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Saturday, 21 November 2009


I left the comfort of home in 2006 for college, thinking I've finally achieved (at least a certain degree of) independence.

Fast forward the tape by three years, and I quickly realised how wrong I was.

In September, I boarded the plane alone, to fly to a whole new country halfway across the globe, where I was going to spend 9 months with a predefined (and rather tight) budget.

Now, if that doesn't qualify as being independent, what does?

Being brought up by extremely bright (though occasionally slow) parents, I've been trained to be, well, a little paranoid.

I thought I could do it easily, but it was much harder. After waving goodbye to my family (minus one of my sisters), I could literally feel my heart rate go up by the second.

"What if I missed the plane?"

"Oh, shut up, that won't happen. Plus, you're still in Malaysia. Give mum a call and you'll be fine," a second voice inside my head said.

"OK, what if I'm denied entry to UK?"

"You won't! You have a valid student's visa, sufficient cash, health check reports, X-ray, official letters from the University..."

"What if the plane crashes?"

It was then that I knew I was being irrationally paranoid. And I had never had such little faith in Engineers before.

But seriously, in a whole new country, you have to learn to be independent to survive, which is actually quite a bit harder than it sounds.

1. There's no one you can turn to

You're in a new country with few (if any) familiar faces around you. If you have certain troubles, chances are they can't help much. When you had trouble in the past, all you had to do was to yell for mum, but that doesn't happen here. You have to solve it by your own.

Sure, making your own decisions may sound like fun at first, but there's also the saying "with great power comes great responsibilities".

Luckily I have friends here, both from Malaysia and locals. However little they can do to help solve my problems, it is always reassuring to know that I am not alone. Plus, the locals are really friendly, making things quite a bit easier.

2. How to go where?

Being a Klangite, I'm used to having lousy public transport system. You have to wait for ages before a rickety, old bus full of people pull up to the bus stop. There are no light rail transit options in Klang. The taxis are rusty, driven by dodgy drivers and they're nowhere in sight.

My solution? Mum. All I had to do was to make sure I arrange to travel at times convenient for her.

When you're in a new country without your personal driver, however, you have to learn to adapt. Thank goodness -- public transport in UK is fantastic (although a tad expensive). And there's always Google Maps. Input your Starting and Ending Points, and you'll get all the instructions you need, including directions, bus numbers and durations.

Kinda makes you think how our parents managed it without the internet, huh?

3. The tight pocket!

Earning in Ringgit and spending in Pounds is definitely hard -- everything is several times as expensive! To give you an idea, a typical take-out meal costs £4 (the GBP-MYR exchange rate can be found here). Us students are not financially independent yet and we have to be extra careful while spending.

Just to let you know, after failing to secure a part-time job, I now prepare nearly all of my meals by my own. That is, I buy, I clean, I cook, I eat, I wash -- each meal costs less than £1 this way. Yes, I occasionally wake up 6.15am in the morning to prepare not breakfast, but lunch, to pack to school. By the way, my sister is so not going to believe this -- she used to drag me out of bed daily. But the point is, who cares if they don't taste as good (actually my cooking isn't that bad!), who cares if they're a little cold, as long as they're cheap, healthy and filling, they're good enough for me.

Judging by the many fantastic (or what I hope to be fantastic) photos posted here at my blog. you wouldn't have known how much I've been through since touching down in UK. Nevertheless, I don't regret signing up for the exchange programme. I have never felt more grown up before in my entire life, and I have learnt so many of life's important lessons within my first two months in UK.

Three years later (2012)...

I left the comfort of home in 2009 for UK, thinking I've finally achieved (at least a certain degree of) independence.

Fast forward the tape by three years, and I quickly realised how wrong I was.

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