Being "Nayoo" in Malaysia: Life of Thai-Melayu Muslim Students and their Adaptations

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by Surachai Vivanjit , NA
Classification: NA
Keywords: Adaptation, Youths, Melayu, Malaysia
Language: English

The main purpose of the arguments in this article is to point out that the studies that related to the adaptation in the living space of Melayu-Muslim youths in Malaysia in the past tend to focus only on the concepts, theories, and research frameworks that are limited to a single research area. These observations can be found in the research paper entitled "It’s Hard to be Malay." conducted by Sarayut Aimauryut. Besides, another research paper written by Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohamad illustrated some of the images on the border-crossing- life between two research areas. However, there still has a lack of observation at other dimensions especially the cross-cultural dimension, resulting in no comparative analysis between people’s society and culture. Also, it did have the ideological transmission of the ideas and an exchange of different cultures, whether within the context of Thai society or a
crossing of border of Thai-Melayu Muslim youths.
Therefore, the important content of this article is the analysis of the adaptation in the living space of Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia who are studying in two universities, namely International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and University Utara Malaysia (UUM). The analysis showed that the relationship between Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia and their country, Thailand, remained strong. The interviewees mentioned that they remained committed to Thailand despite living and studying in Malaysia particularly a frequent interaction between their parents who still lived in Thailand. Besides, the students also still looked for and consumed Thai cultures even they were far away from home  Although Thai students in Malaysia could regularly travel back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia borders (on average of once a month), it did not indicate that cross-border activities and cultures of Thailand would continue flowing without shifting back and forth. Therefore, the cross-border activities of Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia in terms of culture and the adaptation would occur according to the opportunities and the limitations in 2 social, and economic. Also, the political issues of the two countries involved. (Thailand -Malaysia) was an important aspect.


Being "nayoo" in Malaysia: Life of Thai-Melayu Muslim Students and Their Adaptations

Surachai  Vaivanjit



The main purpose of the arguments in this article is to point out that the studies that related to the adaptation in the living space of Melayu-Muslim youths in Malaysia in the past tend to focus only on the concepts, theories, and research frame- works that are limited to a single research area. These observations can be found in the research paper entitled "It’s Hard to be Malay." conducted by Sarayut Aimauryut. Besides, another research paper written by Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohamad illustrated some of the images on the border-crossing-life between two research areas. However, there still has a lack of observation at other dimensions especially the cross-cultural dimension, resulting in no comparative analysis between people’s society and culture. Also, it did have the ideological transmission of the ideas and an exchange of different cultures, whether within the context of Thai society or a crossing of border of Thai-Melayu Muslim youths.

Therefore, the important content of this article is the analysis of the adaptation in the living space of Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia who are studying in two universities, namely International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and University Utara Malaysia (UUM). The analysis showed that the relationship between Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia and their country, Thailand, remained strong. The interviewees mentioned that they remained committed to Thailand despite living and studying in Malaysia particularly a frequent interaction between their parents who still lived in Thailand. Besides, the students also still looked for and consumed Thai cultures even they were far away from home. Although Thai students in Malaysia could regularly travel back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia borders (on average of once a month), it did not indicate that cross-border activities and cultures of Thailand would continue flowing without shifting back and forth. Therefore, the cross-border activities of Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia in terms of culture and the adaptation would occur according to the opportunities and the limitations in social, and economic. Also, the political issues of the two countries involved. (Thailand - Malaysia) was an important aspect.

Keyword: adaptation, youths, melayu, malaysia.


Looking back at the unrest situation in the southern border provinces, together with the changing in the economic and social conditions of the world which affected people's lifestyles as well as cultural characteristics including the daily way of life, local identity has been threatened by consumerism and modern media until it is gradually pushing away the diversity of the community. Believe it or not, when we talk about Melayu people today, most people would think of Islam or religious conflicts, violence, or insurgents or the stubbornness of the local Melayu people who refuse to adapt to Thai cultures. This is a negative picture that Thai people are familiar with and constantly stressed through the various media. However, there are very few people who think that the people in the "Melayu world" are diverse and different depending on the locality and for other reasons. (Nitip Iphone Phanphan, 2015: 205). Besides, if we look at another dimension, we would found that Geography is an important factor that makes the relationship of people in different areas complicated, and this special feature appears in the Melayu world, which has the characteristics of "Borderlands". These boundary areas hid the complexities of ethnic relations particularly regarding the classification and relationship levels among people of different ethnic groups (Niti Phapha Phanphan, 2015: 211).

