Cultural immersion: A photography student’s Malaysian journey

Thu 3 Nov 2022

This post is by Falmouth Flexible MA Photography student Darren Clarke.

In April 2022, I was selected to participate in a Cultural Immersion Project, in conjunction with both Falmouth University and Sunway University in the Selangor region, near to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia.

Photo by Darren Clarke showing man standing on escalator wearing green face mask

Image by Darren Clarke (2022)

My initial reaction upon being chosen to represent Falmouth as an older online MA Photography student was one of almost disbelief, with excitement and trepidation in equal measures. I hadn't truly considered the real prospect of being selected, so the application process was, let's say, at the time, speculative.

This month-long project was an incredible opportunity in terms of self-development and confidence building after several years of difficult personal issues. It became apparent that the programme was highly pertinent to my current master's module, 'Sustainable Strategies', as one of the focus areas was the in-depth study of the seventeen UN sustainable development goals and how Sunway University is playing its role in advancing these goals.

Learn more about the diverse selection of modules included on the online, part-time MA Photography degree from Falmouth Flexible: 

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Over the four weeks, I gained insight into the languages and uniqueness of communication in Malaysia and experienced both lecture hall and field-based research into Malaysia's culture and values.

This was achieved through a programme of lectures led by eminent Sunway professors and guests. This gave me invaluable knowledge that would form primary research moving forward into new projects.

As a group, our pastoral care was facilitated by Sunway host lecturers and a network of 'buddies'. We are indebted to these wonderful, kind people who gave us insider knowledge and friendship, both on campus and during our recreational breaks, where one could easily, and affordably, reach out to other parts of Malaysia, such as Langkawi, Penang and Sabah, and with some of the cohort even venturing as far as Singapore.

From a scholarly perspective, I found that this experiential month significantly informed and developed my practice as a photographer and student, and gave me clear, new inspiration in my methodology, both aesthetically and ethically.

Photo by Darren Clarke showing list of activities and achievements from his time in Malaysia

Michael Shapter reminds us: 'Human understanding of reality and beliefs about photography's depiction of reality, is the product of education, cultural influences, ability to discern information, and reactions to the developments of ideas over time, along with the mind's sequences of self-righting and filtering of knowledge.'

This of course, could apply to anyone, and I shared this month in Malaysia with students from disciplines as varied as music, engineering, law, design and tourism. The opportunity to spend a month (which I believe was the perfect length of time), deeply immersed in a new culture, with a rich and varied curated programme of learning and social experiences, can only benefit one's development.

When one factors in the elements of financial support from both Falmouth and Sunway, and the incredible opportunity to meet and share experiences with a new cohort, not only made up of Falmouth applicants, but also from Lancaster University, the reasons to register one's interest in such an exchange programme become clearly apparent.

Personally, I have made real, meaningful connections with people that will be ongoing. The opportunities to remain in contact with Sunway were clear and the ease of approachability in terms of networking within Sunway, across faculties, was also not only apparent but encouraged.

Moving forwards from the work I made in my spare time whilst in Malaysia, has resulted in the possibility of a return to Sunway, to continue to develop my ideas and practice and my bond with this country.

The Cultural Immersion programmes offered by Falmouth are, in my informed opinion, a real 'backstage pass' to a new country and its inherent wonders.

Find out more about Darren Clarke on his website or Instagram feed.

Photo by Darren Clarke of man sitting at a bench in covered balcony area

All images: Darren Clarke 2022

Falmouth Flexible's online MA in Photography gives students' the opportunity to network virtually in global circles, and you're offered the opportunity to apply for exchanges abroad (such as the Cultural Immersion progamme) and attend optional face-to-face events throughout your course. Find out more: 

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