Concerns for New Intakes, as Academic Year Begins

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Introduction

Alhamdulillah… All praise and thanks are due to the Almighty Allah. May His Peace and Blessings be upon Habibi Muhammad, his household, his companions and all those who follow his guided path.

This article begins with a brief story of my first few days at IIUM. It aims, however, to discuss ways and means, we can help newly enrolled students, to familiarize themselves with their new environment and feel at home, as possible.

One year ago (September 2012), I was enrolled, to do a full-time Master’s Programme, at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).

I was fortunate, that I had friends in IIUM. As a result, I was made comfortable and felt at home. Despite that, I encountered some irking and unexpected moments, as a new student. I believe that every new student, especially the internationals, is bound to encountering such unexpected experience. But… when one prepares himself psychologically, and meets considerate friends, such experiences can be good ones, insha Allah.

On our enrolment day (Semester 1, 2012/2013), my good friend, Dr. Naail, who is an Assistant Professor, in the Kulliyyah (Faculty) of Economics (here at IIUM), assisted me throughout the entire enrolment process. To make me happier, he even paid for my lunch. Altogether was a favour, I can’t forget for Dr. Naail.

While waiting to be assigned to a room, I was accommodated by Brother Yusuf Adam Al-Badani (PhD Candidate). The one who shares with you his shelter, is likely to assist you in whatever way possible.

During the postgraduate orientation for the new intakes, students were taken through the university’s rules and regulations. There were also separate events and activities conducted by individual faculties. There was a library briefing, by the library; and also the Postgraduate Students Society (PGSS) conducted some other activities, for postgraduate students. This means, undergraduate new intakes also attended similar activities relevant to them.

Those were the most important academic-related activities students had received. But the truth is, they were not enough to make one well-informed about his new home, especially, when such orientations are presented in lecture form. We forget most of the information we receive, soon after we leave the room/hall, where we received them.

Despite having friends, who, honestly, took care of me until I became used the environment, I have memoirs of such (irking) moments. What more about students who come in for the first time, and have no friends or relatives here?

Yesterday (27/8/2013), was the enrolment day for undergraduate (UG) new intakes. The enrolment for the postgraduate (PG) new intake is tomorrow (29/8/2013). That reminded me of my experience, when I first arrived, as a new student.

How I Made Use of that Experience

The above stories had happened two semesters ago (Sem 1, 2012/2013). In the beginning of last semester (Sem 2, 2012/2013), I seized the opportunity of one congregational prayer, took the microphone and conveyed a message, in the prayer hall of my Mahallah (the best Mahallah; Faruq :)).

I’m going to share with you what I shared with them, in the hope that, if you are still in school, college or university, you may find it useful, on how to help your fellow newly enrolled school mates, who are usually nervous and lost in focus. If you are a parent (not in school or university) you, too, may find it useful and can convey it to the children of your relatives and friends who are in school or university.

We often assume, that strangers should know where to go or what to do, especially when they can read and write. The truth is, people may be learned, but theoretical knowledge doesn’t grant you experience of places or things, until you experience them, practically.

For example, a Canadian, who is going to the United States (US), for the first time, cannot claim he knows how to move around in the US, just because Canada is likewise as developed as the US. The same thing applies to a resident of the United Kingdom (UK) who goes to France or Germany, although, all the three countries are European.

First time experience always has some awkward moments.

If this is true among residents of ‘developed’ or ‘first class’ countries, then it’s even truer in the case of the ‘seventh class’ countries. Malaysia may not be a ‘seventh class’ country, though! In fact, students from ‘developing’ countries find it more challenging in their first few weeks, in countries , which are more ‘developed’ than their own countries.

The point I’m trying to make here is, (same) things are done differently, depending on the new location, where we find ourselves. If you don’t get someone to learn from, you learn it the hard way, and sometimes, in an embarrassing way.

During the short talk (back to the Musolla/prayer hall of the Mahallah), I shared with the congregation, that it will be a good idea, to identify new comers, and lend them hands of assistance.

If You are an Existing Student

You may devote (only) one day and take a new comer around, to tour the university, including the dormitories (Mahallahs). It may be inconvenient, but the reward is certainly beyond expectations. Imagine a small assistance you lend to someone (for only one day), when you come to see its impact still felt, after 20 years, or more. The happiness and excitement are unimaginable.

Before I suggest further details of what we can do, it’s important to purify our intention in doing this. Let our offer be motivated by genuine sincerity. Let’s offer our help, without expecting rewards of any kind. We should, however, expect our rewards solely from Allah.

Take at least one new comer, for a tour around the campus. Take the person to the:

  • Library
  • Various canteens
  • Laundry
  • Banks and ATM stations available
  • Shops (within the campus)
  • His Kulliyyah/Faculty (if you are familiar with it)
  • Other locations, including sports complex, auditoriums, computer labs, and other relevant facilities.

