A programme for overseas students at a British varsity brought about positive outcomes for Malaysian undergraduates in the fields of business, culture, the environment and volunteerism.
SUMMER sunshine and rolling green fields greeted a group of 61 students from Sunway University as they made their way through the winding roads of the tranquil countryside to Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.
It was a pleasant journey and the reception they were about to receive was just as warm as they stepped foot onto the campus grounds.
Lancaster University Students Union (Lusu) buddies welcomed them to the university which was to be their home for the next three weeks.
The students from Sunway University's many faculties were part of the annual Sunway-Lancaster Summer Programme, introduced in 2011. This year’s batch was lucky as their trip coincided with the British varsity’s 50th anniversary.
The objective of the trip was to learn about life in Lancaster and the UK through exposure in the fields of business, government, volunteerism, academics and culture.
They also learnt about the accomplishments of Lancaster University in achieving a reputation as a world class centre of excellence in teaching and research.
On top of that, they quickly established an international network of friends as participants came from China, Pakistan, India, Ghana and Palestine.
From day one, the participants were placed at different colleges on campus where they would stay for the three-week duration. Being selected and sent away to their respective colleges, they mused how it was almost reminiscent of the Sorting Hat Ceremony in the Harry Potter series.
Lancaster University is one of the few leading UK universities to operate a college structure. All students and staff become a part of one of nine colleges - Bowland, Cartmel, County, Furness, Fylde, Graduate, Grizedale, Lonsdale and Pendle.
Each has its own history and tradition where the focus is on creating an environment for students to be involved in activities. Business Management student Tang Jing Yee, 20, said she enjoyed pottering at the university’s edible garden. It was an activity planned for them on Community Action Day.
Although she and her fellow participants had to toil under the scorching sun to weed and water the plants, she found the air clean and refreshing.
Jing Yee was thankful that she was away from home during the period especially after hearing about the haze situation.
Nurul Nadiah Mohd Iskandar was keen to finish the patch she was weeding despite the fact that she was fasting.
"It's a little difficult considering the heat and the extra hours I have to fast in the UK, but I am determined," she said.
Yap Pei Yi, 20, was equally appreciative of the clear skies and crisp air, saying it was a blessing to be away from the pollution that was then plaguing the Klang Valley.
It wasn't just the fresh air that overwhelmed them but also the clean surroundings of a local farm they had visited. Jing Yee was pleasantly surprised at the orderliness in the farm.
“They are really particular about hygiene and in preserving the environment,” said Jing Yee, adding that the students also had a taste of sheep's cheese for the first time.
"They taught us everything there is to know about sheep, such as their life cycle, diet, the milking process and characteristics of different sheep breeds,” she shared. “For example, did you know that the sheep at Laund Farm are milked once a day at dawn, after which the milk is sold to a local dairy production factory to be processed further?” she said.
Pei Yi, who was at Gazegill Organic Farm, was excited.
“I enjoyed the scenery and saw black and white cows which we often drew and coloured when we were young!” she exclaimed.
She also said a certain part of the vast farmland consisted of ancient Roman roads that stretched and linked between the different parcels of land.
“Some ancient Roman artifacts have been found there ,” she added.
“I gained more knowledge about organic farming and the dairy industry and learnt to appreciate both Mother Nature’s beautiful gifts and the efforts that farmers put in to give us the best quality products.”
Spirits ran high as everyone's competitive streak came to the fore on College Cup Day with football and netball games being played on the field, while quizzes were held indoors.
“College Cup Day was fun and exhilarating. The quizzes were brain-teasing and mind-boggling as it had lots of questions based on the English Culture which we were unfamiliar with.
“We didn’t win either of the games but it was fun playing with friends from different countries,” said Pei Yi.
Accounting and Finance student Hee Jia Wern, 21, never played netball before but proudly declared that her team managed to score four goals during the match.
“We were so involved in the activities, not just to gain points for our respective teams but to participate with people from different countries which brought us closer together,” she said.
