AGU international 2nd and 3rd Year Architecture students Luka and Etulan (from Georgia and Grenada respectively) came back to the Abdullah Gül University this semester, after having spent a year as exchange students at the University of Malaya, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The AGU International Office sat down with the two, to learn more about their life-changing experience:
Q1 – How did you learn about this exchange opportunity and why did you choose to got to this University in Malaysia?
Etulan: I heard about the exchange agreement with the University of Malaya from our Head of Department. He told me about this opportunity and the fact that they were planning to send 3-4 AGU students. I applied for the program and was accepted (along with Luka and our classmates Merve and Hatice). I was able to apply for my visa in Ankara and got the document 6 days before my departure date, which was a relief!
I really wanted to take this opportunity to discover South East Asia, where I had never been before, and to work with new excellent professors with top international credentials.
Luka: I was also informed about this opportunity by the Department of Architecture. In order to apply for the exchange, I took the Erasmus/Exchange English exam at AGU. For my part, as a Georgian, I completed the visa procedure in Kiev, Ukraine.
I was ready to go on exchange, to experience different styles of education and teaching. The University of Malaya has a School of Architecture that was established 10 years ago, and this institution is the best in the country. Top professors teach there and the studio classes bring together 45 students students in one room, with perfectly scheduled activities, projects and trips!
Q2 – Can you tell us about your arrival on the UM campus? Where did you stay? Any tips for future AGU students going on exchange there?
Etulan: My first impression when I arrived at the campus was that of a complete change of scenery and slight disorientation! The campus, situated on the southern edge of the city, is surrounded by jungle-like greenery and you can see monkeys everywhere!
We arrived in August and the weather was very warm and humid, but it stayed like this, pretty much throughout the whole year.
The campus is very big, so much so, that you need to use campus buses to got around. They even have a lake, which they use for activities, such as canoeing and fishing. I would say there are close to 20.000 students on campus, and the university has 10 faculties, each with its own building.
Luka: I arrived a few days before the start of the semester. We had a 3-day orientation program, where they gave us tours of the campus and buildings, presentations about the University and we met with the other exchange students. There were many from South Korea and China, but also Europeans (mainly Germans, Swiss, French and Spanish), a few Mexican and Canadians, as well as Turkish exchange students from Sakarya University.
I stayed in the on-campus dorms and my flatmates were from China, Taiwan and Japan. The rent was around 250 Malaysian Ringgit per month, which amounts to about 60 USD.
Etulan: I preferred to stay in the off-campus housing. Exchange students have the option to choose between the two. Overall there are around 500 exchange students at UM.
I shared an off-campus apartment with Korean and Japanese exchange students. There was a UM shuttle passing close-by, running from 7am to 11pm on weekdays. But sometimes, we would also share an “Uber” or “Grab” with my flatmates for around 7 Ringgit per trip (2 USD).
I would definitely recommend future AGU exchange students to go there during their 2nd year and stay there for one full year.
Luka: First of all, I would say, pack lots of light clothes, as it stays warm the whole year; but also a good raincoat and umbrella, as you will get to experience the monsoon season in Malaysia!
[Note: check out UM’s “Guide on How to Survive at UM” here.]
But the city is well-developed and and prices are affordable, so you can buy everything you need over there. Just make sure to bring your computer.
I would also recommend that you go for a one-year exchange, so that you can really get the full UM Student Life experience on- and off-campus, including Architecture festivals, speakers and jury members from all around the world.
I was very happy that I went on this exchange for my 2nd year and came back to AGU for the start of the 3rd year, as I found that structurally and in terms of curricula, it fit perfectly.
Q3 – Looking back on your time there, what did you really like about your studies there? Any class or projects you would like to mention in particular?
Etulan: The Studio class was really great. The group was very welcoming, hard-working and a lot of fun! The professors have excellent qualifications (incl. from Oxford, the Pratt Institute, UCL…)
Luka: The Design Studio class was the best. It was both really challenging and very interesting.
For the our Measure Drawing class, we traveled to another city and took the measures of a building. We also integrated this project into our Design Studio class.
Etulan: I completed a 2-month internship at MZ Design Consultancy as part of my study requirements. It taught me a lot about the professional work space and I realized how many different inputs can go into a single design project; it was a great insight.
It also was the opportunity to apply everything I had learned during my last 3 years of architecture studies. I also appreciated the fact that I was given real design projects from the very beginning.
I also worked with one of my professors for a design showcase for the Malaysian national design body.
Q4 – What kind of on-campus activities did you join at UM?
Luka: There were many cultural activities, such as an Indonesian festival, a Japanese Cosplay event; there even was a Turkish culture event.
