As I did up the pointless buckle, as the engines revved underneath me to mark the start of my plane’s twelve hour flight, I had the sudden terrifying urge to run back to my bed and pull the covers tightly over my head. Malaysia? Summer school? What had I been thinking, when I signed up to fly half way around the world and spend a fortnight with a truly random group of jet-lagged students? The scholarship, completely covering flights and tuition, I had to count as a pro. All other reasoning seemed hazy as the double-decker plane took fight, leaving England and everything I understood as a green-grey blur beneath the clouds…
Arrival was just as daunting. The three of us on our flight were picked up and ushered into a mini-bus for an hour of awkward conversation before arrival. Pulling into the Semenyeh campus, however, brought us all back to life. The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is a mythical place. Pictures and murals plastered throughout various buildings on the UK campus depict a replica of the Trent Building, but they don’t show it’s breath-taking position in the rainforest. Even the same old olive green signs with white writing which are dotted around the Nottingham campus were present in Semenyeh, although the familiarity ended there.
The pristine en-suite rooms complete with new pet gecko or cockroach (or to me, ‘Henry’) opened out to the warm night air and cicada calls. Breakfast could be anything from dim sum to sugar cane smoothies. Lecture activities ranged from making Batik, playing spot-the-hangover after ‘social drinks’ the night before in KL, or learning about Malaysia’s 9-royal family system.
One weekend we headed up to Pankor, an island well known for its almost untouched beauty, and took in the sights for a bargain price. The Nipah Guesthouse was extremely good value, considering the chic beach-hut style rooms it offered. The real treat however was the snorkelling- we island hopped, snorkelled on empty beaches, and were picked up from islands whenever we rang for the cost of R15 each. Not bad, for less than the price of a double at Ocean.
Another highlight was undoubtedly the hastily organised trip to Kuantan. This ‘quiet weekend at the beach’ meant increasingly competitive volleyball, games and seemingly endless hours of tanning and swimming. Just a short walk up from Ruby’s Resort was a turtle sanctuary, where we were told we could release our own baby turtles into the sea for only a small donation. For this opportunity of a lifetime, we were charged the equivalent of 50p. Needless to say, this led to us releasing enough of the cute sea critters to potentially start our own sanctuary just off the island.
Whilst in Malaysia I accepted invitations of a lunch in Amsterdam, the offer of a sofa in Barcelona, and to give someone a ring if I was ever in Singapore… While only one of those has come to fruition in the few months since UoN’s summer school ended, opportunities and friends abroad are never a bad thing. I even made half-joking plans to spend next summer in Thailand with another girl I met.
A thirst for travel and the wish to better understand other cultures is something that once experienced, you will never lose the taste for. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to throw yourself in at the deep end, and start in a place you probably couldn’t have found on a map two weeks before. If you’re given the chance, especially by your own university, what possible reason could you have to pass that up?
Chloe Valentine & Ellie Hughes