A Journey of Learning

In The Name Of The Most Merciful

The expansion of knowledge and the contraction of distance invariably bring with them challenges which re-define, on a continuous basis, our outlook on life and indeed, our perspective on the world.

The acquisition of knowledge is a fundamental tenet in Islam, proof of which is overwhelming. It suffices in this context, however, to say that without knowledge and education, man has no future. Indeed, some of us today, Alhamdullilah, have had the opportunity to literally experience the saying of the noble Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) ‘Gain knowledge, even if means traveling to China’.

Though not having reached China, my journey to study law took me to Malaysia and ended in the United Kingdom, where I completed my undergraduate study. An experience that was entirely unique in every way and at the same time challenging as well as fulfilling. It is this last leg of the journey that I intend to share with those on the same path, hoping to give them an idea of what to expect and allow them to make their own preparations.

Much has already been said about the education and living standards in Malaysia, and indeed much will be said by those who are experiencing it. However, leaving Malaysia and landing on soil that is much different from it was not an all exciting and fancy holiday.

The law course was based on a 1+2 or 2+1 option allowing the student to either complete the final 2 years or final year respectively in the UK, myself having opted for the latter. For those on the same path, there will be many challenges to face in several contexts. In order to give a clear picture of what is involved; I will just mention some of the most important points to give a general idea so as not ruin the excitement.

Common to every student on the same path, it began with an intention to pursue further education in the academic field, and it is important for this intention to remain till the purpose is achieved. Academic standards in the two countries vary, and so do modes of teaching and research. Universities in the UK are generally research oriented and this culture of early responsibility is developed in the students from the very first year through greater emphasis on self study and individual research for both resources and subject matter. For a law student, this is definitely more advantageous. In Malaysia, the system tends to focus on the conventional mode of ‘teaching’ the student and providing the resources leaving little room for individual research and sourcing of information. Both do have their advantages, as in Malaysia; there is a greater level of individual attention due to the small size of the class, and eventually the academic standards do balance out.

However, transferring in the final year means that you have to be prepared to easily adapt to a new academic lifestyle in terms of being able to quickly learn how things are done in the UK universities from finding books in their relatively large libraries to learning how the system works, finding where things are and what is expected of you. This settling in and getting to know the place in your final year does sometimes cause difficulty in keeping up, as compared to your UK colleagues who are well settled and trained to know and use the facilities provided by the university, since they’ve been there from the beginning. In other words, academically you are at par with the rest, but otherwise, it is your first year in a new country and new institution, so you are faced with all the non-academic issues in your third year that would normally be dealt with in your first year, leaving you well settled in by the third.

The non-academic challenges are greater in proportion and involve things like finding the right lecture theatres and attending lectures on time, registering on the right modules, choosing the right subjects, paying your fees to being able to find your way back to your room! The challenge is learning to find your way around the campus and around the city to learning to find your way around the library and resources. One can say that it is definitely inevitable, but early preparation and knowing what to expect can certainly minimize your chances of getting lost, confused and demoralized. Early physical and mental preparation in this regard involves, being aware of at least what subjects you wish to enroll for in your year(s) in the university of your choice and arranging your fees and accommodation if possible in advance. Another, important preparation one can make to deal with the change is to travel to your chosen destination at least two weeks before beginning your classes. This time is invaluable in giving you the opportunity to know the transport system, the campus, the library and shopping areas to buy your basic amenities and rations and lastly to accustom yourself to the notorious English weather! Practically, you can make your life easier if you do exactly what is done, when you first leave home.

Another important challenge is the culture-shock which is quite intense if one has settled in quite well in Malaysia. The pleasant Malaysian culture with its relatively greater warmth and respect for social values is a comforting zone especially for a Muslim to live. Malaysia does provide, without a doubt, a conducive and friendly environment to study in which is truly a memorable experience. England on the other hand, with its permissive culture and perceived lack of social values is difficult to deal with initially and this makes integration into the society more challenging. However, with time, you learn to deal with the culture and environment appropriately.

The cost of living is yet another change that one has to deal with. With the exchange value, your spending in the UK is seven times more than that of Malaysia. However, the advantage in the UK is that as a student it is fairly easy to find a part-time job to sustain part of your expenses, an opportunity not so easily if at all available in Malaysia. It is inevitable though, that costs in terms of value does increase as you shift from a quickly developing economy to a rather advanced economy.

Post graduation concern is particularly important for those not wishing to return home to develop their careers. By transferring to a UK university, you will have spent a year or even less than that in that particular country (that is if you have transferred for your final year). You will most probably be granted a visa only for one year and before it expires you should be able to secure employment which will grant you a work permit or consider postgraduate study. If not you will have to return home. There are opportunities to extend your visa and more research should be done on this and the student is advised at least to be aware of this.

Last but not least, though it may sound surprising, the opportunity to practice Shia Islam in the UK is easier due to the existence of established communities. Though the student community in Malaysia to date is doing an excellent job in providing for the spiritual and social requirements, the establishment of community centers across the UK and relatively larger communities does provide a greater access and comfort, an experience that resembles that of home, especially during the warm month of Mahe Ramadhan and the activity of Mahe Muharram. The universities also generally have very active Ahlul Bayt (as) societies, which you are encouraged to join to be able to make friends quickly and get help when necessary.

All in all, the transfer is something that needs to be experienced to be fully understood and valued. It provides not only a fulfilling academic experience, but in my opinion a greater fulfillment in learning about yourself and the variety of people and cultures of the world. It is an experience that not only challenges your academic resolve, but greater still it challenges your very beliefs and outlook on life giving you a broader and more profound perspective thus placing you in a better position to make better choices, giving you an invaluable edge in all areas of your life.

It is best that the prospective students basically do their research thoroughly and exhaustively, leaving no stone unturned. The decision you make should me an informed one, because you are in the ‘driver’s seat’ once you leave home. It is also advisable to be transparent and communicate with your parents and sponsors at all stages in order to keep them informed and aware.

If any further information is required, please do not hesitate to contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I will be happy to respond to your queries.

Wasalaam.

 
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