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My Southeast Asia Ventures: I never thought I would study in Brunei. But it has turned out to be one of my best decisions

I never imagined that I would be studying in Brunei.

The country that comes to mind for Singaporeans when they study abroad is exactly not. Still, I took the plunge and decided to apply to Brunei Darussalam University in 2019 to study Environmental and Life Sciences.

Looking back, after living here for three and a half years, this was one of the best decisions I made.
After graduating from Singapore Polytechnic in 2018 with a degree in Nutrition, Health and Wellness, I found myself stuck.

For years I dreamed of becoming a nutritionist, but after getting a taste of that lifestyle through my studies and clinical internships, I realized I wasn’t interested in the job. I knew that, but I knew nutrition wasn’t my career, so I lost my way forward from there.

As a result, I took odd jobs during my gap year in hopes of helping me get out of my slump. Still, my life remained stagnant and I found my parents uneasy. I didn’t want to disappoint them, but at the same time I didn’t know what to do.

I decided to take the risk and apply to universities with even the slightest interest, from more popular countries like Australia and Canada to lesser-familiar countries like Nepal and Russia. I told myself I would accept the offer.

It turned out to be the University of Brunei Darussalam, and as I had promised myself, I accepted the offer and went along with it.

My parents were supportive of my decision, but my friends were perplexed. The main reason was that they were not familiar with the Brunei education system and were worried about my job prospects in Singapore.

They asked me if I was sure this would be a fruitful decision and warned me not to be too careless about my future.
Looking back, it may not have been the best way to go, but I have no regrets.

I discovered so much about myself, both mentally and spiritually, that I would never have known had I not been educated in Brunei. It also includes a passion for marine animals, especially marine gastropods such as snails and slugs.

We had a more healthcare-based education that worked mostly indoors, so we weren’t used to getting dirty in swamps and rocky shores just to collect specimens, and were unpredictable. I struggled with the environment.

But the more I learned about these fascinating creatures and their habitats, the more I found the unpredictability exciting.

I found what I felt was missing in my past education: passion and adventure. I love nature and wanted to exist to protect and maintain animals and their natural habitats.

Life in Brunei is very different from Singapore.

Accustomed to Singapore’s efficient, fast-paced lifestyle, I experienced culture shock when I first arrived.

After living there for a while, I couldn’t help but wonder what the rush was for. I was giving myself unnecessary stress.

A laid-back lifestyle has taught us how to spend our days. I have learned to prioritize my health. What is health, if not the true wealth of life?

Studying in Brunei may not seem like the most attractive option, but it has taught me what makes me happy.
Immerse yourself in the richness of nature and forget about your problems for a while.

I pretend to be adventurous, identifying flora and fauna, searching for and collecting beautiful shells and leaves, hiking through the jungles of Brunei and strolling along rocky shores.

I advise Singaporeans who want to experience life in Brunei to keep an open mind. Everything you do doesn’t have to be a big achievement.

Sometimes it is necessary to cut the fierce academic competition out of life, and instead seek knowledge sincerely and peacefully in order to truly benefit.

About the lighter:

Hanisah Rehan, 24, is a final year student majoring in environmental and life sciences at the University of Brunei Darussalam. Her interests include climate change and its effects on marine animals.

If you have an experience to share or know someone who would like to contribute to this series, voice [at] mediacorp.com.sg Include your full name, address and phone number.

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