So, you’re dreaming of studying abroad like Teme Abdullah or Cupcake Aisyah. Or maybe you just read too many Hlovate novels as a teen. But you don’t know where to start.
I regularly get questions about studying abroad from fellow Malaysians, so after 2 and a half years of great demand, I have tried my best to summarize things I’m usually asked about into a single blog post.
First of all, here’s a very brief history about my tertiary education:
I’m Arifah. I did a Diploma in Media and Communication at UiTM. I got a nice CGPA and extracurriculars, and although it wasn’t easy, managed to secure a convertible scholarship to do a BA Media, Communication and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University, UK. I am now doing a MSc Marketing a the University of Edinburgh, UK, also on a convertible scholarship.
What this blog post covers:
- A) Useful resources for those wanting to study abroad
- B) Scholarship listings / alternative ways to get funding
- C) FAQ about university / scholarship applications
- D) FAQ about life as a student in the UK
Disclaimer: This blog post is not really intended for post-SPM students, although some resources may be of use. My intended audience is more to students who have finished Pre-U/diploma/matriculation/STPM, OR aspiring postgraduate students. If you’re looking for post-SPM tips I suggest these resources: (1) (2)
But before that, I believe that doors will open much more easily for you to study abroad you if you have good intentions. Ask yourself, why do you want to fly overseas?
- pursue knowledge with a sincere heart
- contribute to the society and the world
- make your parents and family proud
- if you are a Muslim, to increase your faith by seeing the world
- for mere bragging rights
- to feel like you’re better than local graduates
- intending to do bad things
There are some people who feel that studying abroad is a promise of a better life, they dream of escaping from their current reality. They say, “The UK must be so fun, Arifah! It’s a good thing you didn’t do your degree at UiTM”. There are also other people who are absolutely devastated even at the thought of their scholarship applications getting rejected because they rigidly aim to study abroad, they refuse to even consider a backup plan to study at a local university.
Well, I wasn’t like those two groups of people. While I did have dreams of studying abroad after my diploma, I did one semester of an Advertising degree at UiTM Shah Alam before dropping out upon receiving confirmation that I could fly abroad. During my time there, I was exhausted from having to divide my time between academic work and university / scholarship applications. It was frustrating sometimes having to choose between investing in the present that I might leave, or investing in a future that might not happen.
But guess what? I was genuinely happy at UiTM, and I would have been thrilled to do the rest of my degree there if I couldn’t get funding to fly abroad. Yet I chose to leave that life behind in pursuit of the uncertain and the unknown. Never do anything without a backup plan, and never be so rigidly set on achieving a single goal, to the point that it would break you into pieces if you didn’t reach it. Please don’t look down on local universities. And learn to have “redha” with the plan that Allah has so beautifully written for you, no matter where it may take you.
Sebagai orang Islam, mulakanlah semuanya dengan lafaz Bismillahirrahmaanirrahim. Betulkan niat, betulkan niat, dan betulkan niat. InsyaAllah dipermudahkan.
A) Useful resources:
- Collegelah, amazing resource for university + scholarship application experiences
- LOOOOOTS of study abroad and scholarship application tips on Syaza Nazura’s blog. She is a legend who has impacted so many lives, including my own.
- A really really useful, super long & detailed blog post by Husna Mustafa (self-sponsored student) about applying to study in the UK (reading time: 35-40 min)
- A Twitter thread about the journey of Anis Zahirah who managed to get a scholarship from PETRONAS to study in Australia, after completing her diploma at UiTM. She also has a YouTube channel detailing her journey to study abroad
- Siti Awe’s Youtube video “Cara Untuk Sambung Belajar Oversea di UK”, based on her husband’s experience getting a MARA sponsorship
- Do check out the Instagram highlights of Ezzaty Hasbullah, one out of the only five Malaysians who have received the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford
B) Scholarship listings:
Mainstream national scholarships such as Yayasan Khazanah, Petronas, JPA, MARA, Maybank, CIMB, etc:
- Some states may offer scholarships (e.g. Yayasan Sarawak)
Alternatives to mainstream Malaysian scholarships:
- International scholarships, e.g. Chevening, Rhodes
- Scholarships from the specific universities you plan to apply to (usually partial)
- Some companies have scholarships for employees’ children, so do your research about your parents’ companies
- If you’re an employee yourself, find out about scholarship opportunities from your company
- Do a twinning program where you get to study abroad for a portion of your studies (mostly for private universities), SOME programs only require you to pay the same fee amount as Malaysia even when you’re abroad
- FAMA (father mother), lol
C) FAQ about University and Scholarship Application
1. How do I further my studies abroad?
You need three things. a) An unconditional offer, b) funding, and c) a student visa.
