Alice: Adversities Of An International Student (Part 6 Of 10)

When reading or hearing stories of one’s self-discovery, it is always interesting to see that some of these stories are similar in how they start. When the plot comes in, each of these stories create their own climax and conclusion. Previously, I shared about Chee Jia Xin‘s journey in architecture through her strong perseverance and work ethics. Today, I am bringing in a very fun and creative student named Alice Wansa, who hails from Kamuli, Uganda in East Africa. Just like any other youth, Alice loves to travel. And she had the privilege to experience the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, not only as a tourist but also as a student. So what is it like for Alice to study in a foreign land?

Picture of Alice sitting on a chair in front of her last semester project before graduating.
Alice looking beautiful and sitting proudly in front of her final project during the last semester of her architecture degree. The project was to proposed a cultural centre in Muar, Johor.
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

“My hobbies are reading, writing and going on outdoor adventures… does sleeping count?”

alice wansa, former architecture graduate at taylor’s university and currently a post-graduate student at university of strathclyde, United kingdom

A Dream Come True

Alice grew up in an extended family with five siblings and lots of cousins. She lived with her family in the Kamuli district in Uganda, where she also had her primary and secondary education. So going to Malaysia to continue her studies was exciting for Alice. In her exploration, she can proudly say that Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful city with some of the greatest architectural monuments and designs of the century. A beautiful urban environment with so much greenery. Alice pursued her studies at Taylor’s University in Subang Jaya, which she thinks is the most wonderful campus ever!

Alice sitting posing for a photo at the University Square at Taylor's University.
I knew Alice from the beginning of architecture school and she had always loved taking photos. This photo was taken at the University Square in Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus. Just look at her modelling skills!
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

“The campus was brimming with beautiful white façades, organised, and modern with civilised culture. The view of the lake from the university was breathtaking. To me, attending such an exquisitely beautiful university was a dream come true.”

alice wansa

Pursuing Architecture In A Foreign Land

For starters, architecture was never Alice’s first choice. She wanted to be unique so initially she applied to study civil engineering. There are no engineers in her family, so she wanted to be special and outstanding. Plus, physics fascinated her and she was one curious girl. Unfortunately, her application was rejected, thus falling back on architecture, her second option. For Alice, pursuing architecture wasn’t about the passion but more about trying something new.

“So I said yes to architecture without any second thoughts. I’ve always believed that there is no such thing as impossible as I was always ready for a challenge. I looked at it like shooting for the moon but instead landing in the stars. After getting into architecture school, I realised that this was for me. I didn’t know how to be anybody else.”

alice wansa
A picture of Alice with her friends, Chifundo and Clare, enjoying a mango milkshake.
Friends are something Alice really cherished. This picture was taken at D’ Latour Residence, a student residence where Alice would hang out with her friends, Chifundo (left) and Clare (right). Every Tuesday and Thursday, there would be food trucks in front of the residence and they would get mango milkshakes as well as other good local food!
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

At the time, Alice’s father was working in Malaysia and he recommended her to study there. So she decided to apply to Taylor’s University for her Foundation in Natural and Built Environments course and successfully got in. For the first year, she made her first friend, whom she was grateful for, Chin Werng. A lovely, thoughtful and kind friend who made Alice comfortable as she adjusted to her new life in Malaysia. She also made lots of other friends whom she met through student residences, DK Senza and D’ Latour.

1. Alice Bracing Herself For The “Archi-torture” Adventure

“Honestly, I knew nothing about architecture before getting into it.” Alice thought that university life was going to be like the one in the movies, where students are having the time of their life. But once she got into it, she realised that it was a whole lie. Architecture was a completely new challenge where you literally have to give your all. Before pursuing her architecture studies, Alice had a little bit of computer skills from her O Level course in secondary school. Architecture also requires a lot of reading and research but Alice had little experience in that as well. With the support of her friends and lecturers, she slowly adjusted. Along the way, she disciplined herself to learn the skills so that she can do well on her own.

A picture of Alice's work pinned up on the wall.
This photo was taken during the final semester of her degree where she was in the design process of her proposal. She had to pin up her drawings and ideas on the wall for the lecturers to give comments.
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

“I don’t know if it’s weird but I don’t really have a favourite project. I feel like most of my projects were incomplete and hope that maybe in the future I can look back at them, redo and complete them.”

ALice wansa

Despite not having a favourite project, Alice really enjoyed her time in the studio where she worked on her projects. For instance, one of the memorable projects was during the first year of her degree in semester two. The project, led by her lecturer, Ms Balkish, was to propose a Weekend Getaway House in Cameron Highlands. Ms Balkish gave life to the project and it opened up Alice’s mind to a plethora of ideas.

