"Every minute at Virtual Exchange program Singapore :Understanding History and Heritage 2020-2021 was fast-paced, packed with new experiences and discoveries. The friendships that I made here are indescribable. Meeting (virtually )many preeminent young people with the same goals and ambitions as made me this experience so much more enjoyable .From the first days I was surrounded (virtually via zoom )by welcoming, caring and helpful people who wanted to know everything about me and my country. It’s so easy to mix and make friends here. Even if there are some cultural differences been surrounded by an ever ebullient and accepting community that supported each other at all times, and most importantly the International Student Office introduced me to this opportunities and many other that I had not known were possible. I can only say this experience is definitely one of the greatest experiences I will ever encounter in my life.”
A Story of Awardee from Batch 2
By Iftikhar Mumtaz Husnan
Studying at the University of Muhammadiyah Malang has successfully improved my academic achievements and given me various perspectives. Well-known as one of the most prestigious private universities in East Java, the university has established partnerships with many abroad institutions. A student exchange program, for instance, is an example of cooperation output. The University of Muhammadiyah Malang designs an exchange program for its students with the aim to immerse them in international exposure.
It happened to me at the beginning of 2022, from January until February, when I engaged in a virtual cultural exchange program entitled Singapore Polytechnic: Understanding History and Heritage. The event organiser was mainly the parties of Singapore Polytechnic International (SPI). Throughout the agenda, the students from 2 countries of ASEAN: Indonesia and Singapore gather to share their perspectives in a cross-cultural discussion. Then, I can conclude that the scope of the virtual exchange is mostly about cultural comparison.
I feel grateful for being a part of this exchange program. The event might be conducted online, but I did not feel objected at all. On the contrary, I was enthusiastic about the entire activity. My principle in joining this program is EXPERIENCE because it teaches me to develop gradually. COVID-19 may have affected people’s mobility outdoors; however, it does not influence my spirit to thrive. For instance, before the main event officially began, I attempted to explore things to avoid and need, so I could be well-prepared. I thank the parties of the International Relations Office (IRO UMM), who have conducted orientation sessions twice for the awardees in my batch so that they can be equipped with little insight and preparation prior to the program.
“Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”
Through this post, I am sharing a glimpse of the story/experience of my involvement in the cultural exchange event from the first meeting until the last one:
On January 14th, which was the first day, the representatives of UMM welcomed happily at the opening event. There were a few particular topics to discuss, one of them being the history of Singapore in brief. In fact, the mentors of SPI also provided an ice-breaking session to stabilise the situation at the meeting, so we would not feel bored. To conduct the ice-breaking session, the mentor utilised Slido, software for collecting questions and votes. We were asked to tell their expectations of the cultural exchange program. Also, on Slido, participants were allowed to put a positive word and then describe it. Personally, I chose the word “zestful” because it depicts my enthusiastic spirit as the term means. Hence, when the meeting ends, it impressed me because I could start interacting with them and understanding the things related to the event. The first day was closed joyfully with the documentation session with the SPI mentors and 4 representatives of Muhammadiyah universities: UMM (Malang), UMY (Yogyakarta), UMS (Surabaya), and UNISMUH (Makassar).
Occurring on January 21st, the discussion on the second day started to be structured. If in the first meeting the mentors from SPI presented Singapore’s history briefly, then in the second one, the topic became more detailed. The discussion highlighted Singapore’s independence and British influence on Malaysia and Singapore. In fact, Singapore Polytechnic also invited Mr Sarafian Salleh, a guest speaker deemed a Singapore historian, to fill in the meeting discussion, which was about Malay history and culture. However, since he had another agenda, he automatically could not come to the Zoom Meeting. Instead, he only explained the topic in the video recording. I really enjoyed his way of explanation. He creatively separated the sub-discussion into 5W: who, what, where, when, why and 1H: how, so attendees could absorb the material easily. In the second meeting also, I finally realise that the topic gradually began to move to the main subject of this program, which consisted of food, religion, architecture, clothing, traditional games, and taboos in Singapore. Then, after the whole topic had been presented, the mentors tested us about Singapore in brief with Kahoot, which consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions. We were involved in the quiz excitedly because it was like a competition. After that, the students were divided into 3 teams: A, B, and C, and each team has its sub-teams. I was in the C4 at that time and luckily was with 2 students from UMM, who are mechanical engineering students. In fact, on the first day of meeting Singaporean students, the team was still merged. For instance, C3 and C4 joined the same Zoom breakout room. I started to encounter culture shock during the session because Singaporean people do not like to mince words. They turned off their camera since they felt shy to meet new people. Also, I described it as an awkward moment to talk to foreigners for the first time. However, I consider it natural because the FIRST IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST and LEARNING REQUIRES PROGRESS. I believe that sooner or later, the Singaporean students will adapt to the situation. Fortunately, in the breakout room, several students began to interact with UMM students. We started the conversation with simple topics like hobbies and transportation, so it ran smoothly. Last but not least, as usual, to close the meeting on the day, we had a documentation session with all attendees. I felt grateful because I could improve my communication skill a little with the foreign students.
