Challenges faced by new international students at IIUM

By Evren Baba

A new session for the year has started and we have already arrived in the middle of it. Assignments, group work, and exams are already knocking on our door. In that process, we are all just keeping up with our studies and our lives. Sometimes, we can be inattentive of what is going on around us.

In this context, let’s look at the situation of the new international students at IIUM. I believe it won’t be wrong to say it takes a little bit of time to get used to studying and living here in this campus for the first time. I know, it’s still hard for us, the international students. But for Malaysian students it is much easier. We have not got used to the new place; a whole new place, it’s a new environment, new cultures, new foods, and different weather condition too.

So, we decided to talk and discuss what’s revealing on the new things about the challenges of being international students at IIUM.

Briefly, let’s talk about how we chose students for this article.

They are all from different parts of the world. We interviewed six different students – Indonesian, Japanese, Turkish, Korean, Afghan, and Yemeni. They are first year students who have just settled down in this campus. There are different reasons actually. We wanted to know the different ideas from different international students and hear problems faced by them. By doing this we would have a chance to see what are the real differences caused by economic development and cultural differences. In total, we wished to have a chance to make a comparison. Then, we would be able to know the students’ thoughts and perspectives on how IIUM has shaped its relevance upon students of where they come from.

Before starting let’s share the details about what we learnt. Let me explain how we questioned them too.

I asked questions that are connected with five different points and these points are about environment in the campus and the city, their thoughts and feelings about people and the kind of facilities and services provided by this university, on education in the university, lecturers, physical resources in classrooms, accommodation and relevant issues, their expectations before coming here and what problems they faced when they first arrived here.

I share my observations under five different points. Finally, I share with readers some suggestions on overcoming the challenges.

Let me begin by introducing our interviewees, known only by their first names.

Our first interviewee is Farhan Aldi Khunaifi from Indonesia. He studies economics.

Other interviewees are: Yasemin from Turkey. She studies at Islamic Revealed Knowledge (IRK). Yasuhiro Mihara from Japan. He came here as an exchange student majoring in Islamic thought. Jieun Lee from South Korea. She is doing international relations. Atiullah Attaiy from Afghanistan. He is majoring in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

The last person interviewed is Muaadh Esmail Qaid Almrham from Saudi Arabia, but, originally he is a Yemeni. He is also doing ICT.

Now, let’s discover what I got from the interviews.

  1. Campus life and Kuala Lumpur

For most of the students that I talked to, campus life and its surrounding circumstances to them are really good. But with a few problems of course. For example, Yasemin thinks the campus is so big and old. She explained the situation like this: “In this campus, going somewhere is a real problem. Weather is so hot and we have not yet got used to this weather condition. Every time, I have to make real effort to reach my kulliyyah.”

Yasuhiro too thinks in a similar way, he says: “Campus is very complicated and there is not enough signs. Most of the time, I lost my way.” The other students mostly said that the campus is too big but good. It seems students like the campus because it is founded inside a forest and very close to nature.

I continued with my questions about people in the campus. Farhan told me students from Indonesia feel good. I believe in his words because he doesn’t have a lot of problem with language and he studies economics. Students studying at IRK, like Yasuhiro and Yasemin, shared that they are having some problems communicating with the others.

Yasemin said: “Malaysian people are really kind. But sometimes I feel lonely, especially in class. I try to communicate with others always, but it seems a little disturbing. I feel like they are running away from me.”

Korean student Jieun said: “I am having a kind of cultural shock in the classrooms. Because, this is an Islamic country, and even in the class males and females are sitting separately. Boys don’t talk with girls, girls don’t talk with boys. So, I have a lot of people from different countries. Sometimes, I am having problems to talk with them.” Otherwise, Atiullah and Muaadh said very good things about the people here just like Farhan.

When we started to talk about the city Yasuhiro mentioned, “The city is very developed and good. But, it is hard to feel Malaysian culture here. Because this is a city mixed of a lot of different cultures.”

Another student Muaadh said: “I haven’t been to a lot of places. Anyway, I can say it is quite good.”

In general, when I asked how they feel about this campus they told me they feel very good just with a few problems. Mostly, they say that campus life and being with all of other Muslims and Muslimahs, is really refreshing.