In this article, the author began to develop education issues as an "outsider" as he studied during the bachelor's degree in the research area. The author became a working academic, researcher, and university professor in the research area. Throughout the past 15 years of life, many questions arise when society and academic circles talk about being Melayu in various dimensions. Nonetheless, the researcher himself considered the social and cultural life of the Melayu people is full of stories, various experiences and memories created through the experiences of cultural exchange between the Melayu people, ethnic, and even the bargaining interaction with the state power that has been discussed for a long time. Therefore, considering the ethnicity of being Melayu is unable to explain with stationary features.

Also, this article is an attempt to study the adaptation and conditions that make Thai- Melayu-Muslim people successful in studying and living in Malaysia. Furthermore, this study also would inspect the bargaining power and the interaction of the students with the Thai state representatives in Malaysia. The purposes are to explain the understanding and meaning of being “Melayu” of Thai-Melayu Muslim youth which is created through the experiences of living-abroad in both historical and cultural dimensions. Furthermore, it is also aimed to prevent the cultures of Thai-Melayu Muslims from diminishing by the complexity of the political issues and also the unrest incidents that occurred in the areas.


Thailand is experiencing unrest issues in the three southern border provinces which have continuous and protracted violence. This incident has caused great damage to society, economy and the government state has to spend a lot of budget in trying to solve these problems. According to the Deep South Incident Database (DSID), from January 2004 to April 2017, there were a total of 19,279 cases which causes 6,544 deaths and 12,963 injuries. Furthermore, in the past 13 years from 2004 until 2016, there were in total of 19,507 deaths and injuries. The budget that the government has used to solve these issues since 2004, which consisted of 8 governments and 7 prime ministers, has already consumed up to 264,953 million baht. Moreover, in 2016, the budget was set at 30,866 million baht and it was the highest budget since 2004. The amount of the budget that has been spent for solving these problems in the southern region can be separated into each year as follows: 13,450 million baht in 2004, 13,674 million baht in 2005, 14,207 million baht in 2006, 17,526 million baht in 2007, 22,988 million baht in 2008, 27,547 million baht in 2009, 16,507 million baht in 2010, 19,102 million baht in 2011, 16,277 million baht in 2012, 21,124 million baht in 2013, 25,921 million baht in 2014, 25,744.3 million baht in 2015 and 30,886.6 million baht in 2016. The total of the budget is 264,953 million baht. (Deep South Watch Center, 2017)

Based on the previous data, it shows that over the past 15 years, the academic interest in the southern border region has been concentrated mainly on the unrest issues. The studies focused only on answering the question such as what is the unrest issue, why is it deteriorating, and who is behind it. These findings can be found in the research papers conducted by Abuza 2003, 2005, Askew 2007, Croissant 2005, Liow 2006, MacCargo 2006, Srisompob and Phanyasak 2006, Ukrist 2006, Wattana 2006. However, the researchers do not highlight how the Melayu- Muslims in affected areas could live their daily life normally. Besides, although there were some researchers emphasized on the society and culture aspects of Melayu-Muslims people, it tended to give more static images than the dynamics and the adaptations of the Melayu-Muslims in the affected region like the study conducted by Sri Sakhag 2007 (cited in Anusorn Unno, 2011: 4).

2.1 Border, Melayu people and their identity

Although globalization may change things in many ways, the identity of various ethnic groups still could be maintained particularly being a Malayu. Even though they are living in different areas, the aura of the identity is still reflected through various dimensions, including language, culture, or living, and learning to engage and socialize with the surrounding environment. A research conducted by Ramadan Panchor (2012: 57) on the "Borders in the capital city: Teahouses and exile Malay identities " attempted to understand the Melayu-Pattani identity through the study of Melayu-Pattani people who exiled to work in Bangkok. The author found that the creation of identity was through ethnic boundaries. These boundaries identified the definition of being the same ethnic (Melayu) and being different from other ethnicities. The differences could be in various forms such as tastes, flavors in food, and home and the opinions on death, etc. These boundaries were not fixed but they were rather flowing according to the negotiations in exiled peoples’ daily lives.

