29 Aug 2019 Studying in a Competitive Environment at a Scottish University to Achieve First Class Honours
My excitement turned into fear when I realised that I was the first and only student among my IMU Biomedical Science BM115 cohort mates who will be transferring to one of the partner universities, University of Strathclyde. Fortunately, I did not chicken out and decided to embark on a 2-year journey and adventure in Scotland, the land of bagpipe, kilt and haggis. It was not easy leaving my family, friends and my church community (and Malaysian food!) behind but I wanted to grow independently, gain new life skills and experience new culture.
Despite being a Year 3 direct entry student and the only Asian in my course, I managed to mix well with the local students there. The Scots are friendly, and I think the Glaswegians are the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’ve also made friends with some international students from Europe and Canada. On top of that, I was part of a friendly Asian community consisting of Hong Kong and Singaporean students from other universities who made me feel less homesick. We often have gatherings during festival times such as Chinese New Year.
One memorable Christmas, I received an invitation to celebrate with a friend and her family for a couple of days in Aberdeen, a city known for grey granite buildings. Besides that, a couple from a local church which I attended in Glasgow often invite me over to their place for meals and supported me during my tough times abroad. They are like my parents who have taken great care of me during my time away from Malaysia.
The style of teaching in Strathclyde is very different compared to IMU, whereby self-directed learning is heavily focused on. In IMU, we had packed schedules filled with lectures, lab practicals, tutorials, workshops and PBLs. In Strathclyde, I only had 5 hours of lectures, 1 lab practical and 1 workshop per week, which requires me to go to the university 3 days a week. We were expected to do our own additional learning to seek more knowledge as lectures only served as a guide for basic information and bedside teaching is a taboo. We were encouraged to be more outspoken and workshops are always conducted in a discussion and presentation format.
The style of assessment in Strathclyde was also very new to me. It comprises of 30% from a single assignment and 70% from the final year exam. A single mistake in that one assignment can be very costly, whereas in IMU, we have multiple assignments such as lab reports and essay writing to make up for the 30%. Exams are in essay format only and we were told to quote research findings, articles, author and year of publication in our essays in order to be highly graded. This is because the university place an upmost importance of knowledge on scientific research among students.
Nevertheless, I am thankful to IMU for building my basic laboratory skills and strengthening my soft skills. The hectic timetable and heavy workload in IMU have trained me to balance my time well and enabled me to cope well in Strathclyde.
During the holidays, I also took the time to travel around Europe with my friends and went on a few solo trips which were funded by my part-time job as a waitress there. I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the Scottish Highlands. The weather is very unpredictable, and one can never fully trust the weather forecast. I once went on a 4-hours hike and it was sunny in the beginning, but it started to rain during the ascend and when I reached the summit, it started to snow!
I recall vividly, when in March 2018, Scotland was hit with cold and wintry conditions dubbed the Beast from the East, breaking weather records. As weather warnings were issued, the university was closed for 3 days, shops were shut, and trains and buses went out of service as travelling was deemed unsafe. To enjoy the 14 inches of snow, my friends and I went sledging in a park. People were also skiing and snowboarding on the empty roads!
Lastly, I am most grateful to God and my parents for this amazing opportunity to study in Glasgow. I believe staying in the line of certainty and familiarity can be easy and comfortable, but you won’t grow as a person or learn as much as you will unless you cross that line and venture out of your comfort zone into the learning zone.
Written and photos by Audrey Chong Kwan Lynn (BM1/15).