  1. Facilities and services of university

Just like what students were saying before, IIUM Gombak campus is really big and there are dozens of different facilities and services provided by the university. Like library, pool, gym etc. So, what do students think about these facilities and services? Is there any problem that needed improvement? Let’s hear the answers from them.

Yasemin wanted to start with the library. She said,“Library working hours is a little bit of a problem. You cannot focus on your study because every praying time you need to go out and you need to come in again. I know, this is an Islamic university and it is our duty to pray when we hear the azan. Anyway, there are some non-Muslim students in here. So, maybe it is better to think on this working hours again.” Yasuhiro from Japan and Jieun from South Korea said similar things.

However, Muaadh explained the situation from his perspective: “It is compulsory for us to pray on time. So, you need to go out. After your prayer, you can easily get in again to the library.”

We need to mention especially about working hours of sports facilities. Except for one student, many people interviewed told me they are not alright with the working hours of gym or pool. Because they have limited time. They think assignments and classes already take a lot of their time. So, they want to see staff increase their working hours more than four hours a day to accommodate the students who want to go for swimming after classes ended.

Other than that, they are really happy for campus to have restaurants, banks and sundry shops to cater for students’ needs.

3. Lessons, classes and lecturers

Of course, we need to ask students about lessons and relevant issues. So, the things they said are not so bad, but there are some points that should be carefully considered.

Let’s learn firstly from Muaadh: “To be honest, it is not so bad, however, some courses need a serious update. Because we have window 10 now, but, we still learn windows xp and vista.

Yasemin complained about language and technical staff. “In my home university in Turkey, our faculty has been built just new. So, everything is so quite best. But in here, it is not like that. Class equipments and most equipment in the classrooms are very old. Besides, I am really having problems with language. Unfortunately, the Malaysian teachers’ accent is really hard to understand for me. I even have to drop certain subjects. The lecturer speaks most of the time in Bahasa Melayu. So, I asked from him to speak in English. But, he didn’t care, so, I had to drop that course. After that, I had a lot of other problems. I missed the add and drop session, so, I only have three classes now.”

Similar problems, especially language have been raised by Yasuhiro, Jieun, Atiullah and even Farhan. Yasuhiro added, “Lecturers do not give any notes in class. It’s not like that in Japan. For that reason, most of the time in class I don’t know what we are talking about.”

Some students thought their studying here is impressive. Students coming from countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Indonesia said a lot of good things about education system at IIUM.

What about students who come from Turkey, Japan and Korea? Firstly, Yasemin from Turkey said: “If I need to make a comparison in general, my school in Turkey is a few steps better than here.”

A Japanese exchange student Yasuhiro said: “In Japan, lecturers explain their thoughts freely about the things that they are teaching in class. So, the students do the same thing and this creates a more sharing environment in class. Eventually, this would direct us to a more free, open minded society.” Lastly, Jieun from Korea said: “I think, my university is a little bit better than here. But, it is not a big deal. Because still, I enjoy my studies here.”

4. Accommodation

In this campus students spend most of their time in their mahallah. So, it would be very big unfortunate not to ask about this. Some students feel very perfect about their mahallah. But of course, there are some other views too.

Yasuhiro stays at Mahallah Bilal and his problem is similar with some other students. Because, he thinks staying with four people in a dorm is new and a challenge for him. Anyway, he said: “Somehow, it is kind of good now. Because this will allow us to learn about each other’s culture.”

Yasemin stays at Mahallah Safiyyah sharing a room with another Turkish student. She said: “First time when we got into our room it was like hell. Because everywhere it was so dirty. Before that we had to change our room. So, we couldn’t see something good. Anyway, our new room was a little bit better than the previous one. Then, we decided to stay. We were so exhausted.”

“After we saw the room like that we decided to take some professional help and gave a little amount of money to one of the cleaning staff. So, she cleaned the room for us and we settled down. Right now, our mahallah is one those preferred by the girls. I can say it is not so bad.”

“Our room is very close to the bathrooms. Every night, in the late hours there are students taking showers. Literally, they are yelling at each other in the corridors distracting the other who want to sleep. And I cannot sleep too because of that noise. I think the administration should put some rules to solve this problem like forbidding students from making noise or yelling after a certain hour.”

