One of the best parts of studying abroad is how it drives you to do things you thought you would never do in life.
I can now say that I have first-hand experience with this, as I made the decision to do something that I hardly ever considered doing in the past: I decided to learn how to scuba dive!
I came to this conclusion because my university had a recess week, and I knew that this would be a prime time to do something totally unique and memorable. I remembered how my friends from back home told me that there were some epic dive locations in Southeast Asia and how it was a great place to learn on a budget. I found a dive shop on Tioman Island in Malaysia and booked my trip without a second thought.
I was super stoked because this was going to be my first time outside of Singapore and I had been itching for a change of scenery. I took an early morning bus from Singapore to a small town in Malaysia called Mersing and from there I caught a ferry ride to the island.
Tioman is quite popular for tourists, so I was able to meet a diverse and friendly crowd during my trip. When I finally arrived, I was so excited to experience the island vibe. It’s crazy how the atmosphere on islands can be so similar around the world: small knit communities, relaxed spirits and reggae music blasting around the shops. Tioman is made up of several small towns that are connected via taxi boats so you really get the chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of urbanized cities.
My first day consisted of my first dive lesson. Since they do not have a pool, you get to do all of the training in the ocean. I was super lucky to book with B&J Diving in Salang Bay. They were all highly skilled and beyond friendly. I highly recommend them to anyone else thinking of learning to dive in Malaysia.
The next couple of days I practiced more dives and experienced super clear water with thriving sea life. The environmental impact from tourism has been surprisingly minimal here and has kept the dive spots optimal for divers of all levels.
On my final day of my scuba certification course, we took a boat out to some small islands and rock formations to do two dives. They were exhilarating! The highlights for me were definitely seeing a sea turtle and a black tip reef shark. Being underwater surrounded by such elegant creatures and only hearing the sound of your breathing is an almost spiritual experience that I believe everyone should feel. I am also amazed with how tight-knit the diving community is, and I am already planning when I am going to do my next dive.
On my final day on the island, I decided to do a gnarly hike to a place called Monkey’s Bay. I heavily underestimated this hike and even broke my sandals along the way, but it was worth it. I had an entire beach all to myself, well except for some monkeys and monitor lizards that were wandering around. On the way back I also explored around an abandoned hotel that was on a hill overlooking a place called Shark Point where you can actually see the occasional reef shark.
Overall, I could not be happier I decided to do something so special. I will be able to hold on to this memory as I do dives in the future. When you go abroad, take chances and do something different. Do some research on what is unique to your region and do something that you can hold onto for the future.
That is it for this post! Remember to stay positive and to stay stoked.
Garrett Hein is earning a bachelor’s degree in international security and conflict resolution at San Diego State University. He is blogging from Singapore this fall.