A year ago i arrived at the university of oxford to pursue my master's degree, armed with two suitcases and the feeling of anticipation. Oxford exceeded my expectations in terms of beauty. With its cobblestone streets, colleges with quadrangles and small historical pubs peppered between gorgeous gothic architecture, it was love at first sight for me.
As the oldest university in the English speaking world, Oxford is rich in cultural tradition and practices which range from the sublime to the ridiculous - all contributing to the university's unique atmosphere. The matriculation ceremony - an enrolment ceremony where students dress up in their sub-fusc (formal academic dress) and the Vice-Chancellor welcomes you in Latin - was my first step into this strange world of traditions which I quickly grew fond of. In the last year, I went to many formal halls in the Hogwarts-esque environment of college dining halls, where students dress up in gowns to partake in three-course dinners. These traditions were a central part of student life which I thoroughly enjoyed.
As wonderful as the glamorous life of an Oxford student is, my time was not without its share of challenges and cultural shocks. Dining was one of them. I had to learn to use fancy cutlery, get used to eating cold sandwiches for lunch, and be contented with the fact that dinner was the last meal of the day. Having to give up suppers was a particularly difficult thing to stomach, especially coming from Kuching where meals are a sacred insitution and catching up with friends was always done over late suppers. It is amazing how a good meal late at night has the ability to connect people through a bond of friendship like no other, but that's how it always was for me back home in Kuching and it was something that I thoroughly missed while in Oxford.
Though there were times when I missed the people back home, the great thing about being in a new place is being able to make new friends that allow you to learn about different cultures. My learning curve in the last year has been a steep one, not just in terms of the academic rigour I was put through, but in learning to break the stereotypes I had of people from different parts of the world. As a melting pot of people from different nationalities, races and religion, Oxford offered me the chance to do this every single day.
In the words of T.S. Eliot, "We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time". It's been six years since I left Kuching to do my undergraduate degree in KL, US and now in Oxford. All my travels have allowed me to expand my horizons and to understand things about Sarawak that I would never have known had I not ventured out of the state. Coming from an environmental background, seeing the world allowed me to put things in perspective and to realise just how much potential Sarawak has in terms of conservation and natural resources. This potential is increasingly recognised around the world, and some of the research work focusing on forests at the Environmental Institute in Oxford is currently conducted in our region of Borneo. Studying abroad allowed me to realise how in Sarawak, cultural diversity and peace are our strengths. There is something else to be said on the topic of friendship - we may not realise it, but every bowl of laksa, every meal contributes towards the strengthening of a bond between friends that perserveres through the test of time.
As I wrap up my masters course in Oxford, I will miss the beautiful libraries that I spent most of my time studying in. More importantly, I will miss being able to have the opportunities given to me to talk to some of the world's most brilliant minds. That being said, I look forward to returning to Kuching, the city I call home and the place I feel most alive in.