Golden Days in a Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures, Brunei
Golden Days in a Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures, Brunei
  • Jeong Dahae
  • 승인 2013.09.08 00:55
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My misfortune led to fortune.  Applying to be an exchange student, I never expected to go to Brunei.  I applied for a university located in Florida, the United States and dreamed of basking in the sunshine on a blue beach.  However, after getting selected as an exchange student for fall semester, 2012, I was presented with only few options.  Among them, I chose Prague, Czech Republic, as it is famous for being a romantic city.  I prepared for the journey to Prague but all of a sudden the International Office gave me bad news.  They encountered an unexpected problem with the university in Prague, so I could only go there for one semester, not for one year.  I was embarrassed and disappointed as my plan collapsed.  However, they suggested going to another place for the other semester.  I looked at the bad news as an opportunity.  Seeing the list of available places with a fluttering heart, Brunei caught my attention.


First Encounter with Brunei

I felt I made the right decision to go to Brunei.  As no Korean student had ever been to Brunei, I did not have any information from experienced people.  Moreover, it was quite hard to search for information about the country on the Internet.  Luckily, I learnt that there were exchange students at Sookmyung from Brunei, so I contacted them.  The first Bruneians I ever met, Aqilah and Norain.  It was a hot day in May, but they were wearing long sleeved shirts, long trousers, and a head scarf.  As they were Islamic, they followed Islamic law and did not show their hair or skin to others.  They also did not eat pork, prayed five times a day for their god “Allah,” and so on.  It was very interesting to encounter a different culture, but after chatting with them, I felt that they were just regular college girls like other Korean SMU students.  Thanks to them, I started my journey to Brunei under good expectations.
On a hot July afternoon, I arrived at the Brunei International Airport.  It had very exotic scenery; most women wore the traditional clothes Baju Kurung, the road outside was lined with tall palm trees, and the weather was extremely hot.  I felt that I was in a whole new world.  I stayed at a friend’s home for about ten days before I started the semester.  I easily became friends with the family members as everyone could speak English quite well.  As Brunei was a former British colony, its people use English as the primary language in grade school; in other words, most Bruneians speak fluent English.  Nevertheless, the main language in Brunei is Malay so people use Malay outside of school for everyday communication.  Also, as 20 percent of the Bruneian population is Chinese, lots of people speak Chinese.


Coming Across a New Culture

A few days later after arriving in Brunei, Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims, began.  During the month, Muslims refrain from consuming food and drinking liquids from dawn until sunset.  I did not have any problems with eating as a foreigner, but I sometimes followed my friends and forbid myself to eat.  It was definitely not easy in the hot weather, but they kept fasting for the entire month.  I was so amazed by their strong religious faith.  After Ramadan finished, they celebrated Hari Raya, which is a feast for the breaking of the fast.  The tradition for this feast is to invite people to one’s home and serve good food.  Brunei has a very familiar atmosphere, so people visit relatives and friends to exchange greetings.  I found the culture similar to Korean culture and reminded me of our traditional holidays.  I visited almost five houses a day during this period, and I had to eat at each house.  I guess I gained a lot of extra weight from all the feasting.
I made very good Chinese friends as well.  Most of them were third generation Chinese immigrants from Southern China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  Hanging out with them, I finally ate pork one month after leaving Korea.  To tell the truth, I had expected to party with friends every day during the exchange student period.  However, being an Islamic country, the sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned in Brunei, so I was disappointed that I failed to carry out my expectation.  However, I broke away from my boring daily routine thanks to my friends by crossing the border to Malaysia to have a bottle of beer, partying into the night, and so on.  I will never forget the moment I spent swimming with friends in a valley deep in the jungle and having a potluck picnic lunch at a beach.


Learning and Realizing

The learning system at University Brunei Darussalam differs from colleges in Korea.  Courses consist of two-hour lectures from a professor and one-hour tutorials, which are times for discussing and researching by students.  The most memorable course was Analyzing Visual Communication.  The tutorial for the course was very effective and interesting.  During tutorials, students are given ten questions to work on and they should submit answers individually.  Then, students have to make teams and discuss answers before submitting suggested answers.  Later, the professor starts a game in which the professor challenges the class and the answers to each question.  The entire class should unite and engage in heated arguments.  Finally, each student gets a grade through the process.  It was interesting for me as I had never been exposed to take this kind of lively course style in Korea.  Also, I was surprised and pleased to see Bruneian students, who are usually calm and gentle, become active and eloquent speakers.  Furthermore, I took a very interesting and unusual subject, Marketing and the Muslim World

I am lucky to have had the opportunity to study this new field by coming to Brunei.  I really enjoyed my time in Brunei.  I experienced a new culture and hung out with good friends.  I widen my perspective of the world and am now a more open-minded person.  Moreover, I had time to reflect on myself by escaping from the usual life as a college student in Korea.  I appreciate Sookmyung for giving me this wonderful opportunity and all its support.


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