The Malaysian medical student on a mission to make her dreams a reality

Poh was born in Penang in Malaysia and was raised there. Both her parents were educated in
the United Kingdom and therefore, had a preference for Poh going to university in the UK.
Malaysia is a democratic country and has a preference for brown skin. They prefer those of
Malay ethnicity as opposed to Chinese, Indian etc. Therefore, for Poh, it would have been
incredibly hard to get a space in university and she did not want to go into private education.

Poh made the decision to apply to a few different universities in the UK to study medicine and
Queen’s was the only one to give her an offer. So, in 2011, at the age of 19, Poh braved the
journey across from the home country which was all she had ever known to start a new life for
herself in Belfast. She began a 5 year Medical degree, before progressing onto a 2 year medical foundation programme.

She is currently working in Musgrave Hospital as of August 2021 and will stay until July 2022.
Luckily, as Malaysia is a post-British country, Poh already had quite a good understanding of the English
language as both her parents grew up in the 60s speaking English and they could both speak English and Hawkins (her ancestors language) fluently. However, this does not mean that everything was a smooth ride for Poh.
Although she understood and could speak English very well, she experienced a culture shock when she moved to Belfast as she struggled to understand the slang and how fast people would speak. In medical school, she had to interact with patients on her placements, which she struggled with at times due to the accents and the slang which she could not understand. After a while, Poh began to understand the slang and the accents and started to feel less of an outsider, as she felt she could interact and connect with those around her and her patients better.
Alongside the culture shock of the language, the weather was also something which Poh had to
learn to adjust to. In her home country of Penang, she was used to sunny days and temperatures
which would usually reach 30 degrees celsius. Coming to a country with a very different climate
was hard for her to adjust to when she was used to the hot temperatures for her entire life. As
well as this, Penang is a very religious country and most practice Talisman. This religion is very
different to the main religions practiced in Northern Ireland – it is more spiritual. Talisman is
more focused on the way of life and teaches to accept life as it is. It believes that everything
happens for a reason and everything will work out as it is supposed to. They pray to their
ancestors and to gods, and leave gifts such as money for those that they worship. They also
celebrate events such as the Lunar New Year and the Winter Solstice. She also explained how
she found life as a student hard as there is quite a big drinking culture in university and she did
not enjoy drinking. Although this was an easier way to make friends in university, Poh did not
feel comfortable being in bars and clubs and drinking often, which hindered her ability to make
friends.

On top of the culture shock, Poh stated that she experienced mild racism whilst adjusting to life
in Belfast. At times, when walking out of university, she would have eggs thrown at her by
people in the area. She had a hard time trying to integrate into the community and struggled to
find people who shared a common ground. Poh also stated
that the people in her course did not seem to be as open to
people from other places and she commented that she
found England to be more open and accepting. Due to this,
she felt quite isolated at times and felt those on her course
were quite cliquey. She found that people tended to
gravitate towards those that were the same as them as this
gave them a stronger sense of belonging and feeling accepted. However, despite this, she stated
that, since leaving university, she has experienced more sexism than racism – with one of her
patients telling her he did not want to listen to her as she was a woman. She stated that, in her job
in Musgrave Hospital which she has been working in since 2021, she works with all Northern
Irish people and was surprised to find that she formed strong friendships with her colleagues.

However, in 2021, Poh found a community where she felt like she could belong outside of her
work environment and finally found a friendship group of her own, which was the beginning of a
new direction for her. She lives on her own now, but previously, she lived with 2 girls, Rosanne
and Yeehan, who were also studying medicine. Poh described Rosanne as a very outgoing and
active person, she was always doing something to keep herself busy. Rosanne was part of a
dance group called Mexican Dance Belfast which she told Poh about. Despite being quite
introverted, Poh made the decision to attend this dance group, just to see what could come out of
it. Poh quickly fell in love with the dance group as it gave her an opportunity to have time away
from work where she does not have to think about anything, she can just have fun. Although she
had never danced before, this did not matter, as she loved everyone’s personalities and it gave
her a place where she felt like she belonged. She loves that most that attend are international and
that it gives her a chance to socialise with others.

After a rocky start to life in Northern Ireland, Poh has gone from strength to strength and is now
living a life in Belfast which she is very content with. She enjoys her time here, although it is
very different, it is good. The country as a whole is more open minded and accepting, for
example, in Malaysia, it is still illegal to be gay. She loves that Belfast has given her a chance to
become more independent and find herself. Finally, she has a place where she feels like she
belongs.