Guten Tag, Orang Kampung: How One Student Aimed for the Stars and Landed in Europe.
International internships are a great opportunity for students to expand their horizon and experience a multitude of cultures, both socially and at work. When it comes to well-rounded, Master of Mechanical Engineering student, Mohd Fadillah Yamin, ‘The World is Your Oyster’ becomes more than just a saying.
Hailing from Kuching, Sarawak, Fadillah came from a financially challenged family. His story started at the age of five when his mother, a freelance cleaner, would bring him along to work. In one particular home of a PETRONAS Sabah and Sarawak marketing manager, he saw a PETRONAS Twin Tower figurine. Curiosity grew and he wondered what it represented. The manager saw young Fadillah’s curiosity and explained to him all about PETRONAS.
“He motivated and encouraged me to work hard in my studies in order to achieve higher goals so that I can shift my family’s future for the better.”
That was the moment Fadillah decided that he wanted to do his tertiary studies in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP).
While he initially wanted to do business, his passion for engineering burned brighter when he was awarded Best Student in Form 3 for his academic and extracurricular achievements. Encouragement from his teacher’s husband, who was an engineer himself, solidified his decision to continue down this road to enroll in UTP.
However, due to his family’s unstable financial conditions, he had to make a slight detour from his original plans and was offered a placement in Taylor’s College for A-Levels before eventually continuing his degree in UTP. Despite this small bump in the road, Fadillah was grateful that he got into the prestigious institution, even if it meant being away from his hometown and family. Migrating from a rural town to the urban jungle was not easy. Facing registration alone surrounded by other students who were accompanied by their parents, and sleeping without a pillow or blanket for the first few days made him feel lonely. Yet, he was determined to face all the challenges as he was carrying the hopes and dreams from everyone back home, especially his mum.
“How far we go is all up to us. We can’t limit our own potential to just stay at where we began. At the end of the day, it’s not about how we started, but how we end.”
Aiming for the Stars
During his second year of degree in UTP, Fadillah met Assoc. Prof. Ir. Dr. Mokthtar Awang, a lecturer who taught him Solid Mechanics – the scariest subject of his entire degree as it was one many had failed. Much to his relief, he scored an A and was surprised when Dr. Mokhtar approached him and said that he wishes to see Fadillah graduate as a PhD holder. Awestruck, Fadillah took those words of encouragement and grew more interested in doing research after winning the 1st Runner Up in a national Autodesk design competition with his roommate under the supervision of Dr. Mokhtar. The lecturer became his idol and number one supporter.
“He was the person who believed in my potential when everyone didn’t. He never judged me when I knew nothing about what I am working on. The best part is that he is always there for me through thick and thin. He and his wife, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ku Zilati, always encouraged me to aim for the stars when everyone says that the sky is their limit.”
Guten Tag, Europe!
At the peak of his academic career, Fadillah’s close friends and lecturers started to bring up opportunities for overseas internship. Despite his achievements, Fadillah was still hesitant, not only due to his financial issues but also low confidence level. In an effort to fix that, he pushed himself to be more active in extracurricular activities, including in Performing Art: Live Theatre Performance. Through these activities, he developed not only his organisational skills and adaptability, but also his language proficiency and courage to speak up.
“I realised that we are all like unsharpened pencils. We need to hone it through practice and experience.”
Thinking that he still wouldn’t get a placement overseas, he secured an internship at a local company but was shocked when good news arrived all the way from Austria: He was offered a trainee position with the University of Applied Science Upper Austria, Wels Campus. After getting support from Yayasan Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS and Zakat UTP, Fadillah found himself flying to Austria in 2016.
“The internship was my turning point. I became more exposed to the first-world mentality. How their people worked with effort to fulfill their responsibilities is just exceptional. I learnt to adapt in a new environment with a German-speaking community and lived with people who are very keen on producing high-quality output and higher critical thinking.”
Fadillah credits his education and extracurricular activities in UTP for shaping him to be a bold leader, to speak out when needed, and to be nice and professional to people in his surroundings.
“Obtaining outstanding results is a good thing, but we should never just be result-oriented without any efforts.”
With all the knowledge he gained from his first internship, Fadillah completed his degree with two dean’s list awards and published one paper from his Final Year Project, which he managed to finish two months in advance. After a short self-love vacation to Cameron Highlands, he went back on his grind and continued his master’s degree where he flew to Germany for his second internship – a research attachment with Hemholtz Zentrum Geesthact, Germany and European CleanSky. His experience there was smoother as by then he had already learnt a bit of German. When asked which internship was more memorable, Fadillah couldn’t choose.
“Both experiences have shaped me to be better. I have families from all over the world. We are so close and keep in contact with each other still. This experience has boosted my confidence to communicate in English with everyone. The best thing is that I can now speak German, and a little bit of Portuguese. The internships have given me the opportunity to travel the world and up until now, I have been to more than 10 countries.”
Thanks to the internship in Germany, Fadillah crafted his master’s thesis and received the Gold Award in Category B1: Master Science, Engineering, Technology for the Thesis in 5 Minutes, Series 1/2021 competition, representing Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS. Whilst he initially didn’t plan on joining the competition, UTP’s engineering department sent him an e-mail that encourages the Top 3 postgraduate students to participate.
About the win, he says, “It was fantastic to know that my work was finally recognised by other researchers.”
What the Future Holds
As with most students, COVID-19 affected Fadillah’s ability to complete his Masters in a normal fashion. He cites how different it is to get into a momentum for the writing phase, the most challenging part of his thesis. Nonetheless, he keeps moving forward and has high hopes despite the pandemic.
“I was planning to work but because of this pandemic, I’m considering a PhD as encouraged by my lecturers. It’s a hard time for me to decide. Let’s just pray for the best.”
Looking back, he believes the environmental exposure in UTP and opportunities given by Yayasan Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (YUTP) has allowed him to embark and craft a whole new life-learning journey experience. Though clueless and scared when he first heard of international internships, he decided to dive headfirst into a new world. Studying abroad opened his eyes. It’s not strictly to gain knowledge, but to also build a platform. Admittedly, it’s not as easy as he thought but that is the real challenge: to be strong in everything he faces. He gained new ‘family members’ across Europe and learnt so much from them. Fadillah is thankful for his family, friends, lecturers, and everyone he has worked with and befriended during his internships in Austria and Germany.
“Thanks to all that made the dreams of this ‘Orang Kampung’ possible.”
Published: 2 April 2021