September 18, 2015, by Ben Hunte
Ben Hunte: 3 Ways UNMC Has Changed My Life (So Far!)
Happy 15th Birthday, UNMC!
I remember arriving at the campus for the first time, standing at the back of the Students’ Association building, and looking at the insane view – jungle as far as the eye could see. Just a few days earlier, I was packing up my room in London, preparing to move to Durham for the next three years, when I received a call to say I had been awarded a full scholarship to the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.
Suddenly, my car full of oh-so-important belongings had to be condensed into a single 30KG suitcase (plus one item of hand luggage), and next thing I knew I was waving adieu to my hometown.
It’s now four years since I boarded my flight at Heathrow bound for the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) – a university I knew a bit about, in a country I knew nothing about.
“My name’s Ben Hunte and I studied Cognitive Neuroscience at uni from 2011-2014”. In the UK, it’s a common ‘awkward icebreaker’ to ask someone where they went to university, and I wish I could compile a video of the reactions I receive EVERY SINGLE TIME I reply: “I studied in Malaysia”.
Usually, the reaction is an exaggerated “MALAYSIA?!” swiftly followed by, “but, WHY?!” As you can tell, one year on from my flight home, I’m still answering questions about Asia on a regular basis, so I thought I would do a “three ways UNMC changed my life” post, which will hopefully answer lots of questions along the way. If not, feel free to contact me for answers!
1: “Hi, my name’s Ben, and I suffer from Christopher Columbus ‘syndrome’…”
I can’t really say “I loved travelling”, because I’d never been anywhere without my parents or friends, but I knew that I wanted to go somewhere far away to find and do something incredible – much like Christopher Columbus.
It just so happens that the easiest time to do this, which many UK students don’t really appreciate, is in your university years. Following a payment to an educational institution, you can move pretty much anywhere in the world for 3+ years, with visas, accommodation, entertainment, relationships, and even a degree, all guaranteed. Granted, in the UK, we have some of the best educational institutions in the world, so why would we want to run away from that, when the world is trying to run to us? Well, THIS is the exact issue solved by universities having satellite campuses.
I can’t speak for other universities, but at my time of applying, I saw how the University of Nottingham was leading the way with international expansion, and loved how it proudly showed-off its China and Malaysia campuses in every prospectus and degree certificate issued; basically, I was ready to get involved.
I can safely say that the urge to explore is going to stay with me for life, mainly because UNMC showed me how travelling opens your eyes to new possibilities and essentially a new you! From the university campus, you can use the free bus service direct to Kuala Lumpur, jump on a ridiculously cheap bus to Penang / Cherating / Langkawi, etc, and be chilling on a beach within a few hours.
Alternatively, you could wake up in Malaysia, and be in Thailand / Singapore / Indonesia / Japan / China / Australia, etc, long before dinner, thanks to incredibly cheap flights (from airlines with seemingly never-ending sales). If you’re like me and feel a constant need to travel, UNMC may just change your life – but don’t blame me when your graduate job is stationary and you start getting withdrawal symptoms!
2: “Live the life you love; love the life you live!”
In one of my favourite songs, ‘Jump ’N’ Shout’ by Basement Jaxx, they drop in the classic line “Live the life you love; love the life you live”; from the moment I heard it, it became my mantra.
One thing I wish I had been told about university was “allocated study time”, which basically means how long you’ll spend in lectures, seminars and tutorials. For some reason, I had the idea that university timetables were nine to five every day, but the reality was that in my first year, I had around 10 hours of class time each week. I remember seeing all of the gaps in my timetable and having a little freak-out about what I’d do with all of my free time (NOTE: I have no idea why “self-study” didn’t pop into my head at this point, but you’ll be glad to hear I still graduated with a 2:1 degree).
So what did I do with my free time? Well, in my first year, travelling around Asia took up my free time, of course. I also won the Mr Nottingham 2012 competition, which involved a month or so of auditions, rehearsals, and shows, and really gave me a great base to become known by all corners of the student population (there’s more information about this in my previous posts).