The best advice I can give you is to contact a study abroad consultant. Most are free. If they require payment, ditch them and find another one. I used IDP, they help you from the first steps of researching which universities to go to, to visa applications, all the way to pre-departure. I believe you can do it fully by phone / e-mail, although I used to go the Subang Jaya branch for appointments. Because of IDP, for undergrad I applied for 5 UK universities and 3 Australian universities completely free of charge. For the rest, read Husna’s blog post. But it’s a a lengthy, tiring, and expensive process, so you must be willing to sacrifice time, energy, and money.
2. What is needed to secure a scholarship? Should I apply for scholarships or universities first?
Mainstream Malaysian scholarship providers (Petronas, Khazanah, Maybank, PNB, Astro, MARA, etc.) will choose the best of the best. Some will take into consideration even your SPM results. You’ll need:
- Excellent grades (usually 3.5/3.75^ CGPA, but depends on scholarship provider)
- Usually outstanding extracurriculars are needed too, to stand out from the rest
- Most companies will want to at least see a conditional offer from a TOP university (usually top 50-100 in the world, so try to aim for the best ones)
- Most scholarships will require you to undergo assessments, submit academic documents, and even pass interviews. Be prepared!
3. Is it worth studying abroad during a pandemic?
[written in February 2021:] My knee-jerk reaction is to say no, it it’s not worth it. The quality of your education and study abroad experience will be greatly compromised, and yet you’re paying so much money for it. I’ve even heard of students who went back home to Malaysia. But it honestly depends. For example, if you’re a post-SPM student who got a Khazanah scholarship for a course you love, go for it. If you’re a 30-year-old who has always dreamed of studying abroad and don’t think you are able to qualify for scholarships for much longer, then go for it. But if you believe you still have time, then I highly suggest you wait until the pandemic is over. In any case, buatlah solat istikharah dan minta petunjuk dari Tuhan if you’re a Muslim.
[written in September 2021:] If it’s the UK, go for it. The situation here is much better than Malaysia and you’ll probably have a more “normal” year than I did.
4. How do I write a good personal statement?
Start with a compelling introduction stating your motivations of pursuing said course. List your relevant academic/professional experience and achievements, and why you deserve to study that specific course in that university. End with why you will benefit from going to that university / country and your long-term career goals. Google samples of good personal statements.
5. Can I see your personal statement for your Bachelor’s/Master’s, or your CV?
I’d be happy to, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Can you review my personal statement / resume / CV?
Sure thing, though it might take a while depending on how busy I am. Again, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
7. Can you write my personal statement for me?
I’d be happy to give you tips and guidance, or proofread a draft, but I am definitely not going to write your personal statement for you, sweetie. It should be your own work.
8. Do you prefer Newcastle or Edinburgh?
Newcastle is in North East England, it’s very cute and compact – you can get to pretty much everywhere by walking 20-30 minutes. The Quayside (river with 7 bridges) is amazing. The living costs are one of the most affordable for students in the UK.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland – it is much bigger and has more attractions, a whole load of art / history / culture / Harry Potter vibes, and the population is more diverse. It is home to a bunch of annual festivals (though the pandemic has affected that).
Both have their pros and cons, but DM / e-mail me to know more.
D) FAQ About Life as a Student in the UK
1. How are the COVID-19 restrictions in the UK?
To put it lightly, the cases are much higher than Malaysia yet the rules are less strict. People are also less willing to abide to restrictions. I can write a whole essay about this to be honest. Decisions, decisions…
2. How much money is needed to survive each month?
Malaysian scholars outside of London are generally given £880 per month while the ones based in London get £1000+. This includes money for monthly rent and bills. But I’d say average monthly spending of Malaysians for groceries and etc (excluding rent + bills) is around £200 – £400, depending on person. But of course, surely you’ll want to travel and try new experiences, so consider how much you’ll have to save up for that.
The UK has many student discounts (Railcard, Coachcard, UniDays, Student Beans), so make the most out of them.
