SABAH is one of the most culturally diverse lands in the world, with 42 official ethnic groups that stem from over 200 sub-ethnic groups – each with its own language or dialect, beliefs and cultural observances.
With such distinctive dialects in Sabah alone, speaking in Bahasa Malaysia was a bit awkward at first when Annathalia Sandy Anthony went to Utropolis Glenmarie in Shah Alam to study.
Born Kadazan, Annathalia Sandy grew up in the Putatan District, a seaside town on the west coast of Sabah.
"We do speak Bahasa Malaysia in Putatan, but the way we say some words – our accent and slang – is strange for other Malaysians," she recalled.
Thanks to her friends on campus, Annathalia Sandy quickly picked up a local accent and made minor adjustments to her intonations for easier communication.
During her SPM, she bagged 10 As and that gave her the boon of a full scholarship from the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme.
Now at 19 years of age, Annathalia Sandy is into the second year of her Cambridge A-Level at UOW Malaysia KDU where she took up Law, Economics and Mathematics subjects.
The Cambridge A-Levels is an international external examination which gives students credentials for entry into almost any university in the world.
Peninsular Malaysia is not a foreign land for Annathalia Sandy since she does travel for the holidays – leaving her family and staying in a campus hostel.
"I am so close to my housemates, my course mates and other Petronas scholars on my campus now.
"When people know I am from Sabah, they ask me so many questions about the state and I really love it.
"I hope all Malaysians will visit Sabah and see how we are different, yet the same," she said.
But Annathalia Sandy has yet to take in the other attractions and points of interest in Malaysia such as Penang, Melaka, Port Dickson or Cameron Highlands on the peninsula. Every time she gets a semester break, it’s back to Penampang for her.
"I think it is natural to miss home and I don't think my mother will let me spend my holidays somewhere else," she laughed.
Every homecoming trip, the first gastronomic delight she must have is Putatan's tomyam from a specific restaurant in the town.
"I tried local tomyam many times and they are good. But there is something special about tomyam in my town. I don't know how to describe it. It's just cooked so much better there," she said.
That said, she dearly misses dishes that can only be found in her hometown – penjaram and hinompuka, fried fish with bambangan and ambuyat with fish soup.
This Malaysia Day, Annathalia Sandy said she felt her love for her country more strongly when she reflected on our vast diversity of cultures contained in one nation.
"It's a time when I realise that our differences make us closer," she said.
Diversity among people is a value that is embraced and celebrated at UOW Malaysia KDU, said its Student and Alumni Centre senior manager Mitchell Liong.
"We take it even in the global sense because our student body comprises 43 nationalities with over 450 international students" he added.
Liong said from interactions with international students at UOW Malaysia KDU, he discovered that the global perception of the nation was that it was one that welcomed people regardless of race, creed or belief.
"It gives us pride that we are seen this way.
"Historically, the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea were the focal points of the world's trading route for centuries and people from around the world came here to meet and trade.
"That is amazingly still happening even today for us as educators," he said.
Liong said studying on a campus with a global population of diverse cultures was crucial for university students to develop a borderless perspective.
"To borrow a cliché, we don't want our students to be 'frogs in a well'.
"While they learn, we want them to feel how large the world is and let global issues paint the insights they get as they learn," Liong added.
For more information on the global diversity of learning at UOW Malaysia KDU in Selangor or Penang, visit www.uowmkdu.edu.my.