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Away Writeup

My blurb was featured here
But I actually did a full writeup for all the questions. So I suppose, this was the full thing that I came up with if it suits your fancy. 

Nurul Kamilah Mat Kamil, McMaster University, Canada, Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, B.Eng

1.      How much did you change as a person as the result of your overseas education?

I am definitely not the same person as I was when I left the country. Although there was little to no physical changes (I have not grown any taller nor gained any weight as my friends can testify), there is a big change in my outlook of the world. Being in contact with people of different cultures and different backgrounds abroad has widened my perspectives. It has given me an opportunity to be exposed to different sides of the same story. For example, having known people who have actually emigrated from war-torn countries or refugees in Canada. You get a first-hand account of the goings-on and it makes you question what the media has been dishing out to the people all these years. Secondly, I also gained exposure to many different issues that has never crossed my mind. I can see that in different countries, different issues plague their social and political sphere. For example, mental illness has never been in the spotlight in Malaysia whereas they take it very seriously abroad, well, at least in Canada. Being abroad as well allows me to see the far-reaching consequences of global happenings, or if our country ever made it to international news, the perspectives of foreign countries on the situation. When MH 370 was in the news, my professor approached me and asked if I lost any loved ones on the plane. I was very much touched by his kindness. Ironically, I found out about MH 17 when I was shopping for a bag at the mall and the shopkeeper asked about how another Malaysian plane was lost because I didn’t check the news before I left the house. Lastly, on a personal level, being abroad has forced me to re-evaluate and re-learn several things about religion and spirituality. I learned that there is no set way to go about practicing religion as I observed the people in the West and the people from different backgrounds. Ultimately, what is most important is to do good unto others and to yourself.

2.      What is the most memorable experience that you had?

It is really difficult to choose a single one experience, as the many experiences I’ve had has affected me in different ways, be it in a bittersweet manner or otherwise. Some of it was simply memorable vacation trips, whereas some were experiences that made me think. If I had to choose one it was probably my trip to Vancouver when I met my relatives for the first time. They immigrated to Canada the earliest in the 1960’s and they were from my Chinese grandmother’s side. It is a little weird to meet them for the first time in such a foreign place. They’ve lived different lives from my Malaysian relatives even though they came from the same background. Yet, being with them was still home away from home. Sometimes people dread going to see relatives perhaps for different reasons, but my visit to Vancouver gave me a chance to reconnect with a different side of my family. Their warmth and hospitality is probably the highlight of my trip despite my going places in Vancouver, which is a beautiful city in itself. It is not easy for me to see them because I need to take a four-hour flight from Toronto and Canada itself is at least a day’s worth of air travel from Malaysia. It was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up and it definitely is one of the things I will miss Canada for.

3.      Is it easy to get along with the locals? How well did you assimilate with local culture?

It was easy for me to get along with the locals. Canadians are notorious for being really polite, aren’t they? To be honest, when I first reached Canada, I felt like the country fits me like a glove. It is multicultural as is Malaysia, as a majority of them are immigrants or of immigrant descent, and everybody is free to practice their own culture. The fact that there is no one major race in the Greater Toronto Area and there were a lot of Asians and South East Asians made me feel at home. Even when I speak to some of them, it is most likely that we would have very similar experiences growing up in an Asian culture. For example, it was nice to know that some of them have their own localized Maggie and they find Maggie to be their childhood comfort food. Or of seeing similarities in the traditional food we eat. Or of our parents being equally typical Asian parents. So, it is very easy to get along with them. In terms of assimilation with local culture, it’s pretty much in the small courteous things like holding the door open for people, cleaning up after yourself when you eat out, greeting people which I wish should be more common in our own country. I had to get used to other people not doing all those things that was expected of you in Canada when I got home to Malaysia.

4.      Did you get homesick? and how did you cope with it?

I wasn’t really homesick, until after about two years. I was having too much fun in Canada. The only reason I ever got homesick was because I missed my family. There are even Malaysian restaurants available if I do ever miss home. Sometimes when I walk around and I talk to people some of them do claim that they do have some Malaysian parentage or have been to Malaysia. So, being around these people actually reminds me of home once in a while. Even my landlady is Malaysian and pretty much I live in a house with some Malaysians and Canadians. There’s not that many of us. There’s only 4 of us Malaysian girls in my house and we pretty much take care of each other. There’s also Malaysian and Singaporean aunties and the Malaysian student associations have regular gatherings so I get to meet Malaysians and eat Malaysian food, there’s really not that much to miss other than your family. The Malaysian student community at McMaster University is also relatively small and we’re very close-knit like a family. Of course, even if there were no Malaysians, I could probably find myself a second family among my Canadian friends. Nowadays with Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp it’s really easy to get connected you can even contact people from home on a daily basis. It is that easy. What you probably miss is just the sensation of hugging in the flesh. Oh, and I do miss being taken care of when I get sick.

5.      If you were given the choice of living abroad or going back to Malaysia, which would you choose and why!?

This is a very difficult question to answer, but I will be very honest. Personally, I would live abroad. The overseas experience has significantly changed me, for the better, I hope. My preferences has changed over the years. Even now that I have returned to Malaysia I need to get myself re-accustomed to the weather, the food and the people, and the fact that I’m living with my parents again when I have been living by myself for a few years abroad. Even when I was younger I have always yearned for a life abroad, and when that wish was fulfilled during my four years abroad I feel that I somehow returned to some place I’ve wanted to belong. Growing up I was pretty much an oddball for speaking in English and I had trouble relating to the people around me because of my unconventional way of thinking. I was able to express myself freely living abroad and I discovered many things about myself when I was away from home. Although living abroad does entail that I have to live away from my family because it is very difficult for them to follow me abroad and I cannot go home that often, but coming home after a while does give you a different perspective to your experiences abroad. It gives you the chance to reflect on how your experiences abroad has changed you as a person and how you now relate to the people around you that you’ve left behind and what ultimately is the goal you studied abroad in the first place. You also realize how differently things are being done in your own country be it for the good or the bad and you have a choice in what you make of it.  

6. If you could turn back time, what would you do differently during your studies abroad?

If I could turn back time I would probably honestly study less :p Not to say that I regret all my hard work studying and earning a distinction, but I wish I participated in a lot more extra-curricular activities. In the final term of my final year I discovered that I actually enjoyed participating in Hackathons, which is a competition in which you are given 24 hours to come up with a hardware or software hack. I wish I got myself a job during my summers so that I had some experience working abroad, be it for menial work like a library assistant. Even though I do currently have Canadian friends that I am close with, I wish I had branched out a little more and hung out more with people. The hang outs only ever happened at the very end because everyone was busy and after school was over finally did we hang out with each other and got to know the different sides of ourselves outside our school sphere. Of course, don’t we always want it all, grades, a job, and a social life? Even so, I did not regret my 4 years’ experience in Canada. It has made me who I am today and has shown me the beauty of her place and her people. I am thankful to God and to the people who helped made it happen.


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