Norwegian fashion student in Malaysia

Trine Therese Strandborg had a plan when she moved to Kuala Lumpur with her husband and two children in April 2004; she would take this opportunity to make a career change.
Trine is a graduate in chemical engineering from NTNU in Trondheim, Norway and holds a Masters degree in economics. With this unusual combination she previously held several positions in two different oil companies, Statoil and a smaller American company called Hess, ending up in the business development department. This was all fine, except Trine was bored and missed using her creative talent.
During a one year stay with her husband in California, she had studied pottery at a local college in Silicon Valley. This added to her motivation to move in a different direction. 

Making the choice
Trine started looking for the best design college in KL shortly after settling in – which took her longer than most. The family stayed at Prince Hotel for four months, which according to her friends entitles her to the unofficial record among the Scandinavians in KL for staying the longest time as a family in a hotel before eventually choosing a flat! 
After making a mistake in first choosing Cenfad college, she enrolled at the more well-known Raffles design institute. The institute is private and very expensive by Malaysian standards but it was conveniently located and she had also noticed that students from this college constantly participated in fashion contests receiving accolades, often winning.
Raffles design institute is part of a well-known Canadian chain of fashion colleges, and they have colleges all over Asia, as in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangkok, Vietnam, Singapore and several places in China, and also in Australia. All the fashion colleges in the chain have the same curriculum, with the same subjects, text books and projects, and also the exams are similar.
The exams are evaluated by the main school in Singapore to secure the same quality in all the colleges, and this is supposed to give an extra credibility and control. All schools have a flexible interschool transfer scheme that allows students to transfer between any of the schools without losing time or credit.

Full time student
The education here in KL is two years and three months full time, and when Trine claims it is full time, it really is FULL time. They have 12 weeks semesters, with only one week holiday, and then another 12 weeks, one week holiday, and this continues for two years and three months. The twelfth week of each semester is exams in all subjects, typically one-day or two-day exams, in addition to the pressure of deadlines for several main projects.
This means you have only 4 weeks holiday in one year. When you have graduated, you are awarded something called an Advanced Diploma. A school day looks like this: 9am – 1pm lessons, one hour lunch, and then 2pm – 6pm lessons again. In a week there’s 30 hours of lessons, and you will be expected to put in aprox 30 hours of homework as well.
The school starts 4 small classes a year, every three months, which means 10-20 students every year, but many drop out on the way and all together there are between 20 and 35 fashion students graduating every year.
The Raffles Design Institute in Singapore offers a third year and will earn you a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and many of the students in KL will continue with this last year in Singapore after finishing in KL.
Trine managed to convince the college to allow her to work more from home than normal. She had an 8’o’clock curfew for the children, and typically worked every evening from 8 to 12 and often later, to finish the work. Sometimes it has its advantages to have a hardworking husband!

Chaotic Christmas
Everything is possible as long as it is fun; even though the first Christmas here was a bit too hectic, she admits. My words would be totally chaotic!
They had six people visiting from Norway and the States, her husband was travelling and working day and night and Trine had seven exams the week leading up to Christmas. She “celebrated” by  having two exams on December 23rd while being on the phone all day quarrelling with the furniture store to get their dining table delivered THAT very day, and NOT after Christmas (of course 6 weeks too late), had ten people waiting while the table was mounted at 8 o’clock that evening, then went through another exam on Christmas Eve until 2pm, while the husband was in a new meeting – getting the furniture store people back to mount the seats on the chairs, and then having fourteen people for dinner on Christmas Eve.
The fact that the whole internal part of the oven fell apart half way through roasting the pork rib just added some extra spice to the evening, she laughs. Everybody remembers that Christmas.
Next Christmas Trine took all her exams earlier, and the whole family went home for Christmas.

Cultural experience
For trine, studying in KL has sometimes been a bit too much like being back in high school. But she feels that the experience has taught her a great deal about Malaysian people, and about the cultural difference between Asian countries and Western countries. Malaysians are generally much less mature than Scandinavian students at the same age. Many students will flunk each term because they are afraid of facing the lecturers after having failed to hand  in assignments, and even more if they have skipped classes, which happens quite often.
The studies started on the elementary sewing skills, and developed techniques and skills from that level. The first year was a very hands-on year, learning basic drafting, draping and sewing techniques, in addition to theory covering textiles, marketing and fashion illustrations. You do need the technical skills as well, but for Trine who was an experienced seamstress up front, it has been a bit over the top. But, she admits that her finish of the garments has improved considerably compared to when she was a hobby seamstress.
Trine had hoped that the design part would be introduced much earlier than only in the second year. The school does try to teach us the tricks that differentiate a tailor made item from a garment made by a fashion designer, she says. The last year is mainly project oriented, where the students have to develop collections based on particular themes or scopes, and then finally produce one of the designs within each concept. The design projects included children’s wear, men’s wear, office wear, cocktail dress and also a group collection.
The last half year they’ve been focusing on producing a mini collection prepared for a fashion show. This fashion show is run like a professional one, and it was held in the Ballroom at the Marriot Hotel.

What now?
Trine still has two courses to complete before she can graduate, but she will have to wait until the college runs those courses again. When she is finished she wants to use her new skills to start a small line of clothes and maybe get her design into shops in Scandinavia. She has just started the process of working out HOW, and she doesn’t know if this is obtainable, but she would sure like to try…

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