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Nur Aqila & Nur Aqasya: Twins in Life, Studies and Exploration


It’s quite common for twins to go to the same school and class, or even the same university, but how about the same student exchange programme in the same overseas university?

That’s what happened with Nur Aqila and Nur Aqasya binti Mohd Hamka, final year students at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) in Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering respectively. They studied at the Florida International University in Florida (FIU) in USA for three months under UTP’s Student Exchange Programme (SEP). 
Applying for SEP
This may seem like a lucky coincidence, but they had to work hard for this opportunity. First, there was the course mapping they had to do. Nur Aqila shares, “I took an entire year to prepare myself. I had to do course mapping for several universities as I was not sure which university would be the best fit for me. I had to ensure that the syllabus at UTP and the host university were at least 70% similar.”

Nur Aqasya adds, “If the course outline of the host university did not match UTP’s, we had to redo everything from the start and find courses that are available at the host university.”
The sisters were initially course mapping for West Virginia University. However, they were placed with FIU instead after their sponsorship interview with Yayasan Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (YUTP). Nur Aqila recommends that students who aspire to join the SEP to apply for this sponsorship to ease their financial constraints, “YUTP funded 25% of my SEP expenses (RM9,000) and my parents covered the rest. Students can also apply for SEP in lower-cost countries such as Turkey.”  

Nur Aqila and Nur Aqasya planned to be in the US for five months, but COVID-19 cut their stay short. They returned to Malaysia and continued their classes online. Still, the short stint gave them many fond memories. They got to experience studying in a different environment and broaden their perspectives.  
Differences between Studying in the USA and Malaysia
The twins found the teaching style in USA rather different from what they experienced back home. Nur Aqila explains, “At UTP, our lecturers take the trouble to prepare slides for their classes. In the US, most of the professors did not provide lecture slides, so we had to be independent. As we could not depend solely on study materials from the professors, we had to buy or rent textbooks to be able to follow the lessons. It was quite difficult to get the textbooks as they were limited. Renting one book could cost USD50 to USD70 per semester!” 

Unlike universities in Malaysia, Nur Aqasya discovered that the exams and tests at FIU did not include questions that test on higher order thinking skills. “Having this type of questions can enhance the thinking skills of students.” 
Besides the contrasting academic experience, these two students got to enjoy an active social life. Nur Aqasya shares a tip on how to make the best of an exchange programme, “We followed FIU’s social media platforms before our trip to the US. When we were there, we kept ourselves updated on all their social events and went for cookout events, concerts, and basketball games.”  One of their most memorable outings were weekend trips to Orlando three-and-a-half hours away.  
Besides making new friends and experiencing a totally different studying environment, Nur Aqasya improved her communication and social skills during her time in the US. “At UTP, I was an introvert and always stayed in my comfort zone. When I joined SEP, I had to step out of my comfort zone and sharpen my social skills to prepare myself for the real world. At FIU, I had to communicate with people from around the world in class and social settings.”
Expanding Worldview
Miami is a multi-racial city and their religious studies class was packed with people of different races and religions, says Nur Aqasya. “Although Malaysia also consists of people of different cultures and religions, our Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies (TITAS) class is mainly focused on the religion of the majority. At FIU, we learned about different cultures and religions every week. At the end of every week, we would get a reading assignment and present our understanding gained from the assignments.”
For Nur Aqila, the insights into racism and racial inequality shared by her friends at FIU were eye-opening. “I gained new perspective into what it’s like being a minority and the social injustices that they face every day,” she says. 
Lasting Impressions
The art scene in Miami took Nur Aqasya by surprise. “When I first arrived, my roommate explained how Miami is famous for their art district in downtown Miami. There are art museums everywhere on the streets of Wynwood. I never knew that Florida had this level of appreciation towards art.” 

On the other hand, Nur Aqila shares that if she were to describe USA in only one word, it would be ‘friendly’. She elaborates, “Everywhere we went, people talked to each other easily. It is very normal to be walking and have a random passerby stop to talk to you about anything. We had encounters like this at the beach in Miami where strangers would ask us where we were from. Simple gestures like this really made my day.”

Although their stay in the US was just a short three months, it’s clear that they have gained so much invaluable experience from the exchange programme. The sisters encourage other students to give SEP a go: they themselves were inspired by UTP alumni, Cempaka Lim, whom we featured not long ago. 

Elaborating about how her journey started, Nur Aqasya shares, “I learned about SEP through Instagram and came across an UTP alumni’s post about going for an exchange program as an undergraduate. That person was my role model, Cempaka Lim. I’ve always been inspired by her journey as a female engineer in the male-dominated oil and gas field.” 

We’ve shared many stories of undergraduates such as Nur Aqasya and Nur Aqila, and alumni like Cempaka to inspire our students and those who aspire to study at UTP. We hope to one day feature your story here too. ​​