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New Country, New York, New Me

New York: The City That Never Sleeps, here I come!! Hearing about Richmon's departure (the first of our batch 2021 to leave) felt so long ago... but the baton's finally passed on to me. It still feels so surreal to be adulting. Throughout this final week in Brunei, people kept asking me "how do you feel?", to which I would respond that I'm feeling so many emotions gushing over me: curious, excited, scared and even sad all at once. To which Syasya reassured me by jokingly saying that it's okay to feel those mixed emotions for the first time now cause the next time's going to be during labour, haha!

Anyway, the final month before the take-off was soooo hectic! Endemic has only recently been declared in Brunei so there were so many uncertainties of the current essential travel pre-requisites. In the end, what I only needed were:

  1. my e-ticket,
  2. US F-1 (student) Visa
  3. an Exit Travel Pass from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO),
  4. letter of approval from Ministry of Education (MOE),
  5. negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test,
  6. proof of COVID vaccination,
  7. a Travel Insurance with COVID-19 coverage,
  8. I-20 form
  9. US attestation form.

It was also a frantic month because December was THE Bonus month! I should've expected earlier that canned cornbeefs would run out so quickly in grocery stores... I wanted to shop some canned foods for stocks there just in case I get tired of the dorm food or just miss local meat dishes in general.

Coming New Year 2022, I had the chance to undergo the first Individual Fitness Assessment (IFA) and Basic Swimming Test (BST) of the year with Syasya, Raziq, Hanan as well as our senior scholars, Haziq and Liessa. Based on my results, I was glad to feel that there is a little improvement in my endurance and strength. However, there is still a lot of conditioning needed to be done. This motivated me to further continue training consistently overseas.


It was so nice to finally meet our senior scholars because we were used to communicating with them through our virtual Work-out of the Day (WOD) only. We even had our booster shots together right afterwards. That day was so memorable: we ate breakfast together, crashed Haziq's house and played with his cats, ate lunch and they all surprised Syasya and I with a farewell cake! Despite seeing each other for the first time, it was amazing that we all get along so well.


After receiving that surprise cake, a series of more farewell gifts were sent to me by my other friends and relatives such as macarons, a bouquet of roses and many more. Alhamdulillah, I spent my last few weeks making wholesome memories with my family and friends. I really took the opportunity of the flattening pandemic curve to just go to the places I would miss or do my favourite activities before I leave. This includes playing badminton with my friends, going on long-distance trips to Belait and Temburong and even ate Korean food thrice!


3 days before my flight, I met with the Head of Scholarship Section, Ms Susie and her team at their office to go through my pre-departure briefing. I'll promise to be a good student, exactly as what I signed! That's the last time I will meet them in a while: I will miss the whole scholarship team too.


On the actual flight morning, I had to first pick up my PCR test result at RIPAS Hospital. We rushed to the airport afterwards, only to see a very long queue at the Singapore Airlines Check-In. Thankfully, since only a few passengers had US as their final destination, we were directed to a counter with a shorter line at the end specifically for us. I checked in together with my brother as he's going on the trip with me to help me settle in as a first-year student. We requested for our seats to be together throughout the whole 25 hours flight. For your information, the MinDef Logistics were very considerate in awarding me an extra weight of 23kg, which allowed me to bring 3 large bags in total.


Thankfully, my family members were all able to send me off inside. Some of my friends also came, including Hanan, Raziq, Syasya and Haziq. Too bad I couldn't join them training the next day. I bid my farewells to all my family and friends, hugged them a little tighter than usual and maybe cried a little... I'm finally off to pursue my dream future!


First destination: Singapore! The 2 hours flight went by quickly as I indulged myself into the airline's delicious meal and enjoyed myself with the movies provided. Thankfully, MinDef had priorly requested all Halal meals for me so I didn't have to worry throughout the entire flight.