Jieun shared with the others that she stays at Mahallah Rugayyah in a special one-person room that includes a private bathroom and toilet. So, she feels quite comfortable about her room. Other students like Atiullah, Farhan and Muaadh think very nice about their rooms, too. Maadh, however, highlighted that the first time he went into his room it was shocking to know he is sharing the room with three other persons. On the bathrooms and toilets, they all mentioned the problem about cleanliness.

It is obvious that everyone has some problems with Wi-Fi connection. Every student that we interviewed pointed out the same problem about Internet. Our reporter Awwabin Zainuddin had also reported on the issue in IIUMToday. You can see the details from here: https://goo.gl/teyAZQ

5. Expectations and what they found

Each one of us had some expectations before we came here. So, what do you think, how was theirs and what have they seen here?

Farhan said: “Actually this place is a little bit better than I expected. Frankly, I don’t mind staying here longer.”

What about Yasemin? She said: “I have to say I came here with a lot of different and better expectations. But, what I found here was very hard to get used to in the beginning. Anyway, I feel better now. Still, I am not sure if I want to stay here longer than I planned.

Yasuhiro said, “I never imagine this place is going to be like that. I don’t know why it is so weird. But, I don’t feel inconvenient.”

Atiullah said, “When I see the mosque everything was so clear for me. I felt really relieved because I am in this kind of environment.”

Jieun: “It’s a little bit complicated. Because I am having some problems, especially with socialising. But, seeing somewhere new and learning a new culture is still worthwhile.”

Muaadh: “My expectations was that this university is big, education is serious and detailed. Once I arrived, I can say there was more than that. Before coming here, I thought there are no activities and events. When I came here I was proven wrong.”

Until here, we tried to give detailed information on new students’ thought about IIUM, its campus, education, accommodation, the city and people. We did this to create a perception from every aspect and this could serve as a guide for new students in the future.

As you can see, for a student coming from Indonesia, a country very close to the Malaysia in every meaning, everything is easier for him or her to get used to and live. Otherwise, if you are someone from far away countries, the cultural and economic differences can be a burden for you.

Korean, Japan and Turkish students mentioned during the interviews that they are having some problems about socialising here. Another Turkish student said he does not have much socialising problems. “Maybe because I study communication. So, everyone in there is very open to the outsiders.”

Students from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia shared similar experience with Farhan. Both Muaadh and Atiullah, however, said a few things about staying in four-person room which was rather shocking to them at first. They suddenly said that they have no problems with that right now.

Now that we know all of these details, let’s talk about suggestions.

Suggestions

You have read about what the students have said. Let’s look at the three main points that can help students get used to in this new place, a new environment. They are so simple – be open minded, do not compare, focus on your dreams and decide why you are here!

Be open minded

Never forget you are here in a new country, in a new culture, with new people. Try to enjoy this situation. By crying over problems will not help you feel good during your stay here. Be open to everything. Try new foods, try new languages, try to communicate with others. Don’t be scared! There is no reason for that. They are just scared as much as you do, that’s all!

Only way to beat all these is by trying. If the results are not satisfying do not feel bad. It is just a beginning, you should try harder again. Don’t forget we need to crawl before walking.

Do not compare with your country

Don’t compare situations here with those in your country! That is the one thing that you should immediately stop doing it. Always thinking about your family, your country, your foods, and yours ‘everything’ will make it harder in your daily path in here. Realise and accept the circumstances and life style here. We all know that all these will not happen suddenly, you need time. But, during this time, there is no need to feel bad. Feeling stressed or depressed is not good for our physical health and we are not here for this. We are here because we want to study and to do something in the world. So, let this happen for you, don’t make it harder.

Focus on dreams and decide why you are here

Living without a purpose have no difference like living in a grave. So, right now, this moment, you need to decide why you are here. You have to have a reason to keep you standing and pushing into your dreams, without stopping. We are all human beings and we need reasons to live. Our most basic reason is our survival instincts. So, you don’t have to make effort or anything for breathing, but, you need to start to do something to reach your goal, to reach your dreams. Think and ask someone if necessary but decide soon. Then you can really start to study not for your degree alone, but for your dreams!

We are all human beings. How much do you see yourself as a complicated creature? Nope, we are not that complicated. Just love yourself, love others, and love the world. Don’t be scared to discover new things in the world, there is no death to end of it or there is already death to the end of everything.***

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