Life@UM – Narissa Hakim

Briefly introduce yourself (your name, current uni and course, scholarship if it applies to you etc)
Hi there! I hope you’re doing well and keeping safe, wherever you are, at whatever time you’re reading this. Allow me to introduce myself- I’m Narissa, your typical 21 year old Malaysian: a passionate foodie who is still figuring life out, one day at a time. I just started my third year of medical school at University of Malaya (UM), and I am under JPA’s Program Ijazah Dalam Negara (PIDN) scholarship, which I applied for using my first year degree results. However, because of the COVID-19 situation, my clinical years (the final three years of my degree in which I am supposed to have hands-on learning at the hospital) has been a series of video calls and pre-recorded lectures. Hopefully things get better soon, and I hope you’re hanging in there too!

What made you choose to study at your current uni?
University of Malaya. UM. Where do I start? The oldest university in Malaysia, with a huge campus situated in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, 12 residential colleges for students to stay in, a beautiful lake, stadium, swimming pool, fields, courts and filled with many activities to do. Alright. I want to be as honest as possible with you, so let me admit that throughout high school, I didn’t even know UM existed. You must be thinking, “Wait, what? Does this girl live under a rock??” But it’s true, and there are possibly many others like me who are not well introduced to local universities. Throughout my high school experience, I was taught to “aim high, reach for the stars”, and to many of my high school teachers that meant getting a scholarship and studying abroad- Oxford, Imperial, Harvard, MIT, these were the universities they told me about. Now, it is without a doubt that these are very prestigious universities, and every student should strive to get the best education, however we must not forget that there are many reputable universities locally too! At one point, I was willing to give up medicine just to study abroad, although I don’t think I would’ve been happy studying a course I didn’t enjoy.

I first found out about UM and their medical program from a relative, she and her husband had completed their Bachelor in Medicine and Bachelor in Surgery (MBBS) degree there, so she told me all about the program. UM’s medical program is a five year program which includes two years of preclinical studies (where you’d learn all the theory aspects of medicine) and three years of clinical studies (where you’d be able to go to the hospital and apply what you’ve learned). What made me even more interested in UM’s medical program is that during those two preclinical years, each week you’d have a ‘clinical day’, which is simply one day of the week where you get to go to the hospital and have hands-on learning with the doctors and patients there. This way you’d be able to practice basic clinical skills even before you enter your clinical years! That was it- later that evening I went online to do some research and had a long, thorough discussion with my parents- I wanted to get into UM’s medical program. (Though I did apply to other universities as a plan B, always have a backup plan kids!

UM from up above. (we weren’t exactly supposed to be up here. so shh..)
The famous ‘Tasik UM’ on a Friday evening.
One of the may beautiful UM skies. (this was taken at the bus parking area)

What are you involved in at your uni (for eg extra-curriculars)?
Before I entered medical school, I was told that I would have to sacrifice a lot of time spent on hobbies in exchange for studying because of the packed schedule and workload. I thought I would have to succumb to the bland, boring medical student life that everyone warned me about- Not. At. All. From the start of orientation week to the end of my second year, life in UM has been anything but boring. Each month you would have a different event- competitions, concerts, performances- it kept me busy and content, knowing I was still able to enjoy my hobbies in undergraduate life. One of the first events I joined during my first year was Pentas Terbuka, it is part of UM’s convocation festival and is a competition comprising of three categories; performance poetry, dance and college cheers. I was in charge of the dance performance, and because Avicenna college is one of the smaller colleges, we didn’t have much to spend, so my friend and I (shoutout to Sahirah, love you sis) spent many late nights in the dance studio choreographing the performance (with the help of Youtube of course). There were about 20 of us, and although it was hard trying to teach 20 people choreography in a very, very small dance studio, we ended up having so much fun. We managed to get second place out of the 12 colleges- a big achievement for us underdogs.

