Serena Kaan Tsu Li - Simon Fraser University, Canada

In 2016, as a prospective university student with too many options in front of me, I was drawn to, and eventually chose, Monash University Malaysia for three main reasons: the extensive array of unit options in the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS), the calibre of the teaching staff, and the reason that most intrigued me: the chance to go abroad on a university exchange.

Fast forward to 2018 - I was in my second year of university, and finally had the chance to undertake an exchange program in my second semester to Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. Due to the unique position of having a double major in Global Studies and Gender Studies, I was interested to find a university abroad that would cater to both of my passions. I was impressed that Monash Malaysia had partner universities all over the world that one could choose from. Although I would have never considered Canada as the country to do my exchange semester in (it is a minimum 17-hour flight from Malaysia and the time zone difference is 15 hours), SFU had the right mixture of Global and Gender units for me. I was able to explore topics such as Separatist Movements which looked at issues of secession, and Immigrants, Women and Transnational Migration which bridged gender and political issues, as well as others.

Monash Malaysia was extremely helpful in coordinating my exchange, especially my SASS course executive Nurul and Hui Jin in the Monash Abroad office. I was also very fortunate and blessed to be selected as one of the few Malaysian students to receive an inaugural scholarship for my entire exchange semester from the Canada-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED) program, courtesy of the Canadian Government.

My exchange semester in SFU was definitely one to remember. As someone who has never lived alone for an extended period of time, much less abroad, my exchange encouraged me to foster traits of independence and to take the initiative to figure things out on my own - from reading and learning about a completely different culture in classrooms to exploring the city of Vancouver to fostering conversations and dialogues with people from all parts of the world. I grew a lot being away from my family and my comfort zone as I had to deal with challenges without a safety net, and I believe that this experience has really shaped my character - to be hardworking, independent, adventurous - and improved my decision-making, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills.

SFU turned out to be the best choice for me, as the different topics, political climates, and cultures opened my eyes up and broadened my horizons beyond my Malaysian bubble. My lecturers were so helpful in helping me navigate the academic terrain as an international student, and they were more than willing to answer any questions that I had about the classes, Vancouver, and Canada as a whole. I appreciated that the lecturers focused on our wholesome learning instead of emphasizing on grades. I was able to gain different perspectives (a Canadian viewpoint and a North American viewpoint as compared to my Asian and Malaysian perspectives) on world issues of gender and politics, which enabled my conversations and learning experience to be more fruitful. The International Students Services department was equally as helpful to aid me in settling in. Since I lived with my family back home, I had not had the opportunity previously to live on campus in shared residences with other students before my exchange. Living on campus allowed me to engage with students from Canada to Japan to Nigeria to Australia to Taiwan to Hong Kong to Sweden to France and so many more.

Exploring Vancouver was one of the highlights of my time there. Since Canada is such a large country, I decided to traverse only Vancouver itself. Inclusivity and diversity are celebrated in all aspects - food, culture, tourism, art, sports, and others. One thing that really stood out was how Vancouver really paid homage and acknowledged their First Nations (indigenous) communities. There were art galleries and restaurants dedicated to showcase First Nations culture as inherently Canadian. I really admired this respect towards the original communities and believe that as a Malaysian, I have more to learn about our Malaysian indigenous communities as well.

All in all, I am so grateful to be provided this opportunity by Monash Malaysia to experience an exchange semester abroad. The memories and experiences that I have gained will always be cherished and can never be replaced. It is truly a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime chance for any student.