Student ambassador Mutia Hanifah was honoured to give a graduation speech to all her classmates at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University – even if she was more than 4,000km away in her hometown of Bogor, Indonesia.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, Hanifah’s peers could still see her face as she delivered to them a message of hope in these difficult times: “To all the countless struggles that we have been through, I am very proud of you for making every single effort, waking up each day with new inspiration and hope. Know that this too shall pass.”

This is a message that’s personal to Hanifah – she’s overcome many obstacles on her journey to XJTLU, and the pandemic that raged worldwide in her final semester was another that she faced with her usual optimism and determination.

A dream deferred

Hanifah had dreamt of coming to China for her studies since a two-month internship in high school took her to Changde in Hunan. That period of meeting people of different cultures, and sharing her own experiences, sparked a desire in Hanifah to broaden her world.

“I was determined to study in China, and I wanted to study chemistry, but I knew that learning a technical subject like that would be very difficult in Chinese. That’s why I was so glad to find XJTLU – they offered chemistry, and entirely in English.”

But before she could start the next phase of her life, Hanifah had to set about getting a scholarship. After some disappointments and difficulties, she finally applied for one offered in conjunction with the Jiangsu government and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing yet – because she was coming to China around the G20 summit, visa approvals were fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. She was declined for a visa, but her parents were approved, meaning they had to come to China and prepare what they could on her behalf.

“The XJTLU Global team was so helpful – they sent me textbooks and helped me with my visa application.

“I finally arrived, a month late. And that meant that I had to do everything by myself. The first month was so difficult for me,” she says.

Looking up

But after that first month, things started to get easier, Hanifah says.

“I started to make more friends, and become more involved. When things got difficult for me towards the end of my second year, with a lot of my friends going back to their home countries, I poured myself into my activities.

“I was an XJTLU international student ambassador and I joined a Rotary-affiliated organisation called Rotaract. I was attending lots of activities, even when I wasn’t in the mood.

“I also did an internship through International Business School Suzhou. I was earning money and I was part of a team. Sure, it was hard work, but it was still lots of fun.”

Fun, Hanifah says, is also one of the things that made her love the Department of Chemistry so much.

“The academic staff were all incredibly approachable, and they didn’t think twice about explaining things to students from the ground up. I felt like I could go to them several times a day if I needed to. It was a very nurturing environment,” she says.

“They treated each student as a unique individual with their own advantages and disadvantages. And in the face of disadvantages, they helped students overcome and compensate.”

With her eyes further afield, Hanifah plans to do her masters degree in Europe, and wants to explore the pharmaceutical and healthcare side of chemistry.

“There have been many moments in my life that contributed to healthcare being on my mind. For one, my mom got sick when I was very young.

“I also had four cats growing up, so we would often take them to the vet and the people there were so helpful, explaining their illnesses and treatments.

“Then, in school, a friend of mine got sick. I wanted to help, to give him a pill or medicine that could cure him.

“And, of course, the importance of healthcare was really underscored recently, in my last semester at university. The pandemic made me realise that this isn’t just an issue for my family, or my friends, but the world. The whole world is sick.”

Know thyself

One of the most enduring things Hanifah learned at XJTLU, she says, was about herself.

“I realised more about who I am and what I want. I love being in an international environment.

“Some of my happiest memories from XJTLU are becoming friends with my international classmates, and trips we took together.”

By Patricia Pieterse

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