2. Challenges Alice Faced As An International Student

Being an international student might sound fun, but it can really empty your bank account. For Alice, the student resources fee was outrageously high. And the issue of discrimination made her experience worse. Her class had a variety of both local and international students. Most classmates were nice and some were shy, but some were just plain rude and disrespectful. Despite being treated differently, she kept believing that people are shy and prefer to be with the people that they are familiar with. At the same time, it felt unfair that she was being treated like an outsider. Just because you have never met a foreigner before doesn’t justify your acts of treating them like an alien. So be considerate, everyone!

“There were moments where I felt that I wasn’t good enough for everyone else because I was an international student. I felt that we had to work extra hard just to fit in. It was challenging.”

alice wansa
A.W. taking a selfie picture of herself with her friends in the studio.
Hanging out with friends in the studio whilst working together was one of the memories that Alice cherishes. In the photo, despite staying overnight for a project, Alice, holding up the camera, was smiling and having fun.
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

One of the challenges for international students was trying to find group mates for group projects. This baffled me a lot because I have witnessed it with my own eyes as well. There were times when it was tough for Alice to be in a group with local students. It’s as though international students are put in one clique and no one dares to be with them. Come on everyone, what century are we living in? Despite this, it never stopped Alice from having a good time in university and made loyal permanent friends.

3. The Moments Alice Love

Regardless of not having good memories with finding group members, Alice loved being part of a team. She loves to explore and learn from others. She knows that she can contribute to the team because she’s communicative, caring and confident. I can vouch for this because I had been in multiple group projects with her and she never disappoints. All I can say is that I missed her fun and bubbly character in the studio. This applies to her when she does her individual projects. Failure scares her and that is probably the reason why she works so hard.

A group project photo that A.W. was a part of during her last semester of her degree.
A group project in her last semester in her degree final year where Alice teamed up with an amazing group for their site analysis project in Muar, Johor. From left to right are Teck Poh, Ameer, Wei Sen, Jia Xin, Bo Lin, Alice and Rui Bo.
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

Her favourite moments during architecture school had to be the time when she interacted with her lecturers. “They always have fun stories to tell and love interacting with the students”. Mr Nazmi was one of the lecturers that she was inspired by. He was a laid-back lecturer who always shared wise thoughts about architecture. Overall, Alice thinks that her university life was very satisfying in a way that she had learnt a lot from her peers and lecturers, and made permanent friendships with Chifundo Sapuwa, Clare Ayis, Atiqah Ghazali, Rahma Nuru, Chee Jia Xin, Sumedha Singh and many others.

“International students should never be hard on themselves when life abroad gets hard. Sometimes you need to take a step back, relax and try again. Create beautiful memories whilst you are out there because it’ll be so much fun when you look back!”

Alice wansa

Keeping Her Head Up High And Focusing On Her Dreams

Alice wishes that she knew earlier how challenging it was to be an international student. “We go to a foreign land with intentions to engage with local people, instead we get rejected and end up having to support ourselves.” And yet, she had always kept her head up high and looked straight ahead.

A.W. posing for a photo in the empty architecture studio.
“Whilst you are there in a different country, create beautiful memories!” Alice posing for a photo in the empty studio during her final semester before she graduated and set out to pursue her dreams.
Picture credit to Alice Wansa

Currently, Alice is pursuing her post-graduate studies in the United Kingdom! She is studying at University of Strathclyde pursuing Masters in Advanced Architectural Design course. “It’s definitely challenging and there is just so much to do, but it’s doable. So it’s okay!” If you’re curious on what she is up to during her architectural studies, check out her Instagram page!

You Are The Protagonist Of Your Own Story

This also relates to the ones who have always felt like they don’t belong anywhere, and felt that they are always alone. How can we feel that we are good enough?

Ignore the judgmental stares and whispers of others and keep your chin up! Everywhere you go, there will always be people who look down on you, especially when you seem just a bit different from them. And society can’t seem to accept that not everyone is the same, hence why some are being rejected and left out. It is very disappointing to have this mindset in this 21st century, but it can only mean that you are making a statement. So boys and girls, go make that statement. Be phenomenal and proud in your own skin, body and character! Just like Alice who is the protagonist of her story, you too are the protagonist of your own story.

“I want to run my own architecture firm back in Uganda. Impact lives, help people, build a beautiful life… and maybe do a bit of acting!”

alice wansa

Whose Story Is Next?

Up next is the most hardworking and talented girl I’ve met during my architecture studies. Her name is Clara Lee and she is ready to blow all your minds with what goes behind her creative and smart mind! Let’s see what she has to say, so be sure to stay tuned!

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

One Reply to “Alice: Adversities Of An International Student (Part 6 Of 10)”

  1. Pingback: Clara: Confessions Of An Inquisitive Student (Part 7 Of 10) - Espoletta

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