Etulan: There also were many sports competitions, such as tennis and football tournaments. The sports facilities on-campus were quite good. There were many basketball courts and even a rugby stadium! I was surprised to discover that so many UM students were playing rugby.
Q5 – Did you travel a little around Malaysia and the region, while you were there?
Etulan: Two of my friends came to visit me in Kuala Lumpur and we traveled around together. We went to Penang, in the northern part of Malaysia, which is famous for its great food and beautiful beaches. The place is very culturally mixed and I met people from so many different nationalities.
Luka: Malaysia is a perfect starting point for traveling around the region. While there, I visited Singapore (for about 50 Ringgit, 12 USD), Bali and to Cambodia. The flights are really not expensive.
Q6 – What about the food? What should future AGU exchange students definitely not miss?
Etulan: There is a very big street food culture there. You can get something to eat around the clock; there are many 24/7 restaurants and it is very cheap (2 Ringgit, or 50 US cents, per meal). My favourite was “Nasi Goreng Ayam Kunyit”, Fried Rice with Turmeric Chicken.
Luka: I would recommend the “Nasi Goreng Ayam Kunyit” and the “Nasi Kandar”, steamed rice served with curries and a variety of side dishes.
Q7 – What 3 things should future exchange students definitely experience before leaving the country?
Luka: My top three would be the Botanical Garden of Kuala Lumpur, the city’s seven modern landmarks (incl. the stadium, the mosque, the university…) and Putrajaya, a planned city established in 1995, which is the administrative capital of Malaysia.
Etulan: I recommend everyone to go to Penang and try the street food there, to go to the Cameron Highlands Districts to hike and visit a strawberry farm (where you can go strawberry-picking and enjoy a special strawberry-infused menu at the farm’s restaurant) and to walk around “Bukit Bintang”, a street in Kuala Lumpur which is closed to cars after 6pm and completely taken over by restaurants of different nationalities: Indian, Chinese, Thai, Singaporean…
Q8 – Now, back to your experience as exchange students: How would you say your studies at UM helped you develop your hard and soft skills?
Etulan: I had to do a lot of presentations in class, so I would say I definitely developed my presentation skills. I also got a lot of valuable professional experience.
UM students work all the time, so being around them also makes you more hard-working, efficient and dedicated.
We did a lot of brainstorming in Studio class and I learned how to work with other people, with a collective drive and passion for your projects.
Luka: I learned to interact more with other students. At UM, students talk about each other’s projects a lot, give advice and notes for improvement. There is also an atmosphere of positive competitiveness, which makes you work harder.
I was also taught to reverse-engineer everything I do and overall, the experience made me more excited about learning.
Q9 – Finish the sentence: “This exchange experience made me more…”
Etulan:…Aware of architectural and design technicalities, pragmatic, determined and affirmative and confident.
Luka:…Aware of the importance of multiple perspectives, confident, culturally open and sure about my career.
Etulan: I would add that it also reassured me about the career path I would like to follow later.
Q10 – How would you define your general feeling on this experience? “It was…”
Luka:…Revolutionary and Evolutionary, promising… At the end of the year, I felt really happy! I met some professors there, who completely changed my vision and understanding of architecture.
Etulan:…Great, challenging and transformative. I felt proud and I learned so much; not only academically-speaking, but also about myself.
Q11 – Time to give some special thanks 😉
Luka: Heartfelt thanks to Turkey, to Malaysia; to AGU, to UM, and to the departments of Architecture of both; every official (and non-official, of course) who participated in this exchange; to all good friends here and there. Last, but not least, myself.
Etulan: Thank you to my parents for their constant support, to the Architecture Departments at AGU and UM for the opportunity, to my studio professors at UM for their brilliance and inspiration and to PetArch, for their hospitality, friendships, endless laughs, intoxicating fun and unending love.
Q12 – Any future plans related to this exchange experience?
Etulan: I will try to go back next summer, in order to participate in another of my professor’s design showcases.
Luka: I hope to go back one day. The students, professors and practitioners there are so welcoming.
Q13 – Happy to be back at AGU?
Etulan: Yeah definitely ! It’s nice to see our friends and professors again. The campus keeps on developing and new facilities are available for us to use.
Luka: I agree. It’s nice to be back! We started this semester on the right foot with great new studio spaces, class structures, workshops, as well as professors and guest lecturers to discover!
Thank you to Luka and Etulan for taking the time to answer all our questions and share their exchange experience with us! If you have any questions about the Abdullah Gül University, our Architecture program, or the exchange agreement with the University of Malaya, you can contact the two under: