For Nurul, Kamil and Datu, students from University Tecknologi Mara in Malaysia, discovering all there is to do and learn this semester at the University of Lethbridge is the experience of a lifetime. In turn, for students, faculty and staff in the Department of Theatre and Dramatic Arts, hosting these exceptional students is not only rewarding but also provides the opportunity to learn from their exchange visitors.
The exchange program, spearheaded by Theatre and Dramatic Arts Professor Emeritus, Dr. Ches Skinner, is the first of its kind for the department.
"Since I retired from the U of L, I have been teaching in the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) in Malaysia," says Skinner. "UiTM has a program that enables students to go overseas to complete a three-month practicum. I encouraged Nurul, Kamil and Datu to apply and they did. I approached the U of L Fine Arts department last year to consider hosting these students and the rest, as they say, was history."
The students were in Lethbridge from August through October adjusting to their new life, moving into a new home, registering for classes and becoming acquainted with the theatre production shops where they are working.
"I really had no experience on a sewing machine," says Nurul, who is working in the Costume Shop with manager Teresa Heyburn and assistant Lynn Hopkins. "Back home, we mostly sew by hand. I have learned so many things from Teresa and Lynn. These skills are very valuable to my studies and career back home."
Kamil and Datu have been busy in the Props and Scene Shops, working on the set of the next Mainstage production, The Government Inspector, with properties master Jay Johnston, head shop carpenter David Green and scene shop assistant Arlene Curran.
"I chose to come to the U of L after talking to Dr. Skinner and exploring the U of L website. I plan to use the skills learned here in theatre back home in Malaysia. It's been a great experience so far," says Kamil.
"Nurul, Kamil and Datu come from small villages and pay for their education through loans and work they do out of school," explains Skinner. "They could never afford to travel outside their country, so consequently, the world beyond their borders is often a collage of what they pick up from films, TV and newspapers. This experience will immeasurably expand their knowledge of the world and themselves."
Meeting new friends, practicing English, discovering new skills and using new technology continues to expand the students' experiences every day.
"A university is a place where people from different cultures, beliefs, traditions and practices come together to share ideas and experiences; to get to know each other, and in doing so, contribute positively to the global community of which we are all a part," adds Skinner. "Nowhere is that more important than in the fine arts, which celebrates our humanity through all forms of expression. In a small way, I believe this program reflects that aim and will hopefully break through the geographical obstacles and help people from different parts of the world to get to know each other."
As Nurul, Kamil and Datu's visit concludes in November, it is hoped another handful of UiTM students will take advantage of the exchange program and join the Faculty of Fine Arts at the U of L, to discover all the opportunities found on campus and throughout the whole community.
"I hope the U of L will become the preferred place for students from UiTM for many years," says Skinner. "This program adds to their education and is exceedingly valuable for them."