Malaysian students discover the ‘Western’ world


Izyan “Izzy” Hani Mohd Izham and Farisa Mohd Zaffa

From left : Izyan “Izzy” Hani Mohd Izham and Farisa Mohd Zaffa are both Earth Science students completing their fourth year. They both were recipients of the PETRONAS scholarships.


By Mitchell Zimmer and Heather Travis

For most of Western’s student population, getting to school amounts to a short drive from home somewhere in southern Ontario. For Izyan “Izzy” Hani Mohd Izham and Farisa Mohd Zaffa it is much more than an afternoon jaunt.

The fourth year Department of Earth Sciences students travelled almost 15,000 kilometres from their homes in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, students entering Grade 12 undergo a rigorous set of exams in order to apply for scholarships in a variety of fields. Both Mohd Izham and Mohd Zaffa wanted to pursue a career in earth sciences so they applied for scholarships sponsored by the Malaysian petroleum industry giant, Petronas.

After a student is awarded the scholarship, the company chooses a country where he or she will study. The rest is up to the student.

So when Mohd Izham and Mohd Zaffa were told that they would be going to Canada, they started the university search.

To help in the transition to a Canadian system, they completed Grade 12 at a private college with Canadian teachers.

“It was the same as over here; we had Canadian textbooks and everything,” says Mohd Izham.

With many universities from which to choose, Western’s reputation translated across the cultures and helped to make their decision easier.

“I didn’t know anything about Canada and neither did anybody else because nobody had actually studied in Canada. We are the pioneer batch,” Mohd Izham says.
She turned to her Canadian teachers for advice, who spoke highly of Western.
Mohd Zaffa heard about Western through others who had visited it. “Everybody was saying ‘Western is so nice’.”

Five other Petronas-sponsored geology students are studying in universities across the country.

Both students have their sights set on a career in oil and gas exploration. After finishing their studies, they plan to return to Malaysia to work for their sponsor, Petronas.
“The way the company works is that they assign you to the department they need you to work in,” says Mohd Izham.

Mohd Zaffa adds the job is in line with “what your abilities are and you specialize in that area."

Although Malaysia’s reserves are offshore, Petronas is a global company with interests around the world.

With one year left at Western, they each want to take full advantage of the experience abroad.

For example, Mohd Zaffa participated in the Student Industry Field Trip.

Thirty-one Canadian universities select a student to go to Calgary and participate in a two-week crash course on the oil and gas industry in Western Canada. The course goes beyond lectures and sharpening skills for oil and gas exploration; it offered opportunities to network with people in the industry.

Having spent most of her time in southern Ontario, Mohd Zaffa was anxious to learn about other areas of the country’s landscape.

“Because we are from here [southern Ontario], we don’t really know about the structural and sedimentary geology over there, so everything there is pretty much new.”

A key aspect of the Department of Earth Sciences is the field studies program, which provides exposure to rocks from the geological past, and challenges students to unravel histories embedded in the outcrops, or exposed bedrock. Earth Sciences chair Gerhard Pratt accompanied the two students on the trip to Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Field Trip

Malaysian students Izyan “Izzy” Hani Mohd Izham and Farisa Mohd Zaffa are Earth Science students who took part in a Nova Scotia field trip earlier this year


“I was with Farissa and Izyan in Nova Scotia on their field school, and watched how they and the other students visibly matured in their approach to geology as they grappled with the spectacular and dramatic geology in and around the Bay of Fundy,” says Pratt.

“We pride ourselves in giving our students the intellectual foundations to pursue a wide range of professional careers in earth sciences. Farissa and Izyan are returning to Malaysia with an education that will enable them to participate at the highest levels in their country’s future role as an energy producer,” notes Pratt.

International students bring new and unique perspectives to the Earth Sciences program, he says, which contributes to the overall learning experience for students.

“Many aspects of earth science are inherently international. We carry out field studies around the world, with a huge range of topics – from earthquake hazards, to ancient fauna and flora, to exploration for the worlds mineral and energy resources, and understanding other planets in our solar system,” he says.

From new academic experiences to adjusting to a different climate, including experiencing snow for the first time, the pair will have many skills and stories to share when they return to Malaysia.

“We welcome the opportunity to increase the presence of international students at Western in the future,” adds Pratt.