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My Southeast Asia Ventures: I never thought I would study in Brunei. But it has turned out to be one of my best decisions

The writer (pictured) on a field trip along Brunei’s rocky shores.
The writer (pictured) on a field trip along Brunei’s rocky shores.

Southeast Asia might not be many young Singaporeans’ first choice as a destination for work or study, but some have taken a leap of faith and ventured into the region.

TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts of those who have spent time in Singapore’s closest neighbours for a variety of meaningful pursuits.

In this instalment, Miss Hanisah Rehan, 24, recounts her unexpected move to study Environmental and Life Sciences in Brunei, after realising that her initial career path — dietetics — was not what she wanted. She ended up falling in love with the lifestyle there and discovering her passion for marine animals.


I never imagined myself studying in Brunei.

The country is not exactly one that Singaporeans would have in mind when it comes to studying overseas. Yet, I took a leap of faith and decided to apply to study Environmental and Life Sciences at Universiti Brunei Darussalam in 2019.

In retrospect, after living here for three-and-a-half years, I think that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. 
After graduating in 2018 from Singapore Polytechnic with a diploma in Nutrition, Health and Wellness, I realised that I was stuck.

For years I had dreamt of becoming a dietitian and yet, after having a taste of that lifestyle through my studies and a clinical internship, it dawned upon me that I was not interested in that line of work. I knew I had to move forward but I was lost on how to advance from there, knowing that dietetics was not the career for me. 

As a result, I took a gap year working odd jobs, hoping that would help me out of my slump. Still, my life remained stagnant, and I could tell my parents were growing antsy. I didn't want to disappoint them but at the same time, I didn't know what to do.

I decided to take a risk and apply to any university that I had even the mildest interest in, from more popular countries such as Australia and Canada to less familiar ones such as Nepal and Russia. I told myself I would accept the offer from whichever university that came first.

It turned out to be Universiti Brunei Darussalam and, as I promised myself, I accepted the offer and just went along with it.

My parents were supportive of my decision but my friends were taken aback, mostly because they were not familiar with Brunei’s education system, and worried about my job prospects in Singapore.

They asked if I was sure if this would be a fruitful decision, and warned me to not be so careless with my future.
Looking back, that probably wasn't the best way to go about it and yet, I don't regret a thing.

I discovered so many things about myself mentally and spiritually that I would not have known, had I not pursued my education in Brunei — including my passion for marine animals, specifically marine gastropods such as sea snails and slugs.

Coming from a more healthcare-based line of education where we mostly worked indoors, I wasn’t used to getting dirty in the marshes and rocky shores just to collect specimens, and I struggled with the unpredictable environment.

But the more I learned about these fascinating creatures and their habitats, the more I found the unpredictability exciting. 

I found what I felt was missing in my past education: Passion and adventure. I loved nature and realised I want to be present to protect and preserve animals and their natural habitats. I found myself and my purpose.

Life in Brunei is drastically different than in Singapore. 

Being used to the efficient and fast-paced lifestyle of Singapore, I experienced culture shock when I first arrived: I walked too fast, talked too fast, and always wanted to be the first one to arrive.

After living there for a while, I couldn't help questioning what I was rushing for? I was causing myself unnecessary stress. 

The laid-back lifestyle taught me how to take one day at a time. I learned to prioritise my health, for what is health if not the true wealth of life? 

Studying in Brunei might not sound like the most appealing option, but it has taught me to do things that make me happy. 
With the abundance of nature, it’s easy to immerse yourself and temporarily forget about your problems. 

I like to hike in Brunei’s jungles or walk on its rocky shores, pretending I’m on an adventure, identifying the flora and fauna, foraging and collecting pretty shells and leaves.

I advise any Singaporeans who want to experience life in Brunei to keep an open mind. Not everything you do needs to be a major accomplishment. 

Sometimes you need to cut out the cutthroat academic competition from your life and instead, seek knowledge sincerely and peacefully to truly benefit from it. 


Miss Hanisah Rehan, 24, is a final-year student studying at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, majoring in Environmental and Life Sciences. Her interests include climate change and its effects on marine animals.  

If you have an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] with your full name, address and phone number.

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