In the Spring 2023 term, Amber travelled across the world to study at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Malaysia, where she experienced tremendous personal growth.

Why did you choose your program and destination?

Studying abroad was always something I knew I wanted to do since I heard about it in my first year at the University of Lethbridge. The biggest challenge for me wasn't the student visa or getting there itself, but the actual courage to start up the application process... and I'm glad I did it. I chose to study in Malaysia because of the location, the ocean, the weather, the food, the cost of living, and my own curiosity, since I knew very little about Malay culture at the time. As a sociology major, I found many social science courses and even some sociology courses I could take. There are plenty of courses taught in English to choose from, which sealed my choice to study at USM. I knew I wanted to go somewhere outside of the Western-taught atmosphere because I wanted to challenge my understanding and experience different ways of knowing.

What was the most memorable experience of your time abroad?

That is an impossible question to answer because I cannot pick just one. Everything about my trip was memorable. The friends I made, the people, the places I travelled, singing karaoke, even New Student Orientation and Graduation Night were all memorable moments. Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Georgetown. The nature in Malaysia is beautiful. And, I can't forget about the SO VERY MANY OF MONKEYS I saw along the way :). I made many trips around Southeast Asia including Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I was not expecting to travel to so many countries because I didn't realize how affordable the plane tickets were. I made many more memories than I originally thought I would, and all with great people. Others I know even flew to Japan, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Cambodia, and India.

Were there any challenges? How did you overcome or cope with them?

I was the only Canadian and only person from the Americas who went to Malaysia that semester. At first, I felt a little unfamiliar and lonely, but my best advice is to live with other exchange students. I lived with two Germans, and they were very helpful, especially during the New Student Orientation week. I quickly made friends from around the world. The buddies at USM are spectacular for getting everyone involved. They made group chats before I arrived in Malaysia, which helped me a lot. There are many events on campus, so there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people. My biggest concern was thinking I wouldn't meet anyone because I'm truly the definition of an introvert. But I survived!!

The people I met, and this exchange entirely, helped me discover my self-confidence and self-worth. I feel more comfortable than I ever have now that I am back in Canada.

Has this education abroad experience helped you personally, academically or professionally? What skills did you develop during this program?

Absolutely. Personally, it helped me grow as a person and made me learn more about myself. It made me break out of my comfort zone, try new things, and see the world in a different perspective. Travelling alone seems scary at first, but it challenges you and shows a different side of you. Academically, it helped me prepare for my 4000-level courses because I need confidence to speak in seminar discussion classes. It also gave me new ways of thinking and considering a topic, which I find very helpful for my major in sociology. It also gave me ideas about what I should do if I want to proceed into a master's degree. Professionally, it made me realize that I want to work abroad. Ever since I was little, I always wanted to work internationally, but I wasn't sure at first because I had never really travelled internationally.

Studying abroad in a new continent, culture, and environment helped secure that "yes, I'm in the right path" and "yes, I want to work internationally.”

What was your experience like when you returned home?

Besides the goodbyes and see-you-laters, coming back to Canada felt unfamiliar to me at first. Walking back on the Lethbridge campus for the first time since Fall 2022 felt so bizarre to me. I could see the cultural differences between Malaysia and Canada that I had to re-familiarize myself with, which took a little bit of time. But I was so happy to come back and see familiar food on the shelves again.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Everything went very well for me, so I have very little I would want to change. If I had to do something differently, I would've liked to plan places I would like to go around Malaysia or around Asia beforehand. I didn't realize how many public holidays and no-school days there were, so I felt a missed opportunity to see the world a bit more.

Would you recommend trying an education abroad program to other students? Do you have advice for students considering studying abroad?

Absolutely, go and do it! Studying for a semester in another country as part of your ULethbridge program is an inspiring and fascinating experience. There's academic learning and then there's learning for yourself. I say if you're wanting to discover yourself, studying abroad will definitely help. It's completely worth it. If you're worried about the language barrier, you don't need to be in Malaysia. Most of the population speaks incredibly fluent English.

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