What You Should Know About Studying In The UK
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” - Malcolm X
Although higher education sector in Malaysia has experienced tremendous changes in the past ten years, local students continue to flock to overseas to immerse themselves in world class universities that are committed to delivering global experiences. Universities in the UK remain at the top of the list for many Malaysian students because they have a longstanding reputation for academic excellence.
Home to some of the oldest universities, London is ranked as one of the most international cities in the world. Being the global melting pot, the birthplace of great thinkers, it attracts 20 million visitors per year. The combinations of academic and rich cultural experiences are what enticed a large number of Malaysian students to further their education in the UK.
In pursuit of world-class tertiary education, Agnes Cheah Wan-Nee left Malaysia and landed in the UK in 2018. In 2020, she graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from The University of Manchester (UOM), one of the world’s best universities ranked 27 in QS Global World University Rankings 2021, 8th in Europe and 6th in the UK,
Studying abroad is not without its challenges. However, the new cultural experience has helped Agnes learn to see things from various perspectives and open her mind to new ways of thinking. She shared her experience as a student in the UK.
1. Why did you choose to attend University of Manchester (UOM)? What did you learn at the architecture school?
The city is the main selling point. It is very lively and you will never get bored. There are always things to do and places to go. Due to the fact that it is a relatively big city, there are many people you get to meet in the university and it was an entirely new experience that I enjoyed.
Study architecture at The University of Manchester has taught me to interpret the smallest piece of information to design a building or space. To me, architecture is more than just the built environment. The course has helped me increase my awareness of the world around me, and I can see how it impacts our everyday lives and society at large.
I learned that creativity goes hand in hand with an open mind. Learning new things requires self-work; it means making an effort committing myself to be a lifelong learner. It also means taking small steps to become a better version of myself each and every day. My ultimate ambition is to strive to improve quality of life and space and make a contribution in shaping the city’s urban fabric. The amount of support I got from the university was amazing!
2. How would you compare the teaching and learning styles in the UK and Malaysia?
To me, the major difference is that in the UK, it is very much about independent learning. The teaching approach is definitely not for everyone. In Malaysia, students are more dependent, conforming and expect teachers to help them solve problems. Here in the UK, students are trained to develop independent learning skill where they learn to identify and utilize learning resources on their own. I have had friends who struggled because it was quite a challenge for them to adapt to a different teaching approach. They don’t like the feelings of being thrown into a pit. The lack of adaptation might be one of the reasons why Malaysian students have difficulties coping with learning patterns in the UK.
Back home, they expected teachers to provide them the content materials and guidance in a structured manner. British students are more independent in researching information and generating ideas for school projects. Classes are definitely more accessible, engaging and interacting.
Generally most Malaysian students are used to teacher-centred learning. To survive the UK education system, they must adapt to a different learning style and this requires time for them to make reasonable adjustment in order to meet the university's academic requirements.
The way I see it, if I didn’t go through this way of learning, I would have been very dependent on people guiding me rather than me guiding myself in the whole learning process. Honing good problem solving skills matters; fostering independent thinking is a must.
3. What is the biggest difference between studying in Malaysia as compared to studying in the UK?
You are on your own to deal with all kinds of situation and find solutions to solve problems without any assistance. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen quickly. However, everything became a routine after some time. I learned to balance my studies with other additional responsibilities: From paying bill, cooking, buying groceries to taking care of my own heath.
Studying in a foreign country and away from my parents has definitely forced me to become more independent. I became a stronger person because I needed to adapt to different people and adjust to a new culture. When you feel more control in your life, you get a deep sense of satisfaction and feel proud of your achievements.
Other than that, it was exciting to study in a different place because of the exposure I gained. I had the opportunity to learn from others, about their countries and backgrounds, as well as listening to their experiences and perspectives.
4. What do you like about your university besides the academic side of it?
I would say the people and the friends that I have made in my university. They are friendly and caring, even the tutors and lecturers are extremely helpful. They treat students like colleagues or friends rather than being a superior figure to them. They love to hear our ideas and are excited about our progress.
5. What is the impact of culture shock on international students studying in the UK?
International students do experience culture shock when they study in the UK. Meeting people from various countries, understanding cultures that were entirely different from my own helped me broaden my perspectives and become more open minded. I learned to appreciate how things are done differently there. Different doesn’t mean wrong.
People there are very friendly and they will give you hugs upon seeing you. It’s so different in Malaysia because hugging a stranger is an unusual thing to do. This was so weird to me when I first encountered it in the UK.
6. How did you cope with the Covid-19 pandemic?
It was tough for me and my peers too because we were doing a design related course, which requires a lot of onsite meetings and discussions. The experience of doing it online was drastically different because we did not get to showcase our work in real life. I didn’t get the opportunity to make 3D models. Even if I did make one, I wouldn’t be able to show the physical model in real life except take pictures. That would not do it justice. Furthermore, the overall discussion period for my work was limited as well and there wasn't much I could do given the situation. The pandemic restricted me from a lot of things, but it is not impossible to make things work to some degree.
7. What are the challenges faced by international students in the UK?
The common problem international students face especially Asian students is definitely racism. Even though majority of the people you meet there are friendly, there are times that you will be put in a situation where people are biased to you because of where you come from. When the pandemic hit the UK, I remember many Asians were being targeted and I was afraid to go out because of it. I had to consider the fact that I am also a female, which makes me more vulnerable to situations like these.
8. What are your future plans?
Now that I am back in Malaysia, I am eager to dive into the real world and practice the skills I have learned from UOM. I would like to experience what it is like to work in the built environment before pursuing my master’s degree. Other than that, I am still very keen on being part of the design and creative field and only hope to explore more in this field!
Published in Dreamic Educational Magazine 2020.