Saralah Devi Mariamdaram Chethiyar
Senior Lecturer, Psychology & Counseling Programme, School of Applied Psychology, Social Work and Policy, College of Arts and Sciences, University Utara Malaysia
Student Mobility Program is an annual student exchange program between UIN Ar-Raniry, Indonesia (psychology-counseling major), and Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia (UUM). For UIN Ar-Raniry students to qualify for this program, the applicants must be in the fourth semester and completed TOEFL. The student status, exam results, and TOEFL score will be assessed and top 6 students will be shortlisted to participate in the Student Mobility Program in UUM. As we were fourth-semester students in UIN Ar-Raniry and upon hearing the sharing from the students participated in the exchange program, we were motivated to apply for this program. Finally, 6 students, Cut Nova Rizki Wulandari, Rini Safitri, Alisa Sharfina Yuzka, Ainurrahmi, Dara Sakinah, and Maula Atqia were selected.
As the preparation, both administrative and logistics were initiated, the news of deadly virus Covid-19 became our major showstopper. The effect of this virus was experienced by all countries and the reported cases in South East Asia were at an alarming state. University management held a meeting with our parents explaining the current situation, the risk factors, and mitigation and obtained consent from Parents for this program. Finally, on 18 February 2020, we departed from Indonesia, bid farewell to our parents, family, and friends. With prayers from our family and accompanied by our faculty dean, we arrived at the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, and transit to Alor Setar, Kedah where UUM is located. We were picked up by buddies from UUM and arrived at the dormitory arranged for our stay.
We started our journey of an international program with administrative matters such as student ID cards, student visas, and health screening. We were taken for a campus tour by our buddies, visiting facility centers, and library. Within the first week, we finalized our subjects for the semester. It was a notable fact that in UUM, the students were expected to be active and independent in the study process where lecturers provide material and expose the students to the syllabus. Thereafter, students are required to seek further references and information on the subject. The academic calendar was well planned with assignments, quiz, group project, and final semester examination. Students can access the lecture notes, assignments, and project details via the student portal. Lectures and assignments are English, with certain areas covered in Bahasa Malaysia to assist the mobility students.
Life at UUM as international program students were truly amazing. Malaysia and Indonesia were mostly similar in cultural and community practices with differences noticed in the aspect of food habits. We could easily adapt to the Malaysian culture and exchanged stories with our course-mates. We were excited to experience studying with students from various countries, beliefs, cultures, languages, and tribes. UUM had students from Malaysia, China, Japan, Pakistan, Turkey, and many other countries. We had many new friends. Initially, we had culture shock, thereafter we became good friends.
The learning process was as planned for a month until Covid-19 was declared as pandemic where infections were spreading rapidly, and deaths were increasing. Malaysia also recorded significant positive cases and the situation became severe. Facing pandemic, lockdown, and restriction on movement put an end to the excitement of our very first international program. We were truly sad being in the midst of a chaotic situation, nothing that we could do as what we had planned earlier. We know nobody is to be blamed for this as we believe this is part of God’s plan. Movement Control Order (MCO) or Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan (PKB) was declared by the Malaysian government in March 2020, since then 3 phases MCO have passed (as of this article written). Everyone except the essential services was required to stay at home. Movement only allowed for justifiable reasons and emergency reasons. We were far from home, our families were worried about our health and safety. All the on-campus students were required to stay in the campus and facilitated with meals and allowance. Restricted from going out of UUM, students could shop at UUM’s internal mall (“VMall”). External activities were also restricted, all remained at the dormitories hence students were getting bored. In the dormitory, mobility students became a family supporting each other.
Since the lockdown, many activities moved to online platforms. Students were overloaded with many assignments given simultaneously by the lecturers. As the online classes were on-going, we were informed by UUM that online learning will be continued until the final semester. As permission given for the students to go back to their hometowns, local students on pre-arranged schedules left to their hometowns. Unfortunately for the mobility students, all remained at UUM.
While we were adjusting to the situation, we came into a month of Ramadhan, the fasting month for Muslims. We missed our hometown, wished we could be there to participate in “meugang”, an event to prepare and welcome Ramadan and various food made with beef served. We had a chance to watch the events posted in social media. After fasting for a few days, there was announcement that local students can leave campus and back to their hometown. The foreign students are still on campus waiting for good news on our return to our country.
Covid-19 indeed was a challenging moment and gave us an unforgettable experience. This pandemic had greatly changed our lifestyle, common routines, and planned activities. We truly hope this pandemic that has been threatening humankind will end soon. Lesson learned from Corona, appreciates time with family, and loved ones else regret will not reverse the clock. We believe all of us would become a transformed person when the pandemic of over.
