Brandon Chin, Sandakan, Sabah
Bachelor of Architectural Studies, 2nd year
Brandon Chin's appreciation of the Sydney Opera House goes way beyond the usual tourist snaps shots as the sun sets over Sydney Harbour.
To the 21-year old Malaysian Architectural Studies student at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the building is not only an example of fine design lines in its iconic "sails", but a technical and engineering triumph.
"The Opera House is my favourite building in Sydney. It was a new innovative idea -- so it was a purely theoretical structure -- but when they built it those ideas actually worked', he says.
Brandon's fascination with design goes back to a childhood spent drawing and making models of boats and buildings in the small provincial city of Sandakan in Sabah.
Despite rapid changes to design technology, he still likes the feel of a pencil or pen in his hand, and often puts downs ideas on paper before transferring them to a computer.
In Sandakan, Brandon would look around at the uniform, functional buildings constructed off plan by property developers. He realised there was not a single Architectural firm based in his home town.
Now in the second year of his Architectural Studies degree at UNSW, Brandon is keen to translate his ideas into real structures which don't just function well, but create a special feeling for people. Ultimately, he'd like to design a people friendly airport, he says, but at this early stage "this is still a dream."
Brandon chose to study in Australia because of its proximity to Malaysia and the support of relatives in Sydney and he chose UNSW because of its flexible, internationally-focused, well-regarded degree.
Two years ago, UNSW's five year Architecture program was split into a three-year Bachelor of Architectural Studies degree followed by a two-year Master of Architecture degree by coursework, allowing students to gain work or travel experience in between if they choose.
"I liked that idea of flexibility," Brandon says.
His favourite part of his course are the core "Design Studio" modules which bring 12 students and a tutor together to work "hands-on" in developing their design ideas in a studio setting, rather than a conventional classroom.
"We can sketch, model, or work with whatever materials or tools we like. We critique each others work with the support of the tutor. This is really important in terms of learning about design," he says.
When Brandon first arrived in Sydney it was something of a shock. He'd visited Australia once before as a very young child but had few recollections to go on. Coming from a much smaller city, Sydney initially seemed overwhelming.
"It was a real culture shock but now I am really enjoying it. Actually the lifestyle is quite relaxed," he says.
"In terms of learning I've found that in Australia students need to talk a lot and to express their ideas, not just rely on text books, which I think is positive."
Ultimately, Brandon is aiming for a qualification which will equip him with the skills to work anywhere in the world.
All degrees offered by UNSW's Built Environment Faculty are based on international course material and oriented towards global advances in their fields. In addition, Australian architectural qualifications are widely recognised around the world.
"I would like to get some work experience in Australia, before going back to Malaysia," he says.
Malaysian student enrolments at UNSW increased significantly over the past year, and the University has a vibrant Malaysian student association which runs regular social events to keep students connected. In addition, UNSW has a comprehensive range of support services for all international students, from academic writing workshops to group weekends away exploring nearby scenic attractions.