3. What is life as a Muslim like in the UK? Are they accepting of Muslims / hijab-wearing women? Is it hard to find halal shops? Have you ever been a victim of Islamophobia?
- I cannot speak for everybody, but as someone who has lived in Japan before, I feel that the UK is generally very open and diverse. Halal shops and hijabis are aplenty (especially in major cities), and there are so many discrimination laws. I would say it’s one of the easiest non-Muslim countries to live in as a Muslim
- You even occasionally see hijabis in advertising and the media (still a long way to go, but the visibility is somewhat there)
- Personally I’ve never been openly discriminated for being Muslim. Sure some strangers are rude (as they are everywhere), but I don’t know if they’re a rude person in general or rude just because I’m wearing a headscarf
- Pretty much every university has an Islamic Society / dedicated prayer spaces
- In smaller cities there might be less people of colour / Muslims so they might be slightly more xenophobic
- In the case of no prayer spaces, you’ll probably have to pray in interesting places: fitting rooms, parks, outside petrol stations
- You can also follow Malaysian organizations for Muslim students in the UK, such as PRISM (IG / FB) and EMAN (IG / FB)
InshaAllah you’ll be fine. Feel free to watch my video, “Life as a Muslim at Newcastle University” for more insight. Be nice to others and be a good representation of Islam.
4. How do I get in touch with other Malaysians in my university / city?
Every university will usually have a Malaysian Society, so make an effort to go to their events. Many of these M-Socs usually conduct annual Malaysian Nights. If your city has an abundance of Malaysians, there will likely be other groups / communities as well. Do your research!
5. Do you prefer to study locally or abroad?
They are two different experiences with pros and cons, honestly. For example, I liked the hands-on assignments at UiTM more than the theoretical essays at Newcastle. I feel fortunate to have experienced studying in both Malaysia and abroad.
6. Favourite thing about studying abroad?
I get to learn about different nationalities and cultures, think more critically, live more independently, and make the most of opportunities that aren’t available back home. I hope to take the good things I’ve learned here and bring those values back to Malaysia. For example, the UK puts a high emphasis on tolerance, diversity, accessibility, mental health, and accommodating people with disabilities.
And of course… the opportunity to travel within the UK and Europe!
7. Biggest con of studying abroad?
As someone who comes from Malaysia, a country with collectivist values, and UiTM, a university where I was constantly surrounded by good friends I had strong bonds with, I initially found studying in the UK to be quite isolating and it had an impact on my mental health. Might be even worse for first-years during a pandemic.
I once wrote an article on loneliness as an international student. It ended up winning Article of the Year, lol. The ultimate recognition of my pain.
Oh, the cold is pretty bad too. Definitely bundle up during winter.
8. Is it easy to find part-time work while studying?
These are the positions I’ve held:
- Digital Content intern (13 hours per month @ Newcastle University)
- Digital Marketing intern (7 hours per week @ University of Edinburgh)
- Business School Student Ambassador (around 3-6 hours per month @ University of Edinburgh)
- Event photographer under Jobs on Campus scheme (irregular times @ Newcastle University)
I also know many Malaysian students working in retail, food services, and hospitality. International students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week (though I seriously don’t recommend doing that many hours, the most I do is 7-11 hours – don’t let it compromise your studies).
9. Any other things I should know?
- Follow the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC) (IG / FB / website)
- Register with Education Malaysia the moment you arrive in the UK (VERY important, especially during the pandemic – a lot of students take this lightly or have no idea at all about this, if there’s an emergency or anything it’ll be easy for the government to track your whereabouts. I heard of Malaysian students in some country not registering with the embassy, and the government couldn’t track them during a major earthquake. If there is no emergency, they won’t kacau you, don’t worry)
- British people use Facebook a lot. I have no idea why lol. But expect to be more active on Facebook after arriving in the UK
10. Final advice for students off to study in the UK?
Get outside of your comfort zone and grab every opportunity you can, especially those unavailable in Malaysia. For example, I did part-time internships while studying, jogged in the snow, was a photographer for TEDx Newcastle University, took Quranic Arabic classes, and even met Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Charlie Cox (Daredevil). Be open to learn about other nationalities, cultures, and ways of life. Contribute in class discussions, you are not inferior to Westerners. You’re probably only here for a short while, so make the most out of it. And of course, make Malaysia proud.
I hope this blog post has been of use. If you have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment, DM me on Instagram, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All the best to you!