“Malaysia Campus is an ideal location for us to develop a high quality living, teaching and learning environment – in keeping with Nottingham’s status as a leading international University”
These words, spoken by the Chairman of the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, do not fit the experiences I underwent while living there. I don’t deny that I had the best time of my life during my one semester exchange; the opportunity of integrating it with my degree was the reason I chose Nottingham University. I’m not advising that students should miss this unique opportunity, but merely pointing out the improvements that the university needs to make.
To me, it seems as though the university tries to suppress any discrepancies between the experience they describe and the reality. On my return to England, I and my fellow exchange students were asked to speak to potential applicants, but the main requirement was that we were not to reveal anything negative or anything that would decrease interest. I was shocked to be asked this, and refused to go. Perhaps things have improved since my time there, but as I couldn’t voice my opinion at the meetings, I’m telling it here instead.
In the initial talk about the exchange programme with past students not a bad word was breathed. On reflection it was almost a mimicry of a pre-recorded sales pitch, as each student reeled off variations on, “It-was-brilliant, I-had-the-time-of-my-life”, like talking dolls with pull strings.
When I arrived on the Malaysia campus in Semenyih, I was a little puzzled when I saw a friend who had already been in Malaysia for one semester wearing a bizarre combination of a jumper with his shorts and flip-flops, carrying a bomber jacket, in the scorching 38-degree heat. Did he not realise he wasn’t in drizzly Britain anymore? He was, in fact, going to the library; he shook his head in disbelief that I had only brought summer holiday clothes, claiming that for revision, a ski jacket was more appropriate.
This baffling encounter was explained a few weeks later when I visited the library, and understood the possibility of near death by pneumonia from the icy cold air-conditioning. Students were wearing winter woollies and some were falling asleep because it was too cold to concentrate. In Asia, it seems the colder the air conditioning, the higher the status the person holds; I really hope this is not the reason that the University keeps the library in the ice age.
Poor ventilation nurtured mould in the hall bedrooms; two days after placing clean clothes in the wardrobe, they would reek of damp and would have grown a layer of grey-green fur. Students living on the bottom floor would have slimy green sheets of mould on the bathroom tiles in a matter of days and even, in some cases, mushrooms growing from the bedroom ceiling.
The Malaysia campus is the ideal place to lose weight; the heat helps but the campus’ lack of decent food and resources really do the trick. The main food café was very cheap but certainly not cheerful! It had the same menu, day in day out: curry and roti for breakfast, chicken rice for lunch, and the evening meal a selection of lumpy curries, fried chicken and greasy vegetables. Past students warned me against evening meals, claiming they’d seen cockroaches swimming in the food.
There were some problems that weren’t the university’s fault, but I wouldn’t have minded a warning about. In the halls, I had a few sleepless nights due to a pesky gecko that sneaked into my room; until, in a combination of exasperation and terror, I regrettably battered the poor thing to death with my badminton racket. Situated near a jungle, we were sometimes attacked by huge moths the size of a man’s hand! The edges of the buildings were lined with a white powder to ward off snakes; it worked, but snakeskin often had to be fished out from the swimming pool. I suppose if you can get used to the monotonous yet challenging game of hopscotch to dodge raging geese and their poo on Jubilee, then you can quickly become accustomed to a few anacondas and geckos.
Having been to both Malaysia and China campuses, the brief stop on the Ningbo campus presented a cleaner and more organised structure with better facilities and food than Semenyih. However, my experience with a doctor left a lot to be desired. While trying to explain that I had developed stomach cramps and nausea, the doctor dragged a random student into the surgery to help her understand the extent of my illness even though she spoke English (my numerous attempts at sign language and frantic pointing were clearly futile). I was stunned after she joked with the student and burst into sniggers after I mentioned ‘naughty words’ like “bowels”. What on earth happened to confidentiality, and dignity!
Like its China counterpart, the Malaysia campus had many academic and recreational buildings but nothing substantial inside them. They had stalls for fruit and phone top-up but nobody serving, the cash machine seldom worked, the convenience snack store seemed limited to crisps, chocolate, and more crisps. The gym had a lot of equipment which was broken for the whole time I was there. The library shelves had more gaps than books. Core modules were not supported with the essential materials, to the extent that one teacher said, “There is one core reading book, and it’s in my hand. Who wants it?” After a baffled pause, this resulted in a swift and vicious tug of war.
We were aware the campus was no longer in Kuala Lumpur, but we were certainly given the impression that it was not too far. We were told that buses were frequent and taxis were available… In fact, buses came once an hour and would only drop us off at the nearest town, Kajang, where we had to get a train for a further 40 minutes. As for taxis, none from the city would come to campus as it was too far away, and the University had only arranged 4 taxi drivers that everyone used. They were on constant redial as students desperately attempted to get out of campus to eat. When we succeeded in getting a taxi, it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get to the city, at a cost of £8-£12.
Contrary to what you may think, I am not a bitter student trying to put other people off. I don’t want to discourage potential exchange students because even writing about the worst bits reminds me of how much I miss Malaysia. Also, the opportunities to explore South East Asia were endless; I managed to visit Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand while I was there. The teachers are friendly and, due to smaller class sizes, the lessons are more interactive and have a personal touch. All in all, don’t think twice about it, just go! However, I hope voicing complaints to the managers of the Malaysia campus will not continue to be fruitless activity – the university just needs to pull its socks up for you.