The moment I learned there were Malaysians students in Polytech Grenoble I was immediately intrigued. I had always been aware of France’s assets in terms of education and how attractive it is to foreign students. The diversity of the students that populate Grenoble is undeniably significant, although the foreign students you usually encounter tend to come from East Asia, Northern America or simply from Europe.
I met Fatin and Sabrina on the first day of the intensive English course where their story was brought to my attention during a dedicated “Mingle time”. After they quickly explained their background and where they came from, I remained curious about certain details. For instance, the reason they had chosen France as their country of studies and their incredible proficiency in French (that made me wonder if French was taught in Malaysia???) still eluded me.
For this reason, I am pleased to get to know more about their story and to share it with you. I thus bring to you Fatin, Sabrina, and their friend Faiz as well –who kindly answered my questions!
Did you know? Malaysia is a country located in South East Asia. Its capital is Kuala Lumpur and its official language is Malay and English is a recognized language, which is why some schools teach their students in English.
To begin with, please take note that France’s and Malaysia’s educational systems are very different. As Fatin explained during our first English class when asked by our teacher, students in Malaysia are offered the opportunity to study abroad by the government. Their choosing France can seem a bit off in a world where English-speaking countries are besieged with an ever growing number of foreign students and that is what is what my first question dealt with.
Me: Why did you decide to study in France and not in another country?
Sabrina: The main reason we chose to study in France is the standard of education which is generally high and the reputation of the academic institutions. France offers a wide range of interesting courses, some of which are not available elsewhere.
Sabrina went on to praise France’s gastronomy and its landscapes, adding that “for passionate foodies, France is the place where you discover great taste and great execution. Not to forget that France is the perfect place for a vacation. It is a very beautiful country; every part of it is breathtaking and unique”.
I then turned to Faiz who shared his own experience of having the opportunity to study abroad right after high school.
Faiz: After getting my SPM results, I got a scholarship offered by the Malaysian government to pursue my studies overseas. Honestly, I randomly chose France as it was the first European country that came to my mind at the time. France’s educational standards are somewhat better than in my home country, especially in engineering. I also wanted to learn a new language, which is why I chose France rather than an Anglo-Saxon country.
Me: By the way, when did you arrive in France?
Fatin: We arrived in 2015, around three years ago. Roughly forty Malaysian students came to France under the program.
Fatin got closer from her friends during the one-year course that took place in Tours. She added that there is a Malaysian students’ association in France that organizes various events for Malaysians to meet and get to know each other. The association, called MASAF, gives tips about the life in France and acts as an intermediate platform for the cohesion of Malaysian students.
Me: Would you say that many Malaysians have the opportunity to study abroad?
Sabrina: To come and study here in France, we had to compete with everyone else to get the national scholarship. It was a challenging process: the outcome greatly depends on your interview performance and your exam results.
Sabrina then explained that it is still possible to study abroad without financial aid from the government, but not everyone can afford to pay the tuition fees since the European currency is higher than the Malaysian ringgit.
You may have picked up that the Malaysian system does not quite work the French one. Faiz mentioned something about the SPM (the Malaysian Certificate of Education) that Fatin then explained more thoroughly.
Me: What are the main differences between France’s and Malaysia’s educational systems?
Fatin: The main difference between the two is that we graduate high school with the SPM which is an equivalent of O-levels (Editor’s note: O-levels are now UK’s GCE and are of a slightly higher level than the French brevet). This explains why we had to do a one-year course when we came to France: to make sure we had the level required by French baccalauréat.
She went on to explain how the Malaysian system works:
Fatin: In Malaysia, after graduating from high school, students can choose to pursue their studies by doing a one-year foundation course or a two-year diploma before continuing with a bachelor’s degree. Other than that, the difference between Malaysia and France is that most of the syllabus in Malaysia is taught in English, which is our second official language, while not a great deal of subjects are taught in Malay, our official language.
If you have ever conversed Faiz, Sabrina or Fatin, it must have come to your mind that they master the French language perfectly. To study in a foreign country is difficult enough with all the cultural differences and the adaptation to a new lifestyle; hence I came to wonder how they came to learn French. Did they have to hit the ground running and learn it on the spot or was French taught in their schools?
Me: How did you learn French exactly? Did you learn it in Malaysia or right here in France?
Sabrina: French isn’t a language widely spoken in Malaysia. Actually, we did not speak French at all before coming to France. Thankfully, we had a year of intensive French classes in Blois or in Tours before entering tertiary education. We keep practicing French in school with friends and teachers and in public. After all, the best way to learn a language is in a country where it’s spoken.
After the one-year course, many Malaysians elected to pursue with a technical degree in an IUT. Sabrina herself chose this path before applying to enter in PRI in Polytech Grenoble, along with Faiz. As for Fatin, she studies in IESE. They are all first year students.
After learning about their background I asked Faiz about his plans for the future. As it turns out, they are all required to serve a 6-year bond in Malaysia, as agreed in the scholarship contract. Apart from that, Faiz does not know in which country he would like to work in the future, but considering his impressive path, there is no doubt that he will find it soon enough.