It was my first time at Singapore and I was in awe of how large the airport is, with its many high-end stores. As I was a transiter, I was given a wristband to have access to roam around Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. Since my next flight is in 10 hours, I used my time visiting all the stores in the terminals. Alhamdulillah there was free Wi-Fi while walking around so can you guess the first thing I did? Yes! I updated *everyone* that I've landed. We also discovered the prayer room. Hungry again, we went to sit down after hours of walking and ate at Encik Tan's. Thankfully they accepted Bruneian dollars. I was also actually looking forward to try out Ms. Susie's recommended curry puff store but too bad it's in Terminal 4 and I can't access there… Maybe my next transit flight!


I got onboard again at midnight. This part of the flight felt super long. It was 13 hours straight to Frankfurt. We were given supper and breakfast on the plane. I was starting to get confused with the time zone at this time because can you imagine eating rice at midnight?!


Next stop: Frankfurt! I will tell everybody I travelled to Germany!! Even if it was just for a full hour… The weather started being negative here so I had to pull out my thick winter jacket from my hand luggage. Here, the stores were stricter as they asked to see proof of COVID vaccinations before letting us enter. 1 hour went by so fast as I spent time looking for souvenir. It's lucky that they accepted US dollars here too.


Finally, the last 10 hours of the flight and I'm off to New York City. We got served another breakfast and final refreshments on the plane, as well as ice cream! By this time, my body was really aching from sitting down for too long. It was a relief to get out of the plane and get our bags from the conveyor belt. The custom, though, was really strict to get pass through. I had to declare my box filled with local foods. They cut off the tight wrapping and snatched my precious 'Mee Sedap'... because the advertisement displayed chicken meat and bringing that here is prohibited.


Stepping out of the gates, we were warmly greeted by David, our driver from the John F Kennedy Airport to Stony Brook: my college location. Our Defence Attaché Office at Brunei Embassy in the USA had provided David and his company's SUV to be my mode of transportation to Stony Brook. Not only that, the Defence Attache Office had also arranged for me a single night accommodation at Hilton Garden Inn, Stony Brook, because I needed to have a negative antigen rapid test (ART) before checking in my dorm. I spent the remaining day resting on the cozy hotel bed after the awfully long flight.


For the following day, I ate at the hotel using the breakfast voucher conveniently purchased also by the Defence Attache Office. There was a wide array of food being served; I had a good breakfast. What's not good was the cold weather! It was my first-time experiencing winter and it literally feels like I'm walking in a refrigerator everywhere. It didn't help with the fact that essential stores are scattered because walking around is definitely a no-no for now!

Unfortunately, one downside of Stony Brook is its poor transportation. The best and cheapest option is Uber but that's also like USD13 for a 6 minutes drive. Hence, I really had to make my Uber trips worth it. I truly did so by buying so much winter essentials and items for my dorm room. My favourite place at that time had to be Walmart, I spent so much time there because it literally has everything: clothings, Macbooks, detergents, bicycles… you name it!

After breakfast, I had a zoom meeting with an Academic Advisor to sign up for my classes. My class schedule seems exciting!


I finally moved into my dorm (Benedict Hall) in the afternoon or at least… I moved my bags into my dorm. This is what brothers are used for: carrying the heavy loads up the stairs. Then I went back to my brother's hotel before he leaves me after the weekend. We walked around my university for a bit before going back because I need to know my way before Orientation starts in two days. The campus is so big. I mean, the university has its own hospital just across the road.


For the following day, I woke up early for a serious business! I did the most adult thing EVER: going to the bank. I opened up an account with Bank of America for my convenience here.


We then immediately rushed to the train station to catch the next available trip to New York City (NYC). My brother wants to help me get familiarized with the transportation first before school starts. It was a 2 hours trip to NYC. I was in awe of the difference between the busy City and the peaceful countryside of Stony Brook. There were far more people walking around in the city. As I've only seen in movies before, the roads were filled with the yellow cabs and double decker buses zooming around. Surrounding me were very tall skyscrapers and it was impossible not to spot at least a high-end store along the street. There were also surprisingly lots of food trucks at most corners of the roads, which sells Halal kebabs.



And of course, the first place you should visit in the city is definitely the Times Square! It was like a dream standing there. I bought a lamb kebab and ate it right there, in the middle of the Times Square. Imagine how culture shock I was when people were casually making Tik Toks around me: from capturing the scenery videos to even dancing videos. Time passed by so fast and it was time to go back to Stony Brook.


