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International students have an increasing presence in higher education institutes in Malaysia. According to Muhammad, Sabbar, Shahid, and Rai Imtiaz (2013), “international students or foreign students are those who travel to a country different from their own for the purpose of study” (p.834). As international students are those who travel to a country from their homeland, it is agreeable that they encounter greater challenges and difficulties.
Based on recent statistics from Planning, Research and Policy Coordination Division, Ministry of Higher Education, percentage of international students enrolled in Malaysia Public Higher Education Institutes is 4.85%. These students come from different parts of the world such as Maldives, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Maldives, Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Brunei, Saudi Arabia and others. This statistic shows that Malaysia is regarded as one of the preferred destination that international students choose to pursue their higher education studies. However, despite the preference, international students who pursue their higher education in Malaysia still cannot deflect themselves from having challenges and problems throughout their studies life in Malaysia. Many people claim that students in higher education institutes deal with many problems throughout their studies life and there are few main problems that almost all university students have to deal with at least once during their years in Malaysia.
Nevertheless, in terms of challenges and difficulties, international students or foreign students face greater and different adjustment challenges compared to local students. International students are as important as local or domestic students in higher education institutes in Malaysia. Without their massive presence, Malaysia will lose the chance to develop as higher education institute is one of a key factor in the development of the nation. As a result, it is important to find out the main challenges and problems faced by international students in Malaysia so that a better solutions or incentive can be taken into account in order to help them.
Basically, it is believed that the main problems dealt by international students in Malaysia are categorized by difference in social and culture, difficulties in financial and inadequacy of facilities provided by the university.
International students or foreign students faced greater challenges throughout their studies in Malaysia due to the difference in social and culture. There are differences in terms of ethnic groups, races, customs, culture and traditions. When the international students come to Malaysia, they would be expected to be able to adapt with the culture of Malaysia as this country is one that have most multicultural nations in South East Asia. For the sake of gaining knowledge, these students will have to do some necessary adjustment or socio-cultural adaptation in order to fit into the unfamiliar place and environment by reaching out to domestic people. On that account, it could be difficult to do so if there is no interaction between foreign students and the locals. It is quite infamous that Malaysians are timid when it comes to stranger or foreign people who come to the country.
For instance, a study by Abdullahi, Noor and Musa (2014) found that “On socio-cultural aspects, they express difficulty in understanding the nature of the Malay people and the culture. The Malay people on average were known as peaceful, calm, quiet and highly reserved; they maintained a low level of interaction with their guests (foreigners)” (p.164). From the study, we can clearly see that international students in Malaysia are having difficulty in adapting Malay culture. Although the Malays on average were known as peaceful, calm, quiet and highly reserved, it is not consider as a bad or unhealthy signal. Nevertheless, for people who are not raised within the environment of Malay culture, this can be seen as a bad or unhealthy signal or simple perceived as a sign of hatred.
In addition, international students might experience more painful adjustment to their life in the overseas as compared to their own nation. Adjusting to a new culture can be a challenging and stressful experience. Yusliza and Chelliah (2010) opined that “international students differ greatly in adjusting to their new circumstances and studies. Some adjust easily while others find it very difficult” (p.275). For international students, coming to Malaysia literally means entering into a new social and educational environment where they have to go through a difficult condition. This might resulted to a painful adjustment to their life as they will need to deal with the dissimilarities between their personal cultural values, rules and custom of their own nation (GulRaihan and Sandaran, 2017). Being opposite in cultural values may result in affecting their mental health leading to helplessness and loneliness.
A study by GulRaihan and Sandaran (2017) has found several factors that influence the sociocultural adaptation challenges of international students, namely language profiency, academic adaptation, environmental adaptation and interpersonal adaptation. Based on the study, international students encounter difficulties in understanding the English accent of the Malaysians and vice versa. Sometimes, they even find it hard to speak English rather that their own language. It has been affirmed that English proficiency and adjustment appears to be positively related and will affect their adjustments (Yusliza and Chelliah, 2010; Sawir, Marginson, Mewett, Nylan and Ramia, 2012). It is important for the international students to overcome language difficulties first, otherwise other problems would come along such as difficulties in coping with academic work, being uncertain when expressing ideas in class, or hard to understand what is required from them at university.
Apart from language proficiency, environmental adaptation also affects the international students in adjusting their life in Malaysia because they have to live independently from their parents and family. They will need to getting used to the pace of life in Malaysia. So, it is proven these factors will affect international students’ sociocultural adaptation. Hence, social and cultural differences may be one of challenges faced by international students throughout their studies life in Malaysia.