In the Library

As far as libraries are concerned, a new student in any new institution would need to know:

  • Library working hours, and lunch time (should the be any)
  • How to use (Student’s) card for entrance and other purposes
  • How and where to borrow books in the library
  • How to use the library’s computers, and for what purposes
  • How to identify books locations
  • Where to do printings and make photocopy

At the Canteen(s)

Usually at eateries, new students may have problems in communicating, especially when sellers do not speak English. At the same time, they may want to know:

  • Stalls with foods familiar to their tastes and cultures
  • Stalls with cheaper prices
  • Stalls with tastier meals
  • Stalls with healthier foods
  • They may also want to know names of the various foods available

At the Laundry

New students are more nervous when it comes to operating machines, in foreign countries. The less developed his country is, the more nervous he becomes in using machines. Unless he’ll be doing his laundry the traditional way (some do), he needs to know:

  • How to use the washing machines available
  • The amount the machines require. It’s usually not free
  • How to refill their water bottles using vendor machines (may not necessarily be at the laundry)
  • How to purchase beverages and snacks from the vendor machines available (may not necessarily be at the laundry)

At the Bank

Don’t be surprised. People know banks. But not everyone deals with banks. Should they need your help, you may want to help them to learn:

  • Operating hours of the banks available at or around the college or university
  • Procedures for opening bank accounts (especially for international students)
  • How to pay their fees online, from their bank accounts (iBanking)
  • The implication of withdrawing cash from your account, from banks other than that with which you hold an account
  • You may also want explain the difference between accounts with (monthly) statements, and accounts with bankbooks.

At the Shops

I just learnt the cheapest shop in the males’ dormitories (Mahallahs) here, where goods’ prices have value for money. That was less than 24 hours ago. This is to say, a new student will pray harder to be guided to he cheapest shop in the world, what more in the campus. So help him to identify (if you know):

  • Shops with friendly sellers
  • Shops with cheaper prices
  • Goods’ prices on campus compared to shops outside campus
  • Shops he’s likely to find the local goods of his country

At the Kulliyyahs/Faculties

This is very important because departments and offices located in various faculties determine the fate of the student. So a new student may need to know:

  • Roles of different departments and their locations. Don’t forget the locations
  • Office of the Dean, Deputy Deans, and the ‘big shots.’
  • Offices of Undergraduate or Postgraduate students Affairs, accordingly
  • Office of Immigration and Visa Affairs
  • Office of International Students’ Affaris
  • Other relevant offices

If You are a New Student

Don’t be afraid.

I mean it’s OK to have fears, but you can’t be fearful forever. You are not the first to be a new student. You won’t be the last either. So ask. Your friend will be pleased to assist you. You are the only one, who knows that you a new student. Since you are new, what you do not know about your new institution is 70-80% more than what you think you know.

The brochures you read from the institution before your arrival, was designed and written by professionally commercial promoters. They are obliged to present in such brochures only what entertains you and attracts you to join their institution. They succeed in achieving their objective the moment you pay your fees and are enrolled into the institution.

After that, you are responsible in familiarizing yourself with your new home. Open up. Make friends from the first day. Make as many friends as you can, in the first three weeks, of the semester.

Believe it or not, everyone engrosses to his assignments, projects and subsequently preparation for exams, starting from the fourth week of the semester. During that time, they can’t help you, sincerely and genuinely. Even I can’t help you. We only ‘give face’ pretentiously to our friends. So make sure you make as many friends from the day you step into the school/university.

Culture Shock

You are in a foreign country. Do you doubt that?

Even if you come from a neighbouring country, there’s likelihood that you’ll see some differences in culture and the way of interaction, in the foreign country. Words are sensitive when you are on any international domain. Gestures are measured. Monitor how people do things, before you do them. But remember this…

Everyone doing something doesn’t justify its rightfulness.

You are Muslim. You should know what’s right from wrong. We only learn and embrace a culture, if it doesn’t contradict with Islamic teachings and principles.

Nevertheless, what’s acceptable in your culture, may be (very) offensive in another’s culture.

Don’t be shocked. Just expect the unexpected.

Conclusion

It had worked for me, as a new student in my first semester. It has also worked for those I helped in my second semester. It should be able to work for you, whether you are  new students (who may need help) or an existing student (who will be volunteering to help others).

What are the awkward moments you ever encountered as a new student? If you don’t mind sharing, please comment below. We would love to read your experiences.

If you find this article useful, sharing it may lead to making someone’s day. And that shall go a very long way. Who knows…?

Allah knows best

Allahu Hafiz 🙂

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  • Abu Bilal Araoyo

    Well presented article… Keep it up ustaz… Itis very useful and I have no doubt tha whoever reads it will find it helpful