Malaysia and Singapore have become international education hubs in their own right in recent years, with many institutions in both countries continually raising their standards and broadening their programme provisions. Located in southeast Asia, Singapore shares a tip of the Malaysian border, and while both countries are not miles apart culturally they definitely have distinct personalities.
As Lonely Planet puts it, “Malaysia is like two countries in one.” Cleaved in half by the South China Sea, the country offers an interesting mix of colonial towns and cities in the multicultural peninsula while remote tribes and wildlife coexist in the jungle. “Malaysia is a multi-racial society where people live in harmony and as one nation,” affirms Lau Wai Cheng at English Language Company International in the capital and most populous city of Kuala Lumpur. “The country has a rich natural beauty with abundant wildlife; countless wonderful beaches on the east coast; many beautiful islands, jungles and rainforests; underwater beauty; a rich variety of flora and fauna as well as an array of historic sites.”
Dharshini Ganeson from Help University in Kuala Lumpur concurs. “Malaysia has a wonderfully diverse landscape... from Mount Kinabalu in Sabah to the wonderful coral diving spots in Sipadan and Sarawak,” she enthuses, adding that she advises students to visit culturally-rich world heritage sites in Malacca and Penang. “Also, the turquoise blue waters off the coast of Terengganu, where Redang Island is situated, and many other islands dotted around the east coast of Malaysia, are paradise.”
For those who prefer the hustle and bustle of city life, Kuala Lumpur is a city born out of virgin jungle that is now home to one of the tallest buildings in the world: the Petronas Twin Towers. The towers provide a birds-eye view of the cosmopolitan metropolis the city has now become: an array of skyscrapers, historic mosques, shopping malls and stalls serving food from across the continent. “As a result of its cultural diversity, the culinary scene is varied and colourful as well as exotic,” Cheng adds. “Eating out is wildly popular and affordable, and there is a wide variety of Asian and Western cafés and restaurants.”
In the eastern side of the country, Sarawak is a state with a much more relaxed vibe. International students can take longboat trips down the winding rivers and enjoy the unfettered nature and big blue ocean. “Kuching, the state capital of Sarawak, is widely regarded as one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia,” enthuses David Teng at the Sarawak campus of Swinburne University of Technology. “The friendly people and relaxed lifestyle makes the city a pleasant destination for holidaying and to pursue education.” The beaches are easily accessible from the city, Teng notes, adding that the state is well-known for eco-tourism. “Students have plenty to see and do, including diving, fishing, cave-exploring (Sarawak is home to the internationally-acclaimed Mulu caves), jungle-trekking, and viewing orang-utans in their natural habitat. For an immersive experience, a full day’s visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village, which showcases the way of life of the various ethnic and indigenous communities, can’t be beaten.”
With Teng noting that students can pursue a host of US, UK, Australian and Malaysian qualifications in Malaysia at a competitive cost, Cheng relates that overall, Malaysia is “an English-speaking destination with the benefits of southeast Asian living, including a... good standard of living at an affordable price, convenient travel connections and a rich heritage.” Similarly, Jean Tan from Nanyang Institute of Management in the central area of Singapore believes that “the best thing about studying in Singapore is... [that] expenses are definitely lower than the major destinations such as the USA, UK, Canada or Australia”.
Describing the general scenery in Singapore, Tan enthuses, “Generous pockets of lush gardens and tropical greenery coexist within an urban landscape. There are strict rules [regarding] littering in Singapore, so students rarely see rubbish on the streets or graffiti on the walls.” While these strict littering laws may conjure imagery of a disciplinarian regime and lack of spirit for international students, this could not be further from the truth. “While the smaller surrounding islands serve as excellent playgrounds for sea sports, Singapore, being only a few hours away from other countries in Asia, becomes ideal for both students and travellers alike in this region,” Tan explains. “A variety of spas, shopping malls, carnivals and the presence of the world’s highest observation wheel all make student life in Singapore exciting as well as enjoyable.”
Wendy Teng from OSAC International College in Telok Kurau lists some of her favourite places to visit, including Marina Bay Sands, an affluent resort; Universal Studios Sentosa, similar to Universal Studios in the USA; a night safari; the bird park; the Science Centre and New Water System and Snow City, an permanent indoor snow centre. Indeed, at inlingua School of Languages in Singapore, only three minutes from the Somerset MRT Station, Anne Chen says, “We advise our students to immerse themselves in the culture, food and attractions in Singapore.” One of her favourite places to visit is Gardens by the Bay a development which opened in 2011. “Spanning 101 hectares, this award-winning horticultural attraction houses more than 250,000 rare plants and is just a five-minute walk from this city,” she relates. “From the waterfront promenade, one can enjoy an amazing view of the Marina Bay financial district skyline. After the sun sets, there is sky show of dazzling lights and sounds in the OCBC Garden Rhapsody [in the Supertree grove section], which takes place nightly.”
And for relaxation, she recommends Pulau Ubin, “which is in essence the last kampung [village] in Singapore. A stroll through this 1,020 hectare island, which is Singapore’s largest off-shore island, takes one back to Singapore in the 1960’s with the simpler pleasures of life. As soon as you arrive, all cares are left behind.” Adding that Pulau (which means island) Ubin (which means tile) holds a number of activities, “including walking or cycling through the rustic roads under swaying coconut palms, exploring shady trails in overgrown rubber plantations, checking out secluded beaches and flourishing in mangrove swamps”, she enthuses, “The air is fresher and the sights and sounds are soothing to the soul!”
The reason why students choose Malaysia is mainly lower tuition and living costs. Of course, the Philippines is a popular study destination with Japanese and Korean students, however, students feel that Kuala Lumpur is more safe and convenient. Since Cebu, a province in the Philippines, does not have public transportation and schools have very strict rules regarding return time to their dorms. I think students who choose Malaysia are looking for more free time than study time. Students enjoy visiting different cities and beach resorts, such as Penang and Langkawi, and Kuala Lumpur is a very good place for shopping and city life. China Town is good for cheap delicious food, and Sunway Lagoon is also very good for shopping, attractions and nightlife (food and drink).”
Yoshikazu Ueoku, Global Study, Japan
“Singapore is a really unique country in Asia. There is a sunny climate all year round, and it is a very safe country this especially attracts the parents of students! Students mostly enjoy spending weekends at Sentosa Island, the wave riding experience at Wave House, indoor skydiving in the world’s largest themed wind tunnel, carting or just playing beach volleyball. And of course, Little India, China Town and Malay Village which gives a flavour of the history and culture of Singapore are all popular.”
Natalia Ezerskaya, Mandarin Travel Company, Russia