I woke up to my first day of Orientation with the other International Students. The Orientation took place at the Students' Activities Centre. The Orientation Leaders (OLs) welcomed us with warmth as they took our attendance. I was anxious at first because it had a free seating arrangement on round tables. I sat at an empty table on the second row and to my surprise, four people joined in afterwards! 2 of them were from Bangladesh, 1 from Armenia and 1 from Japan. We all introduced ourselves and our majors. We were all on the same page about being new to university and so we listened attentively to the speakers explaining about the campus facilities, school rules and schedule. The whole day went by with talks and Kahoot. They even served us complete breakfast, lunch and dinner.


After orientation, I Uber-ed to P.C. Richards: an electronics store because I was looking for electrical appliances to bring to dorm. I didn't bring from home because the power socket in the US is so different. Then we walked to the big mall. It had so many famous clothing stores such as H&M and Forever 21.

The following day was Orientation part 2, but this time was with the domestic students! The native New Yorkers were so friendly and I had a great time eating lunch with them. We had a workshop together where we played bingo and had to fill in the spots with everyone's names. Then we had a talk on Diversity and inclusion. This school is big on inclusion so I felt really belonged here.


Immediately after orientation, I took a train to the city again to stay for two nights with my brother at a budget hotel before he returns. I was happy to explore so much of the city during the short trip. We bought tickets for a cruise along Hudson River, the river that separates New York and New Jersey! From afar, we could see the famous Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Yankee Stadium, the whole of Bronx and the whole of Long Island! It was truly a beautiful journey. Despite the amazing day, I ended the night with a pre-class Chemistry test at the hotel.



Sadly, the weekend ends and I had to return to Stony Brook and physically move into my dorm. On that day, I said goodbye to my brother and that was it: I am officially left alone... It was scary at first when reality finally hits but when I entered my room, I was greeted by my friendly roommate called Erica. She's from Taiwan and is majoring in Digital Arts. She helped me get around the University well. She showed me the dining halls and the other places within the dorm. I am lucky to have a kind roommate whom I get along with. Spoiler alert: one week in and we're now sharing our snacks. We also went shopping together.


Monday finally came and I had my first set of classes. I'm finally feeling the freedom of university and how unfixed the schedule is. I had Chemistry in the morning then my next classes (Maths and Writing) would be in the evening. I still couldn't remember the locations so I had to navigate my way around with Google Maps. I probably looked funny walking around with a map in hand.

The first classes were all introduction to the course and then I had no classes for the next day so I did my chores and fully unpacked my things. The next few classes were also recap on previous knowledge taught during A level.


Just so you know, here they make meal plans mandatory for first year students, meaning that food will be provided like in a 'buffet' setting for all of breakfast, lunch, dinner and other refreshments. Personally, they taste nice but I just wish there were more Halal options to choose from.


The week continued on with me walking 20 minutes from dorm to classes, walking from dorm to dining areas and more walking everywhere! Compared to in Brunei, I walked so much more here. It felt explosive to my calves. I'm sure I'll get used to all the walking soon.

For this weekend, we had an unexpected heavy blizzard and snowstorm so we were all urged to stay at home (or in my case, in my room). Even Saturday classes were cancelled. The roads were deemed unwalk-able or even undrive-able.


And that sums up my first almost two weeks in New York! Although it wasn't easy to settle in at first, even more so in this uncomfortable weather, I'm definitely excited to explore more in the future! Once I've adapted to the uni life, I'll frequently visit the gym, join clubs and hope to befriend so many people along the way despite trying to maintain academic success. Fun fact: I've signed up to join the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) here, it's the best community to remind me of home.


Within the short time I've been here, I've discovered so many new facts and learned new cultures. There were also a lot of first times for me. I am definitely not a big fan of the current weather but America in general was totally out of my expectations and I love being in the country already! I ultimately love their friendly culture and inclusion for people like me. I think I would most definitely enjoy my four years here. One major lesson learned is never to summarize a country solely based on what's seen on the news.

Nur Alya Irdina binti Awang Harun
SCRBAF 2021 Scholarship Recipient

Arranged and Formatted by:
Aiman Abdullah Tee