“Congratulations, you’ve just been accepted into the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar as one of the Early Stage Researchers for the urbanHIST project.”
When I received the acceptance letter, I was in the midst of preparing the syllabus for the upcoming semester. I was a lecturer in the first architecture school in Borneo, the University College Technology Sarawak (UCTS). I had research topics and taught over 125 bachelor students, in a place that even most Malaysians themselves have never been to or even heard about, as it was far from the capital in the remote state of Sarawak. Prior to that I was a junior architect working on a seven building construction project in Kuala Lumpur. I decided to go into lecturing and dabble in research, so this institution in Sarawak was a good place to start as it was small and there was a good camaraderie among the academics. I really did enjoy lecturing and tutoring the students, evaluating their work and preparing lessons during my brief tenure. We were working on getting accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education while coaxing the students to raise the standards in their work. However throughout my time working in Malaysia, I have had this yearning to return to Europe and study urban planning. I had lived there as a student in England and an intern in Germany so I was exposed to these ideas that I wanted to explore further with much more intellectual rigor, which I did not feel that there was much room for me to do it in my home country. Hence, when I was accepted into the urbanHIST program, it was like a dream for me. Furthermore, it was the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, a well-established institution well known for its history and role in art and modern architecture.
The dean and head of school in Sarawak was not too happy to lose another staff, but they respected my decision to leave. A much older colleague and a good friend of mine sat me down and told me that this was a great opportunity and I should not waste it, and that the school would be fine without me. That was the turning point in my life and my career. I had a lovely experience in UCTS but I was going to move on to even bigger things. I wanted to follow my heart. I packed up, sold my beloved motorbike, donated my belongings, left Sarawak, stopped to say goodbye to my parents in Kuala Lumpur and returned to Germany.
When I arrived in Weimar, it reminded me a lot of Canterbury in England, where I had spent five years studying. It is small, historic with plenty of international students and tourists adding to the conviviality of the old town. There are charming cafes, restaurants, events and markets with plenty of pedestrians and cyclists. My flat is within the center and I could walk to my daily needs. This is where I will be for the time being. What a privilege it is to be here as part of urbanHIST. What a big transition it was, moving between continents and switching careers within the past year. Your environment and the people around you may change, but as long as you know who you are and if you can rely on yourself, everything will work out for the better.
Author: Azmah Arzmi
Photo: Azmah Arzmi