School Advisor Articles

Leah Saiful’s Educational Journey: A Blend of Challenge, Creativity and Global Awareness

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Jun 13, 2024

Leah Saiful’s educational journey unfolded across two distinct institutions, each shaping her profoundly. From 2011 to 2015, Sri Cempaka, Cheras, provided a nurturing environment that fostered academic excellence and a love for learning. Here, Leah thrived in a competitive atmosphere that constantly challenged her to push her boundaries, eventually completing her SPM there.

The academic environment was highly competitive, constantly motivating students to excel not just within the school but also on a global scale. “Before PMR and SPM, we would undergo a rigorous study camp that showed us how to answer the exam questions for all subjects and covered any topics we were unsure of. Every year, we also competed in World Maths Day competitions via Mathletics, which would be a fun event across the school.”

Beyond academics, Cempaka Cheras celebrated artistic talents. Leah actively participated in school musicals and sang with an a cappella group for special assemblies. The musical training camps were a highlight, fostering camaraderie and allowing students to fully immerse themselves in the production. The school also championed inclusivity through events like Sports Day, which incorporated Dance, Film Making and Pavilion Decorating categories, providing a platform for students with diverse interests to shine. These events transcended the boundaries of the three campuses, bringing students from Damansara and CILC together.

Sports played a significant role at Cempaka Cheras, producing talented athletes who competed at the state level. Within her class, Leah interacted with and competed alongside national-level badminton and water polo players. “I was an active swimmer and water polo player and frequently competed in the Swimming Gala.”

While swimming and water polo were her passions, an injury forced her to take a break from water polo. However, the school’s swimming programme remained a fixture in her life, eventually leading her to become a qualified lifesaver.

The annual Sports Carnival, where participation was mandatory, ensured everyone could step outside their comfort zone and try new sports. As a result, Leah dabbled in football, handball, netball, high jump, long jump and sprints.

Looking back, Leah remembers Cempaka Cheras fondly for its strong team spirit and encouragement to explore beyond academics. The competitive environment was positive, fostering a ‘just try’ spirit that has served her well throughout her life. This approach has led her to embrace new experiences and challenges, enriching her life journey.

Leah received the AISM Scholarship for 2016/2017, which covered 75% of her tuition fee for the final two years of schooling (Year 11 & 12).

A Scholarship to AISM: A Different Ball Game

 After scoring 7As and 3Bs in SPM, Leah received the AISM Scholarship in 2016, which covered 75% of her tuition fees for the final two years of high school.

Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) presented a completely different learning environment compared to Cempaka Cheras. The pace was slightly slower, with a focus on real-world application over rote memorisation. Class sizes were significantly smaller, with the most intimate classes having only five to seven students.  Being among the oldest in her cohort, Leah initially felt a two-year age gap with some classmates.

AISM offered an enticing array of subjects. During the first week, Leah had the flexibility to explore options like Legal Studies and English Literature, with the ability to switch if they weren’t a good fit. This adaptability was invaluable as she was still unsure of her academic path. AISM also offered multiple levels for subjects like Maths and English, catering to individual strengths and interests.

“When it came to subject selection, the teachers were super helpful in providing advice on what to pick, especially as I had no real grasp on what the syllabus would look like at this point. In the end, the subjects I started AISM with were very different to the ones I chose to graduate with.”

While Leah wasn’t extensively involved in co-curricular activities at AISM, she actively participated in school events and volunteered in the Chin Immersion Programme. Here, she had the privilege of teaching and mentoring primary school-aged refugee students in various subjects, including IT skills. These experiences fostered a deep sense of social responsibility and a broader perspective on the world.

Leah’s fondest memories at AISM are undoubtedly the people she met. The strong Third Culture Kid (TCK) environment resonated with her, as she was born and raised in the UK for the first twelve years of her life. The teachers were incredibly accommodating, ensuring she fully understood the AUSMAT system before finalising her subjects. “They considered my academic strengths and weaknesses and advised me on how to best score in the final exams. In the end, I graduated with an ATAR of 80.45.”

Leah acknowledges that her experience at AISM influenced her decision to study International Relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. 


Finding her passion

Leah’s experience at AISM significantly influenced her decision to pursue International Relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC). While she’s always had an interest in history, AISM nurtured a deeper fascination with Southeast Asian history. For her Higher School Certificate (HSC), Leah delved into the Vietnamese Civil War and its lasting impact on Vietnam. Combined with her Geography final project on the historical buildings in Melaka’s Jonker Street, she explored her passion for this region’s rich history.

Leah’s involvement with the Chin Immersion Programme was the turning point in her interest in international relations and current affairs. Witnessing the lasting effects of Myanmar’s history on the refugee students sparked her interest in the region's complex issues and the world at large.

“My personal statement to UNMC touched on this, but also heavily touched on my experience in an international school with expat friends.”

Unlike her previous school, AISM’s classrooms buzzed with students from various backgrounds, nationalities, and socioeconomic realities. Observing firsthand how her classmates, some privileged scholarship students and other fortunate refugees, navigated the same educational space instilled in Leah a deep sense of cultural empathy. This exposure to a microcosm of the global community fueled her fascination with international affairs and the relationship between different cultures and political agendas.

Learning to Look Beyond

Perhaps the most profound impact of AISM on Leah was how it transformed her approach to learning. Facts became stepping stones for deeper understanding and practical application. Math class was no longer about memorising formulas; it was about using those formulas to solve real-world problems, from calculating taxes to building spreadsheets.

Perhaps even more valuable was the exposure to people from different cultures. This not only honed her communication skills but also instilled in her a sense of cultural empathy. Leah learned to navigate diverse viewpoints, effectively communicating her ideas while actively listening to others. This ability to bridge cultural divides would later become a cornerstone of her professional success.

Beyond academics, AISM nurtured a sense of self-discovery and cultural pride within Leah. Interacting with international classmates allowed her to see her Malaysian heritage through new eyes. She discovered a newfound joy in sharing her culture and becoming an enthusiastic ambassador for her home country. “I feel going to an international school made me proud to be Malaysian. I found joy in sharing my traditions and exploring KL with people who hadn’t experienced the city similarly.”

Today, Leah is a content writer at 2X, a B2B marketing-as-a-service (MaaS) firm.


AISM’s Lasting Impact

Leah wholeheartedly recommends AISM to parents looking for a unique educational experience for their children. While the Australian curriculum is specifically designed to prepare students for universities in Australia, Leah highlights the broader benefits it offers.

“I’ve come out with an ability to see the bigger picture and learn to apply the teachings to my life on a broader level, rather than just studying for exams. It’s definitely a big change from the Malaysian syllabus, but I couldn’t recommend it more.”

Within 18 months of entering the workforce, Leah secured a Marketing Manager position. Today, she’s embarking on a new chapter as a creative content writer at a marketing agency and she attributes this exciting shift to the exploration AISM fostered.

“I feel that had I stayed in the Malaysian syllabus and pursued A-Levels as I had initially intended, I probably wouldn’t have been able to explore a more creative marketing path. AISM allowed me to explore my passion for research & writing through the assignments and the subjects I took.”