In my second year, I settled down a bit and started IGNITE Magazine with one of my best friends, recruiting a team of 10 editors and over 100 contributors to tell their stories and report the news in Malaysia. I remember pulling countless all-nighters with the team, which were all worth it on launch day (especially when the traffic to our site crashed the university server).
In my final year, I started an events agency, Jungle Hype Events, with another of my friends, which blended his experience of “Nottingham UK” style events with my desire to breathe new life into the Malaysia campus. At the same time, I was also Students’ Association President; I presented a weekly YouTube show called “UNMC, Let’s Talk!” produced by the incredible Nottingham TV team, as well as rebranding the Students’ Association, and ending my term by running the most engaged election that the University has seen.
I genuinely don’t believe that the same kind of experiences exist elsewhere! Yes, you could join a university and be the President of the Strategy Consulting Society, OR you could join somewhere like UNMC, and be the founder of this society, essentially building your own organisation, as many students do. If you’re creative, entrepreneurial and like being hands-on, there is no better place for you than UNMC, after all, it allowed me to “live the life I love and love the life I live”, so it should for you too.
3: “Money comes, money goes, but experiences last a lifetime!”
Having seen my UK-based friends struggle through weeks where money was definitely on their minds, and budget versions of cup-a-soup were the only things on the menu, it would be ignorant of me to say that university is a cheap experience… BUT UNMC is definitely cheaper than most.
I was very fortunate when I was awarded my scholarship; it really was a case of speaking to the right people, at the right place, at the right time, and having the grades and experiences to back up my application.
Saying that – you could do it, too. Many scholarships are widely available from UNMC/Nottingham and other international universities, not only for high grades, but also financial hardships, and sometimes extra-curricular activities. Had I failed to receive a scholarship, I would have done what a lot of my friends did and tried to get financial backing.
Many wealthy individuals and corporations offer financial backing for university, usually in return for interning with them or working with them after graduation – I know of Shell, BP and Petronas doing this, but interestingly I haven’t heard of others from outside of the oil industry… There may not be the same kind of “UK student loan” in Malaysia, but if you want to study there, where there’s a will, there is definitely a way.
Aside from university fees, my living costs in Malaysia were honestly minuscule, especially when you consider how “diva” I apparently was. I didn’t cook a single meal during my degree, preferring to eat out every day; I eventually took taxis everywhere rather than taking the (newly upgraded) university buses; I only stayed in international hotels when travelling; flew Business Class; bought books rather than hitting the library, and the list goes on! Yet, I still managed to spend less than RM10,000 (£1,500) each semester… YES, IT WAS THAT CHEAP!
I lived like Beyoncé, but still spent less than what Student Finance would give a new student as a ‘Maintenance Loan’. At UNMC, if you were to live averagely, or even frugally, money will definitely come – and you may find that it stays around a little longer…
I recently contributed towards a Daily Mirror article about study in Malaysia being cheaper than in the UK, which has a lot more information and advice if you’re interested in taking the plunge.
From small class sizes; experiences that I could talk about for hours; to the glowing tan I’m still rocking, I knew exactly what UNMC could give me if I embraced the opportunities, and please believe I’m still reaping the benefits to this day…
Since finishing my degree in Malaysia, I’ve presented “Match of the Day Kick-about” on Children’s BBC (CBBC), interviewed some of the biggest DJs in the world, managed projects for the CEO of Sainsbury’s, and I’m about to start a permanent role at Google HQ, a company which receives over three million applications each year. Mine may be only one story from the campus, but I know for a fact that my fellow UNMC alumni are doing some incredible things, both in Malaysia and all over the world!
Happy 15th birthday UNMC! I can’t wait to see what’s still to come.
If you have memories to share of working or studying at The University of Nottingham in Malaysia, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up with the 15th anniversary celebrations of Malaysia campus, using #UNMC15 on Twitter until 27 September 2015.