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Malaysian Student Focuses on Environmental Issues


Nur Atiah Azhar traveled from Malaysia to study at Northwestern University in Illinois in order to walk in the footsteps of her father.

“The main reason that I came here to study is because, for one thing, my father did his PhD here,” she says. “He took the family along, and I had a wonderful time. I spent three years here in elementary school and I’ve always wanted to come back. So I knew that one of the ways to come back was to go to college here. It was always a dream of mine to come and study here. Besides that, I believe that to study in the United States, it would give me that certain edge over other undergraduate students from Malaysia.”

Nur Atiah is also following her interest in learning about the environment and how to protect it. She believes a degree in environmental engineering will be a valuable asset back home.

“Environmental engineering is quite a new field, particularly in Malaysia,” she says. “It deals with issues of the environment -- particularly pollution, water contamination, cleanliness, waste disposal and stuff like that. And I was thinking that, in the future, environmental issues would be very largely looked at, and…future job prospects would be quite open. Anyway, it is very interesting for me because I love stuff that has to do with the environment.”

While Nur Atiah finds her classes challenging, she encourages everyone around the world to take on such challenges. “It doesn’t matter if you are in Malaysia or if you are in India or if you are in Thailand,” she says. “What matters most is that you get an education. Because…through education, through knowledge is where you learn respect, is where you learn about life. And through knowledge, that is where you know what you want to do, where you want to go to and who you want to become. And also it gives you more choices in life, more possibilities and it opens up the whole world to you.”

Life at Northwestern University is more than classes. “What I like about here is not just the studying,” she says, adding, “Well, who does like [that]?” Nur Atiah is also involved with the school’s Malaysian Association, particularly the Malaysian band. “I have always loved to sing, and I never really thought that I would join a band,” she says. “But I have always done, like, little shows at school for the other students. And all of a sudden I heard that the guys in the Malaysian Association were going to make a band and they were looking for a vocalist and I thought, ‘Why not just try it?’”

She is also involved with the Malaysian soccer team “So these two things really take a lot of my time," she says.

It's only Nur Atiah's sophomore year at Northwestern University. Still, she does have an idea of what she would like to do after she graduates. “I was thinking of going ahead to graduate school [and] maybe do a masters,” she says. “Then I will probably go back to Malaysia…working probably as a consultant or something.”

Nur Atiah Azhar is one of more than 500,000 international students currently enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.