Foreign students laud Swinburne experience
KUCHING: Life in a university campus can be as challenging as it is fun.
One gets to be fermented in a melting pot of cultures in which people of various races, religions, and characters mix and produce a delicious stew.
For students, a university is not just a hunting ground for knowledge, but is also a place where budding youths learn to master the art of balancing liberty and restriction.
Here is also where they may discover that those book hoggers or computer oglers are from a surprising assortment of characters including the nerds, the jocks, and even the rebels.
Learning is more fun if one knows the tricks.
Boys and girls who have been ‘babysat’ at home for so long and then suddenly weaned from their comfortable cocoons to stay in a university hostel may now find themselves isolated from their guardian angel parents and have to be on their own to fend for themselves.
But then this is where one learns to be strong and independent.
The Borneo Post approached four students from Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus at Simpang Tiga Kuching and got them to talk a bit about their life in the campus here.
Twenty-year-old Eshan Shafeeq is a second year degree student from Maldives.
He is taking Bachelor of Science, Computer Science and Software Engineering.
Coming to Sarawak, he confessed, was sort of an eye opener for him.
“Since I’m from a Muslim country, I was at first uptight about how things might turn out for me in a multi-cultural city like Kuching,” he said.
“After a while, I discovered people here are more open-minded than from where I come from, and this makes me perceive things differently.”
Eshan said he got to meet great people in this country and was pleasantly surprised by its uniqueness of harmony in cultural diversity.
Thanking God he made the right choice to come here, he said the experience was a bonus to him which he could share with his country folks next time he goes home.
On his study, Eshan said before his venture into this far-away land, he did not know of the so many pathways he could pursue in the technology field that he was taking.
What delighted him most was the opportunity to do projects outside his class work because such activities allowed him to sample a scenario of the actual world outside campus.
“Studying here gives me the chance to experience how it’s like to be employed in a job,” he said.
“That happened when I joined the ICT club where I had to deal with real clients. And this is where I really learn to manage my time properly — time for class, work, study, and other extra-curricular activities.”
Currently, Eshan is involved with two projects led by Associate Professor Dr Patrick Then.
One is to build a miniature version of a smart house together with team member Jason Yong.
The other one is to develop a mobile application and mobile site for a corporate organisation, Plaza Merdeka Management.
“I value this hands-on,” enthused Eshan, “It prepares me with skills needed to thrive in the workplace after I’ve graduated.”
He also discovered that brainstorming and teamwork is a robust strategy for resolving unexpected problems that crop up while hammering out project works.
On his social side, Eshan had a confession to make: He was at one time touched by the fact that some lecturers here actually cared to inspire and motivate him when he was at his lowest point of life.
He said the hospitality and the human touch he experienced at the campus here kept his spirit high and made him determined to stay on to achieve his dreams.
A 25-year-old Iranian, Hamid Bagha, is now intensely engrossed in an exciting research to develop a tool that helps people with special needs.
The device can sense any unusual activity perpetrated by a monitored individual.
Hamid said it uses a state-of-the-art technology in which a Kinect sensor is mounted on a programmable stepper motor to keep track of the physical status of a person in real time.
“As soon as a critical moment is detected, an alert is sent to the caretaker’s smartphone via email and SMS,” explained Hamid.
“And that signal is not just an ordinary signal. It’s a log consisting of a series of snapshots of the scenes of the last ten activities of the person prior to the critical moment. Captured activities could be like walking, running, eating, drinking, sitting and so on.”
Hamid said such information is important because it allows monitors to know the circumstances that lead to the happening of an incident.
This feedback is also useful for designing remedial measures to prevent further mishaps of the same nature, he said, adding that the tool would be especially helpful to monitor persons with multiple disabilities.
Hamid, who is a second year Computer and Software Engineering student, said, as a research assistant under the course coordinator Dr Lau Bee Theng, he enjoyed every minute he spent outside the classroom on his project works.
