Hi everyone! Let me introduce myself – I’m Hani, a 1st-year student studying Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Malaysia. Now, you might be thinking “What is an engineering student doing at Heriot-Watt?”, and well to be quite frank, it was not my intention to end up here either. Upon completing my A-levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar, I had applied to several UK universities more commonly known for my particular course, such as The University of Manchester, Sheffield and a few others. However, the uncertainty of my final A-level results managed to get the better of me and therefore made the opportunity to continue my studies abroad slip right out of my hands.
Before I felt any form of regret for myself, I realised that there is still a chance to study overseas through the Malaysian based UK universities campus. The inter-campus transfers exist in universities with multiple branches across the world. With the disruptions in learning due to Covid-19, it made sense to complete one or two years in Malaysia before heading out to the UK for my final few years. Being a KL based girl, the two options I had to choose from included Heriot-Watt University and The University of Nottingham, both of which are good reputable universities for engineering. Still, in terms of the league tables, I think it is safe to say that Nottingham has the upper hand. So I took it upon myself to visit their campus located in Semenyih, spoke to an admissions staff member regarding the course I am interested in pursuing, and my A-level situation. After his explanation on what the university had to offer, including the campus facilities, only then I realised I would be living on campus. Therefore the thought of having to board again after being in a boarding school for 11 years, made it easier to choose between the two universities. Heriot-Watt, a city university gifted a new experience for me: one where I would be providing for myself and practice what the so-called ‘university-life’ is. That being said, Heriot-Watt offers us, undergraduate students, to transfer to their other campus in Dubai and Edinburgh with much flexibility depending on our choice entirely and of course, our grades. For instance, during my four-year course, I could opt to study at the Malaysia campus for a year and spend the following 3 years in Edinburgh, or transfer to Dubai and Edinburgh in my 2nd and 3rd year with my final year in Malaysia.
So far, my experience at Heriot-Watt has been nothing but pleasant, to say the least. I joined in September of 2020, and since then, I have completed my first semester and currently on my second. At the beginning of the academic year, we were given a choice to attend in-person classes or be fully online. Of course, I opted the first option with no contemplation because it was the best way to make new friends, and indeed I was correct. Heriot-Watt newly implemented the idea of Responsive Blended Learning (RBL). It was a comfortable mix of both on-campus lectures and virtual tutorials for those who opted for in-person classes to reduce the number of students present on campus at one time. In other words, I only went to campus on Mondays to Wednesdays for physical classes. The remaining days consisted of entirely online conducted classes, primarily my MPU courses that are compulsory for me to take such as Bahasa Melayu (since I did not take SPM!).
The structure of RBL relies heavily on the lecturers from the other Heriot-Watt campuses such as Edinburgh and Dubai. In my case last semester, every Monday evening would be a dedicated slot for Chemical Thermodynamics students hosted by the global course leader of that particular subject. It is meant for students to clear up any doubts and ultimately to stay connected with one another. In terms of accommodation, I did rent a university-partnered apartment nearby campus in which offered bus transportation to and from daily. This made travelling to university much less of a hassle and is truly the highlight of my university experience, just kidding! After roughly a month or so, our university’s Provost announced that all students would be studying remotely from home. With all that, the closest I ever got to be a part of the Heriot-Watt’s extracurriculars was signing up to be in the Netball team. Besides that, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia Student Association has been very proactive during the transition to fully online studies, having conducted many recruitment drives targeting the fresh undergraduates to join societies. I would be lying if I said I was not interested, but there is still plenty of time to join later.
If there is one tip I could give to 1st-year students, it would be to enter with an open mind. Although it is important to note that the jump from A-levels to university is relatively big, a positive mindset can ease the transition. Do remember to have fun, and be yourself. Being a 1st-year student can be daunting at times, and honestly, I still feel like it is, but once you have your tiny circle of friends, believe me, everything will turn out just fine. There is no need to have a large group of friends as soon as you enter university, but in the rare case that it does happen, you are considered very lucky. If not, that is absolutely normal, and all things take time. My lecturers made an effort to connect the new students, and fortunately, it was a small class, so it did not take long for all of us to introduce ourselves to one another. Heriot-Watt also offers a foundation programme, whereby a good proportion of my classes are filled with students who previously completed their foundation and is now progressing to 1st year. I must say this made it more difficult to mingle around since those from foundation had their respective groups, but I still managed to talk to a few non-foundation students, and from there, we somehow sort of joined forces.
These last few months have definitely been a learning curve for me, a journey I will continue to embrace and appreciate the support from the Heriot-Watt Community. The staff and students have been a solid support system, especially during these challenging times, and I have learnt that it is okay not to be okay. It is all part of the process, we are all here for each other, and we will get through it together.
I think that pretty much sums up my university experience so far, and hopefully, things go back to normal before we know it. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe. Take care.
Hani Zahid is currently pursuing Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia and is looking to transfer to the UK campus for the remaining 3 years of her course . A strong and inspiring leader on and off the netball court.