Unprecedented Move : Studying Abroad in A Pandemic

by Aliah Aziz


• MArch, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom •

8/2/20215 min read

Buckingham Palace, London

Studying abroad is a common goal shared among young people who dream of experiencing the world outside of their comfort zone. For me, it is no different. For as long as I can remember, furthering my education in a place far away from home was a goal that I had set for myself, with hopes of learning new cultures, travelling to new places and gaining experience that is different from what can be gained back home. In 2020, I was blessed with the opportunity to board a flight to the United Kingdom and embark on my new journey as a Masters student at Oxford Brookes University studying in architecture. As I am writing this, it is my sixth month here in Oxford.

For a long time, studying abroad has been something that is glorified for many good reasons, one of which is the opportunity to travel to new places. With the recent Covid-19 outbreak, travelling has been removed from the equation. As an architecture student, travelling is even more essential as it is a dream to be able to explore all the different architectural styles of buildings, urban areas and how these infrastructures influence the social aspect of a place. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to London before the lockdown was reinstated. I even managed to pose in front of Buckingham Palace with no one else in the picture as it was vacant due to Covid restrictions, like most tourist attractions. Oxford, known for its beautiful parks and outdoor areas, allows me to walk around during lockdown to have some fresh air without breaking any rules. However, as someone who is used to soaking in the warmth of the sun, spending time outdoors in the cold breeze doesn't always sound tempting to me, although I do find it amusing to be able to go to the park anytime in the day without feeling ridiculous - imagine going for a walk in Malaysia at 1pm in the afternoon on a sunny day!

Iffley Lock, River Thames, Oxford

High Bridge, River Cherwell, Oxford

Studio culture is not unheard of by architecture students. It is one of my favourite things about studying architecture as it helps strengthen the bonds between students, encouraging exchange of knowledge. Due to the pandemic, studios and most facilities are closed, eliminating the social learning aspect of studying architecture in the UK. Students and lecturers have no choice but to adapt to online learning, which feels completely different from attending tutorial sessions in class. The structure of the tutorial sessions for me are similar to the ones I used to attend in UiTM, where I would have sessions with a group of students and a tutor. However, tutorials online have its limitations, such as only being able to join your own session, not being able to observe other sessions that are going on simultaneously. I am now required to work more independently as all meetings with lecturers must be scheduled ahead and impromptu discussions are hardly an option. For my particular specialisation, which is Development and Emergency Practice, design is an independent study module, hence I don’t get many opportunities of taking part in other design sharing sessions held by other studios. The first semester was a refreshing experience as my modules focused mainly on human rights and disaster management, something that is completely new to me. Learning about all the hardships that are happening across the world allows me to feel more grateful for the position that I am in despite the challenges I’ve been facing due to the pandemic.

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Homesickness, a common struggle faced by students who stay away from home. Homesickness when you’re a student, studying abroad, in a pandemic, can be overwhelming. After being here for almost 6 months, I have barely made any new memories in places other than Oxford. Somehow it feels like just yesterday I flew over, and there are not many new memories from here that I can ponder upon, I’ve mostly had flashbacks of the days I spent in Malaysia. Since the site for my project this semester is in Petaling Jaya, everytime I start working on the assignment I immediately feel the urge to hide under the duvet and dwell on how much I miss the city. There are also new things to be anxious about, such as how my family is dealing with the pandemic, or how I have to be extra careful not to get infected so that my flatmates can go home safely over the break. Other than my flatmates and some friends from home, most of the new friends I make are all virtual. For me, I am blessed to have lovely flatmates who share the same feeling of melancholy as all of us are international students. For those who may not have a support bubble here, I can only imagine how excruciating the lockdown must feel. Having faith and motivational support is so crucial in getting through these difficult times, especially with the nature of architecture projects that require intense focus and long hours of work.

I never anticipated that my first six months would be this challenging, however I believe that better days will come and soon I will be able to experience university life here the way I imagined. Can’t wait to start studio life here soon!

Divinity Road, Oxford

High Street, Oxford

River Cherwell, Christchurch Meadow, Oxford

Port Meadow, Oxford