Challenges of studying abroad

Is studying abroad a good idea?

By Arathi J Reddy

Is a friend of yours going overseas to study? Maybe you’re wondering if you should too, or why studying overseas is so attractive when there are international universities in Malaysia. 

A survey found that 72% of Malaysian undergraduates prefer studying overseas and apply for PR status there. But why?

One student who made the decision to study abroad is 22-year old Anabel (not her real name). She is a third-year biomedical student, who was born and raised in KL and moved to Melbourne in 2017. 

There are more than 200,000 international students from 170 countries in Melbourne, and about 20,000 Malaysians choose to study in Australia every year

It is also the third top city for students according to the QS ranking. But what are the downsides to studying abroad? And what are the upsides, specific to a Malaysian student? Let’s find out through Anabel. 

Q: Anabel, why did you choose to study overseas?

A: Well, I wanted to do biomedicine and I had spoken to some biomed professors in University Malaya about it. They told me that funding for research is limited in Malaysia and that studying overseas would provide better research opportunities. The focus on healthcare in the biomed programme at my university was also something I desired. I also have family members here.

Q: How much did having family in Melbourne impact your decision to study there?

A: Oh, I actually didn’t think about it when I was making the decision! But to be honest, having family here really helped. When I was stressed, I had a home to return. I had cousins I could just hang out with and do non-study related things with. I also had hospitable relatives who helped me during the transition period here. Having homecooked food really helped with the homesickness. 

Q: Did your family help with the culture shock?

A: Actually, not really. I didn’t experience much culture shock… I just got used to certain cultural norms as time went by. One thing that Australians do is they really voice out their opinions. 

Q: Could you elaborate more on what you mean about Australians being more vocal?

A: I’ve just noticed that Westerners in general, are better at expressing themselves. For example, at one point during my psychology class, we were asked to share our opinions on how our personal experiences related to our literature readings. During that session, Westerners were more vocal and confident- they weren’t afraid that what they were saying could be wrong. It’s something I’m still getting used to. I myself am trying not to feel nervous or intimidated when speaking in front of others.

Q: What were some of your expectations on studying abroad and were those fulfilled?

A: Well, I expected high quality teaching throughout, but it actually varied from faculty to faculty. I also expected to be more active in student clubs, but I’ve ended up being only active in one!

Q: Do you think you’d be more active if you were in Malaysia?

A: I might be more active as there may be less cliques and they may be more accepting.

Q: Were there other Malaysians that felt the same way and do you know how they coped?

A: Hmm, I don’t know if there were other Malaysians that felt the same way I did, as I only have 4 Malaysian friends... But my international friends often empathised with me and that’s how we supported each other. For example, in our group chat, whenever one of us feel down or stressed, we’d all meet up and talk. Just seeing each other and being open about our worries and feelings has been really helpful. 

Q: If there is anything you could change about your undergraduate experience, what would it be?

A: I wish I had sought help in my second year. I wasn’t doing very well in terms of my mental health and thus my grades suffered as well. I also wish I’d had made more effort during my first few weeks of university to mix around with more people. I hadn’t done so because I was adjusting to so many other things. If I could go back, I would be braver and initiate more conversation and cultivate more friendships.

It looks like studying abroad is not an easy matter for all. Apart from studies, there are many other considerations to be taken account into such as the culture shock and the environment. So those wanting to study abroad, its best to speak to others who have been there, so that you have a better perspective of what to expect.