Talking about campus life, Hamid said he liked the exposure he got from mixing around with a diversity of people at Swinburne Sarawak.
Being from an almost homogenous society, Hamid said the experience of developing friendship with people of various origins had somewhat changed his outlook of life.
This international environment, he said, would condition him and place him in good stead if he were to work with a multi-national company next time.
Friendly, firm, zealous — those were the three words Hamid used to describe some lecturers he met here.
Conceding the fact that the lecturers made some impact to his life, he said: “People like Dr Lau Bee Theng, Ong Chin Ann, Sim Kwan Hua and Marlene Lu are overflowing with passion to teach. And some of their zeal has spilled over me and makes me also passionate about my study.”
He added that doing things in group assignments had promoted comradeship among participants.
This made him see the power of working in a group to achieve a common goal.
Churchill Lee, aged 20, who is taking Computer Science and Software Engineering, is also a second year student.
He was born in Sabah, lived in Labuan, and now resides in Kuching.
He said he enjoys the challenge he now gets in his university study.
The push he got to go beyond the scope of his academic course set his study mood on fire.
“I love especially the challenges those extra-curricular projects give me,” he said.
“Currently, I’m involved in the ICT club and it’s here that I get the opportunity to develop an online booking system for the university’s library.”
Apart from that, Lee has been chosen to develop a website for a company and that really gives him the kick when he gets to deal with actual clients outside.
“Imagine I’m getting a working experience while studying,” he quipped.
Lee is also a member of a team that develops the mobile application for Plaza Merdeka Management.
Lee revealed what he incidentally had observed and realised was that, within a university ground itself, one could in fact learn something about human social behaviours.
“It’s like here’s a ready platform for an observer to see how humans of different cultures interact with one another,” explained Lee.
He said a remarkable constant he noticed was that human behaviours were basically the same.
He said at Swinburne Sarawak he met students not just from all Malaysian states but also students from countries like Africa, Maldives, China, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Mauritius, Australian, India and so on.
On the subject of study, Lee said he likes the active learning style as opposed to passive learning because active learning makes learning a highly dynamic process and thereby dispelling the notion that dabbling in books, figures and data is a dreary and tedious endeavour.
“How would you like to have a flying camera?” asked 24-year-old Lim Sheng Han.
He said his team is now trying to automate what they call an ‘Unmanned Aerial Imaging Vehicle’.
“Basically, it is a miniature airplane equipped with an autonomous flight system and when it flies, it can capture images on the ground,” said the Perak-born who is now pursuing a double degree programme in Robotics and Mechatronics and Computer Science.
What sparked Lim’s interest in the robotic field? It happened during a Swinburne Sarawak open day at Simpang Tiga where he was fascinated by a demonstration of what looked like a very intelligent and nimble robotic vehicle built by students of this campus.
“There and then I straight away knew robotics was my cup of tea,” said Lim.
Lim said aerial imaging is a growing industry today as its possibilities are endless, ranging from forest mapping and monitoring of oil-palm plantations to inspections of large construction sites from the air.
“Our team will be developing an integrated hardware and software flight system covering all aspects of an aerial imaging system. The flight system includes the airframe and an on-board autopilot,” said Lim.
On his university’s social life, Lim said he now has friends from Australia, Indonesia, China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya, to name a few.
He feels confident that the Australian quality education he receives would be marketable.
Lim explained that the combination of theoretical study and then trying it out practically constitutes as a very powerful educational approach.
“Such learning method breeds highly competent graduates who may be the wizards to change the world in future, so to speak,” said Lim.
Lim is highly supportive of the fact that lecturers nowadays seem very amendable to the idea that students should break themselves out of the classroom mould to explore the real world outside in the context of their study, adding that it was kind of exciting for him that he could do projects for real with external clients, thus bringing in a whole new dimension to learning in university.
And finally shifting towards a philosophical mode, Lim concluded: “In fact, when I reflect upon my time at Swinburne Sarawak, I feel that a university is like a place where pupae break into butterflies.”