Twenty-eight of January was the date of the third meeting. The discussion of program subjects continued. The videos presented in the meeting discussed traditional games, religions, architecture, social habits, and performing arts in Singapore. As usual, after the sub-topics were explained, we had a test conducted by the SPI mentors. The utilised software was Slido, consisting of multiple-choice answers. After the quiz and answers revealed sessions, we were assigned to do group-presentation with Singaporean students. The topics had been determined by the mentors prior to the meeting. My team collaborated with the C1 group to present “Performing Arts”. This activity challenged me to improve my collaboration and communication skills. It also became my first experience of cooperating with the local students because, throughout my study journey, I always work with students in the same class/courses at my home university. The assigned topic dominantly focused on cultural comparison because prior to the group allocation, Mr. Eng Soon We, one of the mentors got us to identify the similarities and differences of each topic respectively. Then, in this case, my group with the C1 team needed to find what kind of performing arts that share a resemblance. In fact, it was harder to find similar performing arts in Indonesia and Singapore; however, we had decided to enclose the most popular in each country like puppet shows in Indonesia. In our point of view, the most important thing is the concept of the performing arts. During the session, I learned to improve my writing and research skills and nationality awareness because it is a chance to let Indonesian heritage be known by the neighbouring country since Indonesia and Singapore lie in the same geographical area, Southeast Asia. When it came to the time limitation to do the group task, Mr. Wee, actually, only provided 30 minutes for all teams to finish it, but finally, he extended the duration. After the time ended, all groups consecutively presented the assigned topics based on the order set by the mentors of SPI.
From the sequence, it meant that the last group presenter was my team. Before our turn, we made a deal to divide each person to explain every point in the presentation material, so all could get their part; hence, in the group, there would not be the one who dominated the presentation. As I remembered, I was the first speaker because I did the first slide, which explains puppets (wayang kulit); then it was followed by my friend from the same campus who is from the mechanical engineering department since his turn to speak was in the next slide. During the presentation, I spoke maximally because the content I explained is one of the Indonesian heritages that has been acknowledged by UNESCO. I have also highlighted that from the activity, I learn to develop my nationalism spirit as a youth. As usual, after the group presentation totally ended, we took photos to document the meeting. Something surprising me at the end of the session was when Mr. Wee did not allow Gendhis, a physiotherapy student of UMM allocated to the Friday session, and me to leave the Zoom earlier. It turned out that he assigned both of us to create a presentation on the topic of religious festivals and/or traditions in Indonesia. However, Mr. Wee specified the criteria of the presentation content, so it could be straightly underlined in the overview. The material had to consist of what makes it interesting, what people usually eat during the event, and things to apply and avoid. I sensed that this would be a great opportunity to introduce the most prominent festival in Gorontalo conducted at the end of Ramadan, referring to tumbilotohe, which means “set the lamp”.
“Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.”
- Chris Grosser
“Don’t wait for the right opportunity: create it.”
- George Bernard Shaw
“If not me, who? If not now, when?”