It can be seen that the previous studies about the border showed that the relationship of people with the border would be smooth and solid if they did not only focus on the national security dimension. This is because they are still another dimension of the relationships that need to be looked for. Therefore, the borders should be re-understood in a way that it can encourage a prominent flow of diversity between two border regions.

Furthermore, the question of "who is Melayu people" in terms of ethnicity is therefore dependent on the constructive of the social and cultures. It also includes the memories and stories of the peoples’ experiences which built to the definitions and compositions with different contexts. Therefore, the question is changed to "How being Melayu is described?" which reflects the "state" that control the explanation, which is more dynamic and based on the experiences and thoughts of the people (Sornut Aimauryut: 2016, 260).

However, the study of the identity and the changes of being Melayu in another framework which is based on transnational conditions, has also interestingly criticized the previous research approaches. The study of the identity of the Melayu people did not stop at the framework of ethnicity, languages, and cultures. But, it must be considered through transnational experiences in both historical and modern-cultures dimensions whether in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, or any other regions despite Thailand. In particular, the research conducted by Muhammad Arafat (2013) described the feelings of gratification or being a part of the society of Patani people in the two contexts of Makkah and Jawi (three southern border provinces of Thailand). The author utilized the history and ethnography data collection methods for two years. The author went to Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Malaysia to collect the data for the study by himself.

Muhammad Arafat also pointed out that feeling of gratification or the existence of the relationship between Patani people was created from a community perspective that can be found in the paper entitled “home and homeland”. Those feelings were created from the experiences of living in a particular area for a while, together with the cultural and other factors. For Patani people, either in the context of being citizens of Makkah, Jawi, or three southern border provinces of Thailand, in their deepest heart, they felt that they have the legal rights for being a resident as a foreigner in Makkah, which has been called their home. Also, they felt that they did not receive well treatments or rights in the region. However on the contrary, at the Jawi region or the three southern border provinces which are the homeland of their ancestors, even they also were considered as foreigners legally in that region but they still feel that they are a citizen of the Jawi region or the three southern border provinces. Moreover, Muhammad Arafat's research has also covered many other details about the pride, joy, and painful stories of the Fathoni people as well as a discovering of their excellences in intelligence and the determinations.

2.2 Thai Student Association in Malaysia

Thai Student Association in Malaysia (TSAM) was established on January 23, 2010, and certified by the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The association aimed to be a center for helping Thai students, exchange ideas, publicizes, and exchange news and information to those who interested in studying in Malaysia. Also, the purpose of the association was to strengthen the unity among students, helping the society as well as strengthen the consciousness in serving the nation, religion, and the King.

Moreover, TSAM consisted of various universities which include International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) Multimedia University (MMU) Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) University Malaya (UM) Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor (KUIS) and Kolej Universiti Insaniah (KUIN).

Moreover, the objectives of the establishment of TSAM were to promote unity among Thai students in various universities by maintaining harmony, sacrificing, and helping each other as well as having a purity and transparency administration and management with adherence to serving the society and the nation.

A perspective of Dr. Mahathir Mohammad (Former Prime Minister of Malaysia), on the opportunity of international students and the education in Malaysia

The speech was given by Dr. Mahathir in the video entitled “Come study in Malaysia, Dr. M tells international students”, had a great impact particularly on international students who are studying in Malaysia. The researcher has summarized the important key in the recorded video of the current Malaysia Prime Minister (2019). He invited international students to study in Malaysia. And he also pointed out that Malaysia has a proven education system that can produce a great number of graduates in various fields with diverse careers. Students who are studying in Malaysia would become a world explorer who will become an important part of the world that combines a diversity of cultures, the ornamentation of traditions, food, and more. He said that the students will find a wide variety of studies which is one way of creating experiences and understanding of people and their various cultures.