Then came the big ones- SUKMUM and FESENI. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain each abbreviation as we go along). First, SUKMUM (Sukan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya)- sports! It is UM’s biggest annual sports event, where all 12 residential colleges send their best athletes to compete in various different sports; tennis, swimming, hockey, rugby, netball (my personal favourite) and so many others too! Funnily enough, I used to hate netball in high school- more so the training than the actual sport. The coaches in high school expected you to already know how to play (when I didn’t even know the rules!) and they already had a team that represented the school, so netball practices were more focused on the school team- which is understandable, however, there was no room for me to learn. So I thought it would be the same in university, I had NO interest in joining. But then one evening, a good friend of mine (yes Sahirah again, I really owe her one) dragged me down to the netball court for tryouts- she had spent the whole afternoon explaining the rules to me, she even drew a mini netball court to explain what positions there were and their roles in the game. I was lucky, because when I came down to the netball court that evening, I met the most amazing group of girls, all of whom were willing to teach me the sport from A to Z. So it began- we trained almost every evening up until the last few days before our SUKMUM tournament, and we ended up placing third out of the 12 colleges! I fell in love with the sport, all thanks to the group of girls that took the time to teach me.

Next up, FESENI. Festival Seni Universiti Malaya, a festival for performing arts! I’ve been dancing since the age of ten, so I was ecstatic when I was chosen to be part of the creative dance team to represent my college during my first year. Training was exhausting, we had practices every evening and night, but it was all worth it- we got second place! No one expected it- even we didn’t expect it! Avicenna college was considered to be one of the least active colleges out of all 12 colleges (let me remind you that the college is filled with mostly medical, nursing, biomedical and architectural students, most of which you’d expect to be very kiasu) but that year was different, 2019 was different for Avicenna college, and I was glad to be a part of it all.


How was your experience studying at the uni?
It was tough at first, balancing studies and extracurricular activities. My schedule was packed- back to back classes from 8am-5pm, then in the evening and after dinner it would be either netball training or dance practice. I was exhausted, my body ached, but I loved it. I was so glad to be able to enjoy my hobbies, all while pursuing my dream course. I’m not going to lie, there were many times I broke down, many times I couldn’t get a grip on the fast paced life I was living. I was always rushing, always trying to catch up. While other people studied, I was down at the netball court, or in the studio- there were times when I felt I was falling behind. But my friends, my wonderful batchmates, they pulled me through it all. I honestly wouldn’t have survived the first two years of med school without them. They called me every morning before class to make sure I was awake. They studied with me, shared their books, shared their notes. We would practice our physical examinations together before exams, and we’d go almost everywhere together- the faculty, library, cafe- they were my motivation. Every time I felt like giving up, they were the ones who picked me up and pushed me to keep going. I am forever thankful for them. I’ve made friends for life here in UM.

At the first UM sign during our first year.

What do you think is so great about your uni that made your university experience awesome?
I think the most valuable thing about my life in UM is the lessons I’ve learnt. I’ve had to adjust to everything- new friends, new schedule, new way of studying. I learned how to prioritise what’s right and I definitely learned how to manage my time better. Besides that, I also learned not to be afraid to try new things, because it is never too late to learn something new. I grew up a lot the past two years, I became more confident, and more goal-oriented. But the most important lesson I learned in the past two years at UM, is the value of friendship. It may sound corny, or even typical, but it’s true; when you are surrounded by the right people, people with good values, and kind hearts, you truly become a better version of yourself.

How to apply to your uni? Any tips?
Applying to UM depends on the course you are interested in, each course has its own set of entry requirements, but all local students must pass their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia with at least a grade C for Bahasa Malaysia and pass History in order to apply for any course in UM. As for UM’s medical program, local students are required to pass their foundation, matriculation or STPM with at least a 3.80 CGPA. However, I do advise you to aim higher than a 3.80 CGPA, as each year there are more and more students applying to UM’s medical program- this means more competition for the limited slots. (For more specific information regarding UM’s entry requirements, do visit their website, I’ll insert a link down below). After successfully applying to the program, you will be called for an interview- I suggest you prepare well by reading up on current issues, as most of the interviewers would ask for your opinion about those issues. Don’t worry, most of the time there is no right or wrong answer, they just want to see how you think and how well you articulate your ideas. But most importantly, as cliché as it sounds; just be yourself.

I hope that by the time you’ve reached this last paragraph, what I’ve written above would’ve been helpful to you in one way or another. I guess this is goodbye for now- stay safe and be kind to one another. ♥ UM entry requirements page:

Narissa Hakim Azlan is a third year student at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She is studying Medicine (MBBS) and will be graduating in 2023. She is also a plant mommy working on her little home garden (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧


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