Financial pressure is another big problem or one of the major constrain affecting the study of international students in Malaysia, especially those who do not get financial aids and have to pay tuition fees and living expenses all by themselves. According to Baharak and Ramli (2015), a research had showed that international students who received graduate assistantship do not experience financial difficulties compared to international students who do not get financial aids or a selfpaid student. The reason for this financial difficulty faced by selfpaid international students is because of the stress of not having enough money to pay their tuition fees and accommodation fees. It is generally known that the tuition and accommodation fees that international students have to pay to the university is higher compared to local students.
On the other hand, international students also have less opportunity to make extra income that will further enhance their financial capacity. For an example, international students can make extra income by while studying in Malaysia by doing a part time job. However, although international students are allowed to work part time in Malaysia, the part time employment opportunity for them are limited and the competition is also fierce. Nowadays, nearly two thirds of local students are working part time to help fund their studies. The increase number of working part time students is due to the high cost living in Malaysia which does not affect the international students only but the local students.
In addition, there are also several restrictions or guidelines which governed international students who wish to do part time job during their studies in Malaysia. The Malaysian Immigration Department has specific guidelines for international students studying in Malaysia who seek for part time work opportunities. This guideline more or less lowers the opportunity of international students to make extra income as they are bound by certain restrictions. According to Alghamdi and Otte (2016), financial difficulties also regarded as one of the challenges faced by international students. This article supports that financial difficulties face by international students is due to less opportunity to do part time job as they holding a student visa and therefore restricted by law. They also have limited work rights and limited knowledge about their rights in workplace.
To sum up, as international students are restricted by law and have to spend more money on tuition fees, accommodation and transportation cost, it is believed that international students face bigger financial difficulties compared to local students in Malaysia.
The issue of inconvenient facilities in Malaysia are equally important in determining factors of why international students face greater challenges throughout their study in Malaysia. Facilities are seen as a hindrance if they are poor, inconvenient and inaccessible. Baharak and Ramli (2015) explains facilities are divided into three main groups which are place to stay, conveyance facilities and eating place. Some international students may struggle in finding a good accommodation, nonetheless there are fortunate students whose their universities provide the accommodation. If students are unable to access university-provided accommodation, private rental is the next option. Private rental would not be a burdensome granted that they are located near the university. However, if it is too far from the university, the international students may feel quite reluctant to stay there since it will incur higher cost as transportation may be added to the cost of house rent.
Apart from having difficulties in finding accommodation and transportation, some international students admit the food is not suitable for them. It is notorious that Malaysian cuisine is spicy in general since it is heavily influenced by Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian cuisine. A study by Baharak and Roselan (2013) shows these international students have declared that food is not to their liking. These students alleged the food was too spicy for them and on top of that, these foods were served in unhygienic state. Moreover, they also asserted that there are not enough restaurants around the campus. So, there are not many options for them to choose. These problems are piled when the students are not allowed to cook their own food. Thus, these rules and preventions are no help to their problems.
Therefore, international students face bigger challenge in terms of facilities provided in Malaysia than the domestic students. As for domestic students, they may have been familiar with the housing area around the university and some of them are staying with their parents. As regards to the food quality and spiciness, surely these Malaysians are accustomed with their own traditional food. Thus, there is no such problems they would confront compare to international students.
In a nutshell, the major constraints that could be interfering international students’ life in Malaysia are due to a different in social and culture, difficulties in financial and insufficient facilities to cater them. Overall, international students have greater and different adjustment challenges than local students because of social and cultural differences, financial difficulties and insufficient facilities. Nevertheless, for every single problem occured, there must always have solution available.
Despite many challenges faced by international students in Malaysia, it is advisable for them to cope with the challenges as failure to do so will affect their study life. Likewise, the challenges faced by them also not entirely gave negative impact to their life as for example, some students believed that students who socialize with other culture are likely to have increased respect for other culture. Simultaneously, other people from different culture may look up to those who respect their culture. It is also suggested for international students to appreciate their life in Malaysia as it is and feel grateful to the life they are living. As people said, these problems they faced may be a blessing in disguise. Allah mentioned in the Quran in Surah Al-Luqman that says:
“…And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself…”
These international students must learn to be aware of and to appreciate the good things in this world to prevent taking them for granted. Being aware of the fact that it is Allah only who has helped people in their life will make people appreciate His blessings more. There is a link between practicing gratitude and feeling happy. Allah also mentioned in Surah Ali Imran verse 145 that He would reward those who practicing gratitude.
“…And whoever desires the reward of this world – We will give him thereof; and whoever desires the reward of the Hereafter – We will give him thereof. And we will reward the grateful.”
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