25,000 Students, 2 Americans! – Studying in Southeast Asia (Part 1)
Have you ever dreamed of eating your heart out at a night market where they serve unique, exotic foods only local to that region? Wondered what it would feel like to lay out on some of the worlds softest, whitest sand while you soak up the sun? Or how it would feel to reach one of the most magnificent viewpoints you have ever laid your eyes on?
These dreams became our reality for nearly five months when Carter and I (Lauren) set out on an adventure that would change us forever. All of these dreams are possible within the wonders of Southeast Asia.
Although I had always dreamed of studying abroad one day, Carter never really put much thought into it. He didn’t have the desire to live in another country for an extended period of time. Lucky for us, that completely changed in December 2016 as our first semester of sophomore year was coming to an end.
Our home University is small (about 4,200 undergraduate students) and sort of isolated in the mountains so everyone knows everyone. We felt tired and bored of this routine and familiarity that college was providing us with. Together we decided it was time for something new and exciting. It was time for us to travel somewhere unique.
Our first thought was “Let’s go to Europe, everyone goes there!” but that’s the thing, EVERYONE seems to go there, and we were looking for something different. This led us to Southeast Asia.
Beautiful scenery, exotic new foods, cheap cost of living, who wouldn’t want to study here?
After working with our University, we ultimately chose to take our studies to Universiti Putra Malaysia. Not only was the program extremely affordable ($2,880 USD!), our study abroad provider, Asia Exchange, was extremely helpful and reliable. They always responded in a timely manner even with the time difference (they are located in Finland). So, thank you Asia Exchange for our great semester and turning us into a travel couple!
We left August 2017 and spent over 26 hours flying from Boston, MA to Kuala Lumpur with two stops in Washington D.C. and Tokyo. This wasn’t the first time out of the country for either of us. Carter has travelled a bit in Europe and both of us have vacationed in the Caribbean with our families.
This adventure to Asia was a first for both of us and this trip also happened to be the first time we have ever travelled together!
We travelled with All Nippon Airways (ANA) which we highly recommend. We booked our plane tickets about five months in advance and we each got round-trip airfare for $600 USD (so cheap!). The plane was roomy and comfortable and to our surprise the food didn’t suck!
As we were on the plane, I couldn’t help but feel nervous about where we were actually headed. I didn’t know anyone who had studied in Asia, all I knew was what I saw on social media and the internet. Putting my nerves aside however I was excited to be uncomfortable.
When we finally landed in Kuala Lumpur, it was just after midnight. Immigration was surprisingly a breeze. We arrived on a Single Entry Visa that we obtained in our home country one week before our arrival (I could honestly write five pages just on the student visa process because it was LONG and wicked complicated but I will save that for another time).
Once we were through immigration and customs we hopped in a taxi to bring us to our hotel for the night. We highly recommend either setting a firm price with the taxi driver before leaving, making sure the driver turns on the meter, or just booking a GrabCar. Taxi drivers inflate their prices like crazy at the airport and although we didn’t experience this problem we’ve read that they try to trick tourists into paying more money by “forgetting” to turn on the meter. Sometimes they’ll even say it’s broken! Don’t be fooled by this.
The next morning we set off to visit our new Uni in Serdang. Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has over 25,000 students and the main campus is over 3,000 acres! Quite a change from our tiny home Uni.
Over 25,000 students and we were the only 2 Americans!
Once settled in, we attended a 2 day orientation plus a medical exam that had to be completed within a time constraint. However, when we got to campus for orientation WE HAD THE WRONG LOCATION!
The Uni changed the location of orientation last minute without even notifying us. We ran aimlessly around campus looking for someone to help us find out where to go. It seemed no one knew or wanted to help us. (We were off to a great start!)
Eventually, we found an exchange student from Europe that was also headed to orientation. She didn’t know where to go either!
We ended up missing the first hour of orientation while “exploring” UPM’s massive campus. When we finally arrived, not only were we covered in sweat, but our feet were covered in blisters.. but hey at least we found it!
We knew we needed a medical exam completed in order to be granted a student visa, however, just like orientation we were left in the dark. The entire week had almost gone by before we found out the exam is conducted on campus.
Now this was not something that only took an hour or so. It took us two FULL days to complete this process (arriving at 8:00 a.m. and not leaving till 5:00 p.m).
You will need to be extremely patient as there are around 300 other exchange students trying to go through the same process. The medical exam consisted of a physical, eye test, chest x-ray, and a blood test. Once completed you will receive your student visa in a matter of a few days!
After all visa requirements were met it was time for us to find an apartment for the semester. We looked at online listings and quickly found that most listings aren’t marketed on the internet. We spent the weekend booking GrabCars to find housing options.
Eventually we stumbled across the perfect place, Univ360. Although this was a condo complex, we were able to arrange a short-term rental with one of the condo owners.
Univ360 is only a seven minute drive to campus and less than 15 minutes to two different malls. Our apartment was furnished and BEAUTIFUL! It costed us approximately 1755 RM or $430 USD per month (including utilities). The building had a pool, gym, and multiple gardens. It turns out many other international students rented units here as well.
Once the visa and housing situation were taken care of, it was finally time to get out and explore Malaysia and the surrounding countries!