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D-Month, D-Departure!

​At last, time has come and its February! How fast time went by… It felt as if yesterday we were just awarded the scholarship! And now here I am, meeting Ms Susie for my predeparture briefing. We went through all the relevant information and documents. The documents included Australian Visa, E-Ticket, Negative PCR Result Letter, Australian Travel Declaration, MinDef Movement and Admin Instruction Letter, MOE Approval Letter, PMO Exit Travel Letter and Australian Overseas Student Confirmation-of-Enrolment (CoE) Letter.  Ms Susie also gave me lots of advice for when I am in Australia. In all honesty, I still feel surreal that I was going abroad. But little did I know… things were about to get more surreal in the coming days.

The night before D-day, I found myself tossing around bed, unable to sleep peacefully. Morning came and I woke up very early with an unsettling feeling. Genuinely, it wasn't mixed emotions like most people felt, for me, I felt more towards an indescribable hollowness. However, arriving to the airport and checking in resulted in another rise of emotion, excitement. Alhamdulillah, the check-in was quite smooth, and I was only left with bidding farewells to my family and friends. At this moment, memories began to flash through my mind. Grocery shopping, casual chatting and having meals together with my family was what stood out the most, just the little things you do daily in their accompany… I also reminisced all my friends, especially Hanan, Alya, Liessa, Raziq and Haziq, as we did daily morning trainings together in the past months. I also received a cake from Hanan, Liessa, Raziq and Haziq earlier in January during Alya's farewell hangout. To my surprise, the cake was also meant for me. My friends also gave me lovely farewell gifts such as Lego Flower, Apple EarPods (because they knew mine broken), Hydro Flask, food and drinks. 


Upon the announcement of the opening of my boarding gate, I said my goodbyes to my friends and lastly to my family. It was definitely tough to part ways with my family when my mom was trying to hide her tears, which eventually, made everyone cry… But it was time to go, I went inside to meet up with my friends that was flying off to Sydney as well. I felt grateful knowing that me and my friends have each other's side in case things were to go south.


We hopped in the plane and off we went to Singapore! After settling down, the first thing I did was sanitize the whole area with the given sanitizing wipes, just as a safety precaution. It has been long since I flew, it made me forget how amusing take-offs are! Just about 45 minutes in, I was served a halal meal which was booked by the Scholarship Section. Thankfully, because it was a pre-booked meal, they serve it earlier compared to the rest of the passengers. However, due to Covid-19, I was kind of worried opening my mask to eat in the close proximity of the plane seatings. So, what I did was, I only opened my mask when I was about to take a spoonful of food or a sip of water then put it back on. By the way, the meal served was lamb with rice which was absolutely delish! And they also gave a cute packet of milk! Unfortunately, I did not try it because I knew milk might upset my stomach, and that's the least I'd hope to happen especially in this long journey!


To kill time, I browsed through the screen infront of my seat. I skimmed through the digital earth map for the destination details. Not long after, I hear the Captain's voice saying we were about to land. Fun fact, as close as Singapore is to Brunei, I never actually visited Singapore! I was feeling very excited to see the airport everyone has been speaking very highly of! Upon arrival, I could definitely see why it is being spoken about so highly! It was huge, similar to Thailand's Airport! Since my layover time was around 7 hours, I had ample of time to walk around and explore! But in spite of that, most of the stores were closed… I also went to see the Jewel garden, sadly, it was not open for transit passengers. 


At night, I met up with my friend from Indonesia whom I met through my university's international peer mentor session held last month. We were in the same peer mentor group and coincidentally we both found out we will be in the same flight! We went to the boarding gate together and off we go to Sydney! When I was about to enter the plane, I was intrigued because the plane has two decks and mine was located on the lower deck. Since my flight was around 1AM, I was exhausted from the long walks around Changi Airport, so I dozed off to sleep right after take-off and after sanitizing the whole area. Additionally, the seating is more spacious compared to the previous plane. This time 'sleeping in the plane' was dissimilar to those before Covid-19 pandemic because now we'd be sleeping literally with masks and face shield on. It was indeed uncomfortable but I still managed to fall asleep. In a blink of an eye, it was already 5 AM! Few hours until arrival! This was when the joyous emotions kicked in! By 6 AM, I was served breakfast; fish with noodles, bread, yoghurt, water and apple juice. I ate in the same manner as I did in the previous plane.


Before landing we had to do a Declaration permit, at which I did worry because I have heard that Australia is very strict with the security check especially when it comes to food baggage. But all that aside, I just declared all the items I brought. Then, we heard the Captain's announcement again! Landing time! We were arriving 30 minutes earlier than planned! During the landing, I could see so many city buildings! It was at this point where I really felt dreamlike. Upon arrival, we took our baggage and went off to security. Honestly, I was concerned that they might rummage through my food baggage and throw it away. Astonishingly, I got lucky and they did not even run me through the scanning area and they said I am good to go after checking my passport whereas there are people who got stuck at the scanning area with their food baggage opened!


I went out through the 'Arrivals' Door and… I'm here! In Sydney… I bought a sim card and then went to Veriu Hotel in Randwick, which was close to my university, via the transportation allocated by our Defence Adviser in Australia. I arrived at the hotel at 3 PM, freshening up was the first thing I did after the 20-hour journey! Then I did my ART Test as per New South Wale's Health Service Requirement for fully vaccinated arrivals. Alhamdulillah, it's negative. I proceeded to take a rest for the whole day and just nap. The next day, I decided to take a walk around the area before checking out of the hotel, and it was a completely different layout to Brunei! The weather was very unpredictable, one minute its hot, next its cold! 


I checked out early and went to my accommodation directly to sign the contract and settled my rent. Never have I ever felt anymore 'adult' than this! I met my Bruneian housemates and soon we went off to the city to sightsee. Tall buildings, cafes, people from all over the world could be seen every corner. We even went to an art gallery! The places were very beautifully decorated and unique! Walking further we could see more stalls and shops. Then, we saw something that looked straight out of a picture… It was the Sydney Opera House! This was probably an even more magical moment than previously! It was absolutely breathtaking, even from afar. We took pictures and went to another place called Eastgarden Westfield Shopping Complex to get the essentials we needed such as kitchen utensils and many more. Along the way to the light rail station, we passed by so many people bringing their dogs for a walk. Particularly, there was this one specific gigantic bulldog and I think it sensed my fear, and started to follow me in a fast pace. Thankfully, it was leashed so the owner was really understanding about it. However, I did scurry away from it and it tried to chase me! Frankly saying, I was a tad bit panicked. 


After buying all the necessities and groceries from Kmart, in Eastgarden Westfield, we went home. The next day, I attended the first day of Orientation Week (O-Week). I came early to campus to check out the whole vicinity for future convenience purposes. The campus is ENORMOUS! There were so many steep stairs and of course, I met the infamous 'UNSW Stairs' and the 'Basser Steps'. All I can say is it's undoubtedly good for stamina building! Not to mention, my faculty is all the way at the opposite side of the main entrance and it is located at the upper campus area. The day goes by with me settling my student ID, Individual Health Identifiers (IHI) and getting tons of freebies! For lunch, I tried out the Halal Kebab Classic stall in the food court and… it's really delicious and full of meat! Even though it was pricey ($17 AUD), I'd say it was worth it!


The next couple of days, I settled activating my bank account and attended the welcoming events under Medical Faculty and Medical Society (MedSoc). One of the memorable things I did was during the MedSoc's Scavenger Hunt. Everyone was grouped based on the month they were born in and I was in group 13 (October Babies!). Basically, all the groups will compete, the group with the highest points will get a prize. We were given a list of things to do, within a time frame, with its points beside it. Some of them were like finding an anatomy book in the library and taking a picture of the whole group with it and upload it in the group's Instagram (check out @medgrp13 on Instagram to see my group's pictures!). It was super fun even though my team did not win. Through many more activities during many of the welcoming events, I met numerous people from all parts of the world. Everyone was super friendly and high-spirited.


Food-wise, there are times where I made lunch and dinner, and there are also times where I tried food from the restaurants. Some of the meals I made was corned beef fried rice, 'ayam masak merah', pancake and pasta. Whereas, the food I tried from the restaurants were 'nasi kuning ayam bakar' and 'gozleme'. I even had the chance to try out the macarons that Song Ji Hyo from Running Man ate (Halal)! I'd say the food here is certainly appetizing and filling especially because the portions are so massive!


On some free days before lecture starts, I went window-shopping to the city with my friend! It was nice to see the various interior building designs here; they were very unalike to each other. I also went to buy more home necessities and more groceries! Since my lectures only start a week after the O-Week, I had time to settle down and be more comfortable with my surroundings. 


Due to Covid-19, Lectures are held online, however scenario group sessions (SGS), some practical sessions and some clinical sessions are on campus. On the first day of my term, I had my online lectures (introduction to the medicine program), online practical (introduction to microscopy), SGS (introduction to group) and 'Meet your Mentors' Night.  Since SGS was on campus and right after my online practical, I went to campus early to watch the online practical on campus and head to SGS straight away. The online practical was very intriguing because we touched on so many scientific terms… on the first day! The SGS was cute, really! It was like a small 'classroom' of 12 students with one facilitator. By the night, I met my mentors! And apparently, my mentor was my friend that I flew with to Sydney! What a coincidence! The session was very informative and convenient since the program was very new to me in terms of the structure and learning method. We were served pizza by the faculty! There were so many options for everyone; halal and vegetarian (just cheese) and meat lovers. 


Throughout the final week of February, I had many more lectures, SGS and on campus practical. My first on campus practical experience was momentous! We did microscopy on mammalian cells infected with bacteria and checking our hand under blue light and fluorescent gel to see how many bacteria are present before and after we wash our hands. I absolutely enjoy everything! After a long break from school and online learning, this practical session definitely sparked up my excitement for my medical journey! 

During the weekend, MedSoc actually scheduled a 'MedCamp' Program. Due to the alcohol and the parties, I decided to not go. Instead, I went to Sydney Fish Market with my medicine friends who opted to not go to 'MedCamp' as well. It was raining heavily, but we still enjoyed our time together. Not to mention, I found my first favourite food from Sydney, Salmon and Scallop Aburi! Aside from that, on the 26th of February, Bruneians Around Sydney Society (BASS) also held an online meeting in the event of Brunei's 38th National Day! It was really nice to celebrate Brunei's National Day even though we are in Australia! The Kahoot quiz game about Brunei history and language was also very fun and engaging. 


As a whole, this month has been nothing but an absolute fantastic and humbling experience in all aspects. I have truly experienced self-independence at its highest whether it be finance, academic-wise or well-being. I am also very grateful towards the Induction Programme we underwent last year. It serves as a foundation and confidence in handling all the 'adult' matters specifically the financial budgeting! I am looking forward to experience further into the medicine program and getting to know Australia! 


Syasya Athirah binti Baharulnizam

SCRBAF 2021 Scholarship Recipient


Arranged and Formatted by:

Aiman Abdullah Tee