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Back in the winter of 2013, with a desire to travel that I have come to accept will never quite be fully satisfied, I wandered into a LUSU overseas talk filled with curiosity. Within an hour of exiting, I was on the phone to my parents informing them of my plans for the coming summer: a three-week (sort of) holiday in Malaysia.
Arriving at the airport that evening it was clear I had underestimated the size of the trip, as I became one of forty-three Lancaster students, all setting off on what was undoubtedly an adventure.The first step of this was the flight itself: two seven-hour plane journeys with a stop in Abu Dhabi. For someone who struggles to sleep anywhere besides a bed, this wasn’t ideal. Suffering from sleep deprivation, we eventually arrived at 11 o’clock the next night.
In a haze of exhaustion we made our way by coach to Sunway-Monasch residences, the accommodation provided for us by Lancaster University’s partner institute, Sunway University. Complete with both swimming pool and Starbucks, the twenty-two floor tower block sure put Bowland tower to shame. Exploring the campus further the next day we were equally as surprised, if not by the sweltering humidity of the city or the length of the canopy walk to the cafeteria, then by the water-park and live tiger exhibit situated amongst the university buildings. Not to mention the vast and expansive Pyramid mall, a haven of western food when chicken and rice became too much for the tenth night running.
Trying to sum up those three weeks in a limited amount of words is nearly impossible. With a second by second planned itinerary we had little time to breathe, besides from sitting in the infamous Malaysia traffic jams. But that was the beauty of it: not a moment was wasted.
We visited museums and government offices, Central Market and the Petronas Towers, Little India and Chinatown. We learnt about Malaysian culture and took part in a waterfall clean-up, cared for pets at the Furry Friends animal shelter, supported The Reading Bus (a mobile library encouraging children to read) and even spent a day ‘as a parent’. The list goes on and on, but one experience that many of us were initially wary of was the traditional Homestay, a two-night stay in the home of a Malay family. Despite the lack of bathroom facilities, the home I stayed in was admittedly luxurious compared to some. Just like the rest of our holiday, this weekend had its very own packed itinerary and we quickly got to grips with some of the country’s traditional activities. From wrestling muddy catfish with our bare hands, batik painting, coconut bowling and firefly spotting, we even had the chance to reenact a traditional Malaysian wedding with everyone dressed in a spectrum of colours.
The following weekend we were given the opportunity to spend some time by ourselves. Whilst some opted for trips to the islands of Penang and Lang Tenah, others took short flights to Thailand and Singapore. With boyfriend in tow I chose to visit Langkawi, a much smaller island known for its beaches, monkeys and waterfalls.
If I were to pinpoint what made the trip so enjoyable, it was the chance to meet and share the journey with other Lancaster students, some memories of which I cannot even begin to explain! It was my first ever trip to Asia and it was undeniably a culture shock. The food (mostly rice) and the weather (always hot) reminded me each day that I was far, far from home. But for any readers contemplating the decision to travel, I can only say give it a go, you will thank yourself next year!