Hi, I’m Ruben and I’m 20 years old. For my exchange semester, I went to Monash University in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. An experience to always remember.

What reasons did you have to choose the country/city you went on exchange?

It is the 16th of July 2020, a young enthusiastic student walks into the departure halls of Schiphol, unaware of the marvelous adventure that is waiting for him. It’s nearly a year ago, and I look back on a fantastic life-changing experience. 16th July, the day that I went on exchange to Monash University in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. An exchange destination that had it all, warm climate, cheap cost of living, and an airport that connects the country to the most remote countries. Nevertheless, I have to admit I had a hard time making the selection of an exchange destination. I was lucky to be in the first selection round, enabling me to choose from the partner universities all around the globe. However, having that many exciting options made the choice even harder. In the previous years I already traveled to some of the Asian countries (Thailand and Indonesia) so I was already a bit familiar with the culture and climate in such countries.

“But still spending half a year abroad is different than just going on holiday”

For me, the main criteria for the exchange destination to meet were good climate, outside of Europe, affordable (student life…), and the option to backpack after the semester was done. A few countries met all those conditions Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong. Eventually, the decisive factor for choosing Kuala Lumpur was that the university in Malaysia was ranked the highest, and of course that I got accepted

Did you experience a culture shock?

Yes, I definitely did. It started with the time difference, I frequently woke up at  2 p.m. because the jet lag was more intense than I expected. From my previous travels to Asian countries, I already knew some cultural differences but this time it was different because you fully integrate into the economy and daily life of the country. The main difference, of course, was the Malay language, “Selamat pagi” (good morning), the first words our friendly driver spoke before we got into the car. However, I have to admit than in many places, English was the spoken language. Malaysia has been a colony of Great Britain, which left it traces with many Malay people speaking proper English. Another cultural difference, which I still remember, was the difference in pointing. In the Netherlands, we use our index finger to point at something but in Malaysia they using the thumb. Pointing at something with your index finger is seen as disrespectful, so I needed to change that habit.

What was the best experience?

This is a hard question for me to answer because there have been some many good experiences that all had their own unique elements. It is like comparing Lebron James and Kobe Bryant haha… but I will highlight one of the experiences. In the second week of the exchange, we had just met the other exchange students for the first time and we planned a trip together to Tioman Island, a small remote island in the Eastern part of Malaysia. The group was about 20 people with most of them coming from the Scandinavian countries. It was the second night, we’re all sitting on this remote beach underneath a crystal clear sky displaying the milky way, drinking some cheap tax-free booze and singing along the campfire hit I’m yours… This was the moment I realized, I’m sitting here on the other side of the world having such a good time with people I just met from all around the world… and this is just the beginning.

What was the biggest difference between TiU and your host University?

Monash University is located just outside Kuala Lumpur in a small town called Subang Jaya. One of the weirdest towns I have seen, it locates four universities, a huge shopping mall, the world’s biggest aqua park and a canopy walk connecting all the different parts together. This town is mainly constructed for universities with many condominiums inhabited by students. The biggest difference I experienced between the TiU and Monash University is the level of ambition and dedication of the students to get good grades. Even in the 1st week of the semester, the university library was filled with students. It did not matter at what time you entered the library, it was always full. I still remember entering the library at 7.30 am during the test weeks, when I saw people sleeping on the floor with pillows. The entire atmosphere on campus was not a place to have fun, but a place to study, to learn, and to improve yourself.

Do you have any tips for anyone who is going or thinking about going on exchange?

Yes, I have a few. For the people who are doubting whether to go or not, my advice would be GO.

“It does not matter to which country you go, you’ll have an unforgettable experience”

As the beautiful quote states” Life starts at the end of your comfort zone”. I was nervous as well before I left, asking myself questions like will I be able to make friends? What happens if I get sick? It takes some courage to go, but once you put yourself out of that comfort zone, an entire world opens for you, literally. The other exchange students have the same problems, they want to meet new people and make friends, so it will be easier than you think. During the exchange, you can finally put the theoretical knowledge into practice by experiencing first-hand how another economy works.

         Secondly, an advice for your travels. Always bring an additional smartphone and bank card in case you lose them. I lost my telephone and bank card during one of my trips, and you have a tough time if you can’t withdraw money. To send a new bank card from the Netherlands takes two weeks, so you better make sure you have a good friend to cover for you during that period or just take a spare one (or don’t lose it). The same applies to your telephone because it is your buddy. Whether it is for booking the hostel or taxi, once you lose it you have a hard time. Just open that old drawer, and take an old telephone with you, so you always have a way to communicate.

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