By Junaid Ur-Rehman
My name is Junaid and I’ve just finished my second year of undergraduate Medicine at Newcastle University. For Semester 1 of my second year at Med School, I was fortunate to go on a once in a lifetime exchange programme to NUMed Malaysia (Newcastle University’s International branch campus, based in Johor, Malaysia). I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange programme, and made some amazing friends and memories along the way.
NUMed Malaysia was established in Johor Bahru, in the south of Malaysia in 2011. The campus offers the equivalent MBBS programme to that offered at Newcastle University in the UK. The exchange programme was established in 2018. It presented students of Year 2 of the undergraduate MBBS programme to study abroad for Semester 1. I was part of the second cohort of students to take part in the exchange programme.
The process of applying for the exchange began in Semester 2 of my 1st year of Medicine. I had heard about the exchange from a friend in the year above and I instantly decided that this was something I would love to experience. Before starting Medical School, I made a promise to myself that I would make the most of the opportunities that came my way and so this was no exception. Some of my friends from University also decided they wanted to go on the exchange, and so we were all looking forward to being able to travel together for the first time. The application process was very lengthy and there were a couple of issues with the issuing of my student VISA. Fortunately, everything worked out and in September of 2019, I was on my way to Malaysia for the trip of a lifetime.
In Malaysia, the names of cities are often abbreviated to just the initials, so Kuala Lumpur was pronounced as ‘KL’ and Johor Bahru was pronounced as ‘JB’ etc. Arriving in KL, the first thing I noticed was the sheer heat blasting my face as I left the aeroplane. I and the fellow students were escorted to the student immigration area and then met by the NUMed exchange team. We then caught a domestic flight from KL to JB where the NUMed campus is based. The campus is part of a wider student village called ‘EduCity’ which contained the campus’ for a lot of universities. These included NUMed, Southampton and Reading University, just to name a few. The place we would be staying at was called EcoNest, a high rise three tower complex. To call it a student accommodation was an understatement. I had gone from a very basic UK student accommodation to something of a fancy hotel. There was a swimming pool, sauna, gym, multiple leisure areas and all of which were very well maintained. The flats themselves were in a different league compared to the UK student equivalent at the same price point. Best of all, each flat has a balcony which overlooks the local area and from mine, I could just about make out the Singapore skyline.
The university experience itself was different to how I expected. Although the learning outcomes and the content were the same, the delivery of the teaching was very different to the UK. There was a heavy emphasis on on-campus teaching, with more seminars and lectures than a lot of students felt were necessary. In the UK, there was a lot more SDL (self-directed learning) and I had become accustomed to this style of learning, therefore it took me a while to properly engage and make the most of the Malaysian style of teaching. To add to the differences, the Anatomy at NUMed is taught using plastic models whereas in the UK we use prosection of cadaveric specimens. Personally, I felt as though I wasn’t able to engage with the anatomy sessions as much as I did in the UK, and so I had to put in a lot of off-campus work to ensure my anatomy knowledge was up to standard. The student intake for NUMed is much smaller than the UK so it was a case where everyone knew everyone. I liked the small feel aspect of the campus and how it was always easy to find someone to talk to and socialise with. The campus itself was very different to the UK. It was a very open plan campus with outdoor corridors. It certainly had a different feel and vibe when compared to the UK campus which I really liked. I met a lot of interesting people at NUMed from a variety of different backgrounds. I made a lot of new friends, who made my experience at NUMed so much more memorable. S/O to the Malaysia mandem, you know who you are ;).
Let me be honest, the main reason I went on the exchange was for the travel aspect. Travelling around SE Asia was the best thing that I’ve ever done. In total I went on 7 trips to 6 different destinations in the 3 months I was in Malaysia. Although my timetable was very busy, I made sure to study as hard as I could during Monday-Friday so this would free up the weekend to be able to travel.
The first trip was KL for 3 days with the boys. We went in the first week we arrived in Malaysia. We did the usual touristy stuff and went on a couple of photo-shoots around the city. It was a £60 round trip and was the first trip of many. The second trip was a completely different type of trip. With my UK friends plus two of the Malaysian mandem, we took a three-day trip to Tioman Island. Let me just say, this place looked like paradise on earth. I had never been to a tropical island before, and so it was an amazing new experience. Before we went on the trip, I remember saying to my friends that we should take a ‘digital detox’ and I guess I got what I asked for because my phone got water damage on the second day. To make matters worse, the electricity cut off on the entire island for the 3rd day so this made for a very difficult night’s sleep without AC. The coconut shakes on this Island are to die for, so if you ever go, make sure you try them.
Given that JB is in the South of Malaysia, it meant we were only a 30 minutes bus ride from Singapore. For a return bus ticket, it cost around £5. Not bad eh? Singapore was unlike any city I had ever been to before. It was extremely clean and diverse with amazing food places and culture hotspots. One of my favourites was the Chinatown, where I had probably the best bubble tea of my life. (Ps. I had A LOT of bubble tea whilst on the exchange - it’s a hugely popular diabetes-inducing drink in SE Asia; tastes banging though). As an MMA fan, I attended my first-ever UFC fight and it was an amazing experience. The 4th trip I took was to Phuket, Thailand with my friend Awais. Lets just say this was a trip to remember. The beaches and nightlife were incredible and I enjoyed Phuket so much that I returned for a second time on my own to attend a fight camp for 3 days. The camp I went to is called Tiger Muay Thai and I met and trained alongside multiple UFC fighters, including the current bantamweight world champion, Petr Yan. This was one of the highlights of my entire time on the exchange and really opened my eyes up to the struggle and life of professional fighters. I also visited Penang and tried the world-famous street food which was definitely not overrated. The final trip of the exchange was with all my UK friends and we visited Hanoi, Vietnam for 4 days. The hustle and bustle of Hanoi is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Vietnam is an incredibly affordable place to visit and is one of my favourite destinations that I travelled. The highlight of this trip was renting a motorbike for a day and riding through the mountains of Ninh Binh. I also stopped at a local village and met some of the locals.
My experience travelling across SE Asia really opened up my perspective on the different lifestyles of people across the world and also exposed the privileges that we in the UK take for granted. These are often simple things like stable electricity, access to higher education to name a few.
At the end of the exchange, there was a Winter Ball, and this was a really nice and memorable night as it would be the last time, we saw our friends and peers from Malaysia. We ended up staying awake the entire night and talking and reminiscing on the past three months and the memories we had made. I had met some amazing people and I will always remember them and the moments we shared together.
Having spent a lot of time travelling and hanging out with friends, it meant that I had to study really hard in the 3 weeks during the Christmas break, if I was to perform well in my January exams. Although I felt like I didn’t engage much with the method of teaching at NUMed, it turns out it did seem to do its trick and I achieved my best ever exam score since starting Medical School. I can’t recommend an exchange programme highly enough. You will meet amazing people, visit incredible places and overall your global perspective will forever be widened. Be sure to make the most of the opportunities that come your way, I didn’t regret it and neither will you.
(If you wanna see pictures from my trip or wanna know any more information, drop me a follow or message me on instagram @junaidur_rehman.