He also mentioned that studying abroad is vital to being a successful citizen of the world. In addition, education is a jigsaw puzzle that is important to the development of the nation, population, economy, and global society now a days. Possessing real experiences about the world is more than the border. The experiences gained would be completely different from being in the area of ​​your territory. The Prime Minister also mentioned that he believed that international students would get a variety of real experience if they come to study in Malaysia[1]

2.3 The Adaptation of Thai-Melayu-Muslim students in Malaysia

The findings on the process of the adaptation of Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia obtained from in-depth interviews illustrated that living abroad gave the opportunity for the students to face new challenges. The result of the research showed that Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia will face two major new challenges while studying in Malaysia. The first is a different educational system and secondly, the confrontation with social and cultural systems that are different from their own identity.

The findings of the relationship between the adaptations in the living space of Thai-Melayu Muslim students with the crossing into the Malayan land like Malaysia turned out that the students were compulsory to adapt themselves in order to create harmony (Being a Melayu in Malaysia). The adaptation included a prior preparation and learning for the survival and become successful while living abroad which are not only involving the languages or their identity as a Thai-Melayu Muslim or a Thai student in Malaysia. Furthermore, the findings also suggested the importance of self-development through education and different life systems in Malaysia as well as the consideration of going back to develop the society based on their conceptual perspective throughout living in Malaysia.

However, there were some students who did not adapt and adjust themselves. In other words, they attempted to maintain the identity of the Thai-Melayu Muslim from the southern border provinces. These students would only stick to other students who also came from the same region. Importantly, they needed to speak the Malay language only. Also, they did not interact with any other fellow students even the students from the same region who tried to speak and communicate with them in the Thai language. However, these students were able to graduate due to the fact that Malaysia's education system was focusing on competing with one's self. Therefore, it also clearly showed that Malaysian students also did not really get involved with any foreign students.

Nonetheless, it made it clearer that the students who were attempting to adapt themselves by trying to learn and interact with other inter- national students would become more successful than the students who stuck to the specific same group. Moreover, these students also had other social roles representing Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia. For instance, they were chosen and accepted to become a president and vice-president or a committee in various student associations in Malaysia and etc.

Another finding suggests that the students who were not successful with studying abroad were due to sticking to or relying on other people more than themselves. For example, every time they had group assignments, these students tend to join a group with students who came from the Arab region. This was because the students from the Arab region would have sympathy for Thai students. Moreover, university professors and lecturers were also more satisfied with the works of Arab students rather than Thai students. Some professors at the university even were against Thai students due to the behaviors of the senior students in the past, especially at UUM.

"Do what you want but don't be better than your friends in Malaysia."

(Some of the voices from students in UUM)

To become a UUM student, the personality of the students must be good. Everyone was required to pass the international manners tests such as sitting at a table, wearing a shirt and tie, holding a spoon while dining, etc. These tests were not easy for some of Thai-Melayu Muslim students. Moreover, since most of the courses at UUM are business studies and international relations course, hence English is mainly used in the communications. Therefore, English is used in all their classes. However, this training helped the students to familiarize themselves with the international system. Some of them might find it difficult but they needed to practice in order to graduate in the end.

Therefore, when we compare the number of Thai students in IIUM and UUM nowadays, it can be seen that the differences are huge. Many students chose to travel to the Malaysian capital, like IIUM, rather than just cross over the Malaysian border, though it is closer to their home. This was due to the language restrictions and the tuition fees which are more expensive in UUM.

"Thai students are lazy and impatient ..."

(Some of the voices from students in IIUM and UUM)

There was a case Thai-Melayu Muslim student who enrolled in the first trimester and obtained the LB from the university. This was because he received a GPA of 1.70 which is lower than 2.00. He told the researcher:

"I don’t want to study anymore. I am lazy, tired and I want to go back home”

However, he decided to call back home and tell his problems to his parents. However, his parents encouraged him and consequently, he was ready to fight again. He truly followed his seniors’ advice and at last, he managed to obtain a grade of 3.70 and finally graduating. Sometimes, he felt to give up and discourage because he needed to adapt and adjust to the different languages and learning systems though he has been studying the English foundation classes in PENANG for 1 year before enrolling at UUM.

When the changes in humanity's boundaries are stuck by the changes in cultures, something that cannot be overlooked is the merge, integration, and the adjustment and adaptation of cultures. A study of Ren Zhiyuan(2012) showed that there are 8 factors that influence the adaptation or adjustment of cultures: 1) the support of the host society 2) the structure of the host society 3) the acceptