LIVING near paddy fields and energetic livestock is something Diana Raj has learned to accept while she pursues her medical degree at the University of Padjadjaran (Upad) in Bandung, Indonesia.
“I got a shock when I first arrived here, I'm beginning to like the peaceful and serene surroundings; it's very village-like,” she says, while chickens squawk in the background during our telephone interview.
Born in Petaling Jaya, the 23-year-old city girl arrived in Bandung in 2001. It is the provincial capital of West Java and Indonesia's third largest city.
Diana had applied for a place at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak to do Medicine after Form Six. Instead, she was offered environmental science at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
“I was set on becoming a doctor, so the only other alternative was to go to a private university. Indonesia was the cheapest option,” adds the eldest of three siblings.
Tuition fees are about RM100,000 for the six-year course while the cost of living adds up to about RM300 a month. “That includes food, accommodation, electricity, water and photocopying!” she exclaims.
Diana rents a three-bedroom house near her campus with two fellow college-mates for RM3,000 a year. “We even have a maid who cleans and cooks for us for RM60 a month,” she adds.
It may sound luxurious but Diana says that food in Bandung is not suitable for Malaysians. “It is really sweet; sugar is not spared even in spicy dishes.”
“We learn about a lot of tropical diseases here, which is very relevant to those of us intending to work in Malaysia, while my friends studying in Britain and Australia are learning about frost bite!”
She has found the best cure for her homesickness. “I simply jump on a plane and head straight home!
“It used to cost RM450 for a roundtrip, but thanks to AirAsia, it's only RM150 now,” says Diana who returns to Malaysia at least five times a year.
Fitting in is not a problem thanks to the many Malaysians currently studying there. “About 20 of the 300 students in my batch are Malaysian,” she says.
While the textbooks are in English, each student still undergoes a six-month Indonesian language course before the actual medical programme commences.
“The locals in Bandung speak Sundanese although you can still get by with Bahasa Malaysia as it sounds quite similar,” she adds.
Whenever there is news of an earthquake, forest fire or volcanic eruption, Diana's parents will call her to assure themselves that she is alright.
But luckily for her, she has not experienced any natural disasters first-hand. Bandung is peaceful too. She has yet to witness any civil disturbances.
In fact, Indonesia is a “lovely country” says Diana. “Some parts are so beautiful; I have visited the Chandi Borubudur in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Mid Jawa which is near the beach. I'm planning to go to Bali only after my graduation.
As a Catholic, Diana says she is thankful for having the freedom to practise her religion. “There is a small chapel which is only 10 minutes from my house and the Catholic Society at Upad is very active.”
Mara-sponsored Nurul Ayuni Muhamad is looking forward to pursuing her medical degree at University Airlangga, Surabaya.
“Indonesia is our next door neighbour which means I am able to come home often,” says the 19-year-old from Kelantan.
Srie Pathie Krishnan, 22, says his one year experience in Indonesia doing the pre-med programme was truly “enlightening.”
“I was moved by the very friendly people and their exciting cultures,” says the Perak-born Srie who will begin his medical degree this month.
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