To further strengthen ties, the university also organised a Karaoke Night at the bar in County College with the students joining in the fun and merriment that night.
Jing Yee said the group from Sunway enjoyed the karaoke session as it was “a favourite Asian past time".
“Although we've known each other for a short while, we still had fun."
The participants were kept busy on other evenings as well.
They tried their hand at traditional British pub games like darts, dominoes and pool, at the college pubs located around campus.
Some of them even learnt basic African dance moves.
The artistically inclined sharpened their painting and drawing skills at the art classes.
Apart from the games and activities, participants had to take part in the Academic Day event. Students were assigned to attend talks based on their respective courses.
Jing Yee said the entrepreneur talk she attended at the university's Management School, currently ranked fifth in the UK, taught them that profit should not be the priority. "Society's well-being should also be considered," she shared.
“For Industry Day, our college visited the Dukes Theatre, located in Lancaster, where we learnt how they handled event planning, marketing and customer service management.
“We then had to come up with ideas for Business Day where we were challenged to come up with a business idea,” said Pei Yi.
The professional live theatre also hosts outside productions and art festivals.
“There was also the talent show on Showcase In A Day where I was part of the decorations team,” added Pei Yi.
The job involved decorating the stage so as to create a backdrop that was suitable for the performers that night.
To get a taste of the local political scene, participants spent a day dubbed Politics in Action and Networking.
The networking skills they picked up at a workshop that day were put to the test when they were taken to the prestigious Millbank Tower in London for a political event.
Participants had to engage with speakers during a series of talks on sustainability followed by dinner with Lancaster University alumni.
Participants also had to take part in community work.
The volunteer work they carried out at Lancaster as part of the Community Action day, could also be transferred back home to fulfil their three credit hours for the subject on Community Engagement. It is a requirement at Sunway University.
The participants were free to explore the nearby sites together with the Lusu team or spend time with them on campus.
“We would lay on the grass and talk about random things with our Lusu buddies and participants from other countries,” said Caleo Tay Kiang Kong, 21.
He added that the buddies were friendly and more than willing to help those who faced problems.
Week two started with the participants exploring different towns around Lancaster such as Manchester city for shopping and cafe-hopping and Blackpool for its famous Pleasure Beach theme park and beaches.
They also explored the Lake District, a popular British tourist spot with its serene lakes, quaint towns and villages and its signature gingerbread.
Pei Yi said participants were taken around Lancashire to visit other towns in the county such as Clitheroe with its Gothic architecture.
“Many shops here are pet-friendly and allow dogs into cafes and stores,” said the animal lover.
Accounting and Finance student Yvonne Beh Qiu Lum, 20, was impresed with the imposing structures and buildings around Lancaster.
It was something she had seen previously in movies with its brick masonry and vine-covered walls - a sharp contrast to Lancaster University’s modern architecture.
British "grub" did not appeal to all the participants, a fact Jing Yee can attest to, since she missed Malaysian fare soon after she landed.
Accounting and Finance student Yeo Zhi Yann, 19, was missing her mother's cooking after just three days, while Yvonne who initially enjoyed English food, soon started craving for nasi lemak.
Lancaster University’s 50th anniversary celebration is based on the theme Making A Difference, said its vice-chancellor Prof Mark Smith.
He said that research and innovation carried out by universities should have an impact on people's lives and society which is reflected in the varsity's anniversary theme.
“We want to be a globally significant university,” said Prof Smith, adding that the varsity should be looked upon by the international community because of its academic work, research and ideas.
“We want our work to be cited by other academics and researchers as that brings about further discussion and even solutions ... this does enhance our ranking and reputation," he said.
Starting out with just 300 new students in 1964, the varsity now boasts an enrolment of 12,000 students at its main Campus.
The environment-conscious university even has its own wind turbine that produces 15% of the campus’ energy requirement.
The varsity is currently ranked 10th out of more than a hundred UK universities by the Guardian University Guide.