with locals in order to strengthen our language command. This would not have been fully achieved had I been taking this same course back in Malaysia since I might not be speaking English as often as I am now. But how was I to achieve that if I am being so cliquish, always sticking to my own kind and not breaking out of my shell? I knew more had to be done in order to converse more with native speakers. So, I signed up to join the Student Ambassadors. Ever since then, I get to mix around with fellow Student Ambassadors more, and also visitors and new students on campus.

The difference in cultures can definitely get in the way of making new bonds when both parties are ignorant of the differences between them. Having stunned looks on people’s faces is a normal occurrence whenever I tell them I avoid drinking and partying is not on my list of favourite things. I have never stepped into a nightclub in my life, not have I had a sip of any alcoholic drink ever. But it has never been a major problem that prevents me from getting to know new people, as people here are matured enough to treat those who are different with the respect they deserve. And that just proved me wrong. I was not treated like a social misfit. I was still accepted as a teammate in whatever task that was assigned to.

Apart from being a relatively small campus, the facilities in MARJON are superb. Living in the Student Village is a luxury, with the lecture rooms, library, shop, sports hall and computer suite all within reach. I remember when I first came here, and a few of us were just wondering around campus, taking photographs to be uploaded on Facebook for our family and friends back home to see. A local student was kind enough to offer himself to take some photos of us without even being asked. It was a small gesture of friendliness, but it surely warmed up our hearts - a positive sign that we would surely enjoy our three years here.

MARJON is not only the home to British students. Students from all around the globe come here to further their studies. All I can tell the international students is this: MARJON is a great place to stay. Whatever fear you might have of coming over to a foreign country is absolutely nothing to worry about. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance as people here will only be happy to help you out in whatever way they can. It does not matter if English is not the course you are taking. Experiencing student life in a foreign country is something that you will treasure all your life. There are many things to learn, even outside the lecture halls. University life here will shape you into a better person, with a more matured outlook towards life.


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