Despite being over 7,000 miles away, Nishalan Andran (Nish) has found a way to bring a little bit of his home country of Malaysia with him wherever he goes. By combining his passion for his homeland with his knowledge of coding, the recent College of Science and Engineering graduate created an Android app that is allowing him—and dozens of other downloaders—to stay connected to popular Malaysian slang.
The idea for Malaysian Slang App stemmed from Nish’s participation in International Student and Scholar Service’s Culture Corps, a program aimed at promoting cross-cultural understanding and international student involvement on campus. As part of the program, Nish decided to share his knowledge of Malaysian language and culture in a more accessible, enduring format: an app.
“Culture Corps is always about sharing a bit of your culture with other people,” said Nish. “I thought that by having an app, people could download it and they could keep it in their phone wherever they go. I had wanted to build an app for a long time, so this was the perfect opportunity to merge those two ideas.”
Bringing the idea to life took Nish weeks of Google searching and tutorial watching, but despite learning code in his computer science courses, Nish found creating his desired aesthetic was more difficult than anticipated.
“Coding is like learning English at school and then writing a book,” he says. “You learn the basics of it, but the actual idea comes from you and how you want to do it.”
When it was launched on the Google Play Store in November, the Malaysian Slang App consisted of fifteen slang words and their pronunciation, definition, and usage examples. The app provides a platform for language learners to gain exposure to the mix of the Malay, Chinese, and Indian slang present in Malaysian culture.
Building an app was about more than just drafting and coding; it was about sharing culture; a theme that is consistent among the activities Nish participated in during his time at the University.
Nish first got involved on campus as a member of the Malaysian Student Association. He served as the organization’s public relations officer in 2014, an experience he called “the best year in college.” His involvement with PERSISMA (as the group is also known) led to his knowledge of Culture Corps where—in addition to his app—he created an interactive map of on-campus resources for international students and gave presentations covering everything from Malaysian food and music to the country’s new GST tax system.
Nish also shared his experience as an international student as a student panelist at the “Culture In-Depth: Malaysian Students at the U of M” session of the ISSS Intercultural Workshop Series for UMN staff. At the December 2015 workshop, Nish and five other Malaysian students spoke about cultural differences and answered questions from faculty and staff; a training experience Nish believes is valuable for UMN staff and faculty, especially considering that 12 percent of the University’s student body is international.
“[International students] have different cultural values that require a slightly different interaction,” Nish said, noting that the Malaysian culture and communication can be less direct than American culture. “I think it is important for staff to know how to handle differences.”
Helpful faculty and staff played a large role in easing Nish’s own transition to the University. After transferring to the University in fall of 2013, he had a difficult time being away from friends and family and dealing with culture shock. At his friend’s suggestion, Nish attended a professor’s office hours for the first time.
“For the first semester, it was just me and a couple of friends who were also international. It was kind of ‘suffering in silence,” Nish said. “Then I realized that office hours are really helpful; if you go, you can get help. That’s a thing international students should know: always get help from somewhere. Don’t suffer alone, because everyone is willing to help.”
As a recent graduate, Nish wants to help other students by sharing another piece of advice that helped shape his two and a half years at the University: Don’t delay. By finding new platforms to sharing his culture, joining student groups, and even coding an app about Malaysian slang, Nish has taken his advice to heart. He hopes that a new generation of international students will do so as well.
“Don’t delay anything. The moment an idea comes in your mind—“Oh, I want to join an association! I want get an internship!” or something like that—do not wait,” Nish said. “Time passes really fast [when you’re a student]; don’t delay.”
Date Published: March 2016