The following are the psychological conditions we face and how we deal with it.
1. Cut Nova Rizki Wulandari (702038)
The foremost aspect of student mobility students is culture shock. While I felt being left behind, I had difficulty adapting to the new environment. With a lack of sleep and keep worrying about the situation, I felt pressurized. As a psychology student, I try to use my knowledge to modify my action. I applied the self-control method by interpreting my problems to know and understand the reason or source of the problems. I also started to have a self-defend by denying a bad perception of myself such as insecure feelings and try to be more active and search for information. Therefore, I am able to cope with culture shock and adapt well toward the environment. The same thing happened to deal with the Covid-19 issue. I tried for self-acceptance pertaining to the circumstances. Follow the rule and do positive things to be more productive. Thus help me reduce worrying by doing compensation toward this situation.
2. Rini Safitri (702041)
Studying abroad is a dream for everyone. But staying abroad while pandemic is not something expected. This is my situation and what I feel now. Before our departure, Covid-19 was deemed as deadly virus and affected many people. Being locked in the room is not something not bad at all, I get a lot of break time and able to relax. That was my first thought about PKP (Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan)/ lockdown. But this feeling did not last long, I started to feel bored with the repetitive activities when PKP was extended. Moreover, my family in Indonesia is worried about my health and safety. I try to be calm by being more productive. I do a new healthy habit such as having enough sleep hours, do regular exercise which attract positive energy for myself and the people around me. These activities help me to get rid of the boredom as well as to keep healthy and clear of mind. Therefore, it helps me to prove to my parent that I am good and save in UUM, this would reduce their worry about me.
Covid-19 is a new challenging experience for me. Personally I am not too worried because this Covid-19 spread has been planned by the god. As a human being, I just need to follow the rule aimed to end the pandemic. The thing that bothers me more is the feeling of my parents, I cannot control their thought and action but I think I can be a good stimulus by doing a good action as well. I learn to control my thought and body unit to have a healthy thought and good action.
3. Alisa Sharfina Yuzka (702037)
It has been two months in UUM since the government scheduled PKP/lockdown. As a mobility student this situation is indeed pathetic, we ought to gain experiences in a foreign country but we end up spending more time in the dormitory. We are pressured, confused, and have a mixed feeling of being upset, angry, and fear of the situation. It is hard to accept the reality of this Covid-19 situation, looking for the positive side of this virus. Online study and completing assignments have become a daily activity. When we feel bored, we watch Korean drama and shopping at Vmall. We hope the pandemic will end soon and all will be reset to normal.
4. Ainurrahmi (702036)
Adapting a new environment was not difficult for me, a little knowledge and bravery helped. Unfortunately, I just experience a normal studying process in UUM for a short time before the unexpected spread of Covid-19 takes down all the activities that force me and my friends to do a long-distance studying process with technology availability. I feel sad and upset as there are pending things planned with my friends. Initially, I was worried and disappointed, but as time goes, God gave me the strength to accept the reality.
During the lockdown, I feel anxious as if I had symptoms like fever, breathing difficulty, and sore throat. In fact, I get fever and sore throat because my molars are growing while breath difficulty due to angina pectoris. I stop reading bad news about Covid-19 to avoid me from being worried about the PKP. Besides, I also get myself busy with a lot of activities, I think when my mind busy I will not have a chance to think negatively. When the worry comes I try to do passive self-defense by denying something bad which puts pressure on me and suggests myself not to think negatively about this situation.
5. Dara Sakinah (702039)
Being an active student by gaining knowledge, participate in organizational activities, and expanding the experience are among the dream of students. I have achieved one of the dreams, by becoming a mobility student in the neighbour country. Unfortunately, I did not get much academic experience.
As the PKP gets extended, I feel disappointed, angry, worried, and stressed and nowhere to complain. I am now trying to enjoy Ramadhan while PKP still in place. I had the chance to experience suhoor and iftar together with mobility students from various countries. We also take online classes and doing assignments together which made things easier to manage. We cannot blame the situation; these all are God’s plan. It may be a reminder for a human who have been busy with material items. This all sure will pass, let’s hope everything is better soon.
6. Maula Atqia (702040)
The Covid-19 situation has caused pressure in me, affecting my psychological condition and lack of sleep. Being far from my family, I feel uncomfortable with the new environment. This condition is handled by doing a lot of activities such as watching Korean drama, doing physical exercise and a walk around the campus area, and above all catches up with parents via video call.