July 14, 2015, by Emma Lowry

“Emerging from jungle to a carbon copy of University Park felt quite surreal”: an alum’s Malaysia moments

David Marsden, 29, was among the first six students on the BA Management with East Asia Studies at The University of Nottingham. He spent his second year at the Malaysia campus in Semenyih, in 2005, which was the year it opened its doors for the first time. Now working in Human Resources for Lloyds Bank’s Capital Markets business in London, David shares some reflections on his study abroad experience.

Why did you want to go to Malaysia for a year abroad? 

I was excited to go and immerse myself in another culture for a year. I’d been to South East Asia before, but never Malaysia; it was somewhere I’d really wanted to visit long before my year abroad took place.

Did your year at The University of Malaysia Campus (UNMC) exceed expectation?

On so many levels! The whole experience was nothing short of fantastic and 10 years later I still reference this part of my entire university experience most of all. Meeting so many people from all over the world taught me so much more about different cultures, something I feel has been an advantage to me ever since.

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Student Association team 05/06, Trent Building balcony, Semenyih campus: l-r – Eric Chua – Secretary , David Humphreys – IT Officer, David Marsden Ents Officer, Yao Jung Chong – Finance Officer, Matt Boardman – Vice President, Osama Rabanni – Societies Officer, Michael Gardner (unknown), Catherine Birkbeck – Welfare Officer, Gajen Kumar – President, Gerard SA Manager and Njororge Githu – Sports Officer.

What was campus life like in 2005?

I remember being driven through dense jungle before suddenly emerging at a carbon copy of University Park campus, which felt quite surreal. It was very quiet initially, as we arrived before any other students.

The campus had only just moved from offices in Kuala Lumpur so the finishing touches were still being made in Semenyih. When I was first shown to my accommodation, the room was pretty bare but within minutes porters appeared with all the furniture and before I knew it I had a home for the rest of the year.

With only 1,500 students in total in 2005, including just 12 UK students, we were a close-knit group, which made for a great atmosphere on campus. It was a really international crowd, the Student Association (the SU-equivalent), for example, had Malaysian and British representation and a president from Sri Lanka.

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On a trip to Genting Highlands theme park in the Titiwangsa Mountains (l-r Keith Hobson, Lay Teng Tan, Joey Phang, Tommy Lee Kay Tat, Nini Tan, Ronald Kam, Felix Tan and David Marsden).

In the intervening years, I have been back on a number of occasions and the campus has continued to evolve and grow in size each time. Despite this, some of the original fixtures and fittings, and indeed people, are still there which makes it a great place to go back home to.

What extracurricular student activities did you get involved in? 

With a Student Association (S.A.) only in its infancy in 2005, I was among a group of UK students who realised there was scope to bring elements of the Nottingham-style of student entertainment to UNMC.

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David Marsden (back row, far right) with fellow UNMC students on the bus for the first night out in Kuala Lumpur.

I joined the SA committee as Ents Officer that year, responsible for coordinating events and nights out akin to the UK experience. My role was to create opportunities to bring the students together and for everyone to go out and have fun (in line with the local cultures and customs of course!).

My biggest achievement was establishing the annual dinner, an equivalent to the Nottingham summer ball but with an international twist – ‘black tie’ meets Malaysian cultural dress.

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BA Management with East Asia Studies students, Catherine Birkbeck and David Marsden, at the UNMC inaugural dinner in 2006

As this was the inaugural dinner, we didn’t think the uptake would be huge, but demand was so high we ended up taking over the largest ballroom in Kuala Lumpur’s biggest hotel, the Mandarin Oriental.

Running an event for 1,000 people like that was tough, but it taught me a lot, and seeing the enjoyment on everyone’s faces that evening was worth it.

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Professor Brian Atkin – then-Pro-Vice Chancellor at UNMC speaks during the first annual dinner

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Entertainment for the dinner – one of the students put on a cultural dance.

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MC for the night, Malaysian Celebrity Rudy from Hitz.FM

What was the best thing about being at UNMC?

I formed life-long friendships with both the staff and students who were there in those days and have been back many times.

I’m now lucky enough to have a core group of friends in Malaysia, including my former Nottingham lecturers, who I can meet for dinner as soon as I’m off the plane. It’s like we’ve never been apart.

Some of my strongest connections were with Malaysian students especially those who came to the UK on the same mobility programme in following years.

One friend, who was in Malaysia with me in 2005, met his now-wife (who is Malaysian) while she was studying in Nottingham for three years. I’ll be flying out for the Malaysian part of their wedding this September as well as attending the UNMC 15th anniversary celebrations that same month.

What advice or views would you give to any current or prospective students on studying overseas?

Time abroad gives you an edge that you cannot study for or achieve any other way. It opens you up to a new perspective on life; you’re so far out of your comfort zone you have to embrace it, or go home. It is an education like no other, from the academic side I enjoyed the modules and language skills, while the cultural side has undoubtedly given me a different way to look at things.

What do you love about Malaysia?

Malaysia is culturally diverse and, in my eyes, a very inclusive place to live. The hospitality of the locals is humbling, the scenery of the islands and mountains is breath-taking, the food is flavoursome and with a skyline anchored by the twin towers, where else would you want to be?

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Water pools of Langkawi (l-r: David Marsden, Alex Wilson, Katie Hile, Karin Wijeratne, Keith Hobson, Tom Wilkinson, Michelle Ip and Matt Board)

Have you tried the ‘Marmite of Malaysia’: durian fruit, and did you like it?

I had durian ice cream and I have to say I am not a fan. It was like eating rancid flesh, if I’m honest (or at least that’s what I imagine it to be like!)

If you have memories to share of working or studying at UNMC, please email emma.lowry@nottingham.ac.uk. Keep up with the 15th anniversary celebrations of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, using #UNMC15 on Twitter between July and September 2015.

Posted in Campus news