- Emma Watson
The fourth meeting was the most momentous one in my point of view, taking place on February 4th. As usual, the session was begun with the material explanation. The meeting’s topic was Singaporean clothing, festivals, foods, languages, and taboos, presented in videos. At the meeting also, Gendhis and I were going to present the notable festivals and/or traditions from our respective home provinces, but not limited to introducing them. Prior to our presentation turn, the A2 and A5 teams, who are the representative of SPI students, presented their topics first. They explained how Singaporean people celebrate and welcome Chinese New Year, Christmas, and Deepavali. I paid attention to the way they communicate. They spoke fluently and the content they delivered also was informative, so I could catch it. After the two country delegations finished presenting their assigned topics, we moved to the breakout room as usual with the group that has been divided by the mentors. This time, the task was different unlike in the previous meeting because we were assigned to do role-play with the SPI students who share the same team with us. The role-play assignment had to be recorded and submitted to Padlet and then it will be shown in front of the audience. Mr. Wee did not limit the topic of the video. It COULD BE RANDOM, which implies the topics could vary. My team and I were creating a clueless conversation. We collaborated to make the conversation script on Google Docs and did the rehearsal to make everything organised since the task has time limitations. Actually only Rafi, a mechanical engineering student, and I, participating in the dialogue. Overall, the submitted videos in the Padlet are six with various topics like clueless conversation and a comparison between Eid Mubarak and Chinese New Year celebrations. Many attendees reacted positively when the videos were presented. I can conclude that the session was impressive because it looked like an interactive classroom. Also, we could start to get along with the local students through the cooperation we did in the two meetings. To close the meeting, one of the mentors documented us by taking pictures together.
Last but not least, February 14th became the last day of the virtual cultural exchange program. All two teams: Monday and Friday and Muhammadiyah university representatives attended the meeting. I noticed something missing from the meeting, which was the absence of Singaporean students. I really missed them because we had begun to know each other. Previously, I also had felt a different thing when my teammate created an Instagram story of playing skateboarding at the same time. It turned out that the Singaporean students did not join the Zoom Meeting. Though they did not attend the meeting, we still had entertainment made by two students of UMM. Since the theme was Valentine, then the mentors introduced the “Chap Goh Meh” tradition to us, usually done on the 15th of February. Throwing Mandarin oranges into the sea is the main activity of this tradition and the ones that mostly involve in Chap Goh Meh are unmarried people. They believe that the one who takes the thrown orange is their true love. Then, one of the UMM students, Niko shared his funny perspectives by commenting, “Imagine if the orange is taken by your ex”. Many of the participants reacted funnily to his statement, including me. The next one which is no less important was the entertainment made by Bilal, a member of the Monday Team. It happened when the videos of the assignment were shown. Randomly, on the chat box, attendees talked about seblak, a spicy soup of Indonesian. Many Indonesian people, especially UMM students, claimed that women favourite the food because it helps to boost their mood. Seemingly, Bilal had a different perspective from the other students. His comment was contradictive, implying that he does not like the cuisine, but he supported that the food is available at the corner of every city in Indonesia. The climax then happened. Mrs. Evelyn, one of the mentors, replied to his comment, “Because you’re not a lady?”. Quickly, many audiences sent their funny emoji on the chat box, and even I turned off my camera just only to laugh. It WAS THE FUNNIEST MOMENT.
When referring to the topic discussed at the 5th meeting, it had only a few topics. Actually, we did the material review presented from the 2nd until the 4th meetings. Then, the mentors utilize Kahoot to test our understanding of the entire material covering Singaporean culture, heritage, and history. The quiz is multiple-choice based having 15 questions in total. After the quiz ended, the session moved to the video performance, which was assigned in the first meeting. We successfully showed our videos that previously had been published on Padlet, the Friday team brought two topics: food and language. Next, we moved to the testimony session, but this was limited to only one representative from each university. Alhamdulillah, I was the one who got the chance to deliver the closing speech that describe my impressions and messages toward the program. In fact, it was sudden, and I did not prepare anything; as a result, I felt a bit nervous when delivering the closing remark. However, I still always FEEL GRATEFUL because IT WAS AN HONOUR FOR ME TO REPRESENT THE UMM STUDENTS. Finally, we were in the farewell session, closed by the documentation. We also utilized the Zoom chatbox to put our comments throughout the program. It was SAD TO SAY GOODBYE TO THEM. The parties of Singapore Polytechnic International also distributed a Google Form link, so we could send our feedback privately. Thus, it was my entire story of joining the virtual exchange program entitled Singapore from Home. It was a bittersweet experience because I felt sorrowful to say farewell remarks to the SPI parties, but on the other side, I also expressed my gratitude to myself because of having a zestful spirit to develop more and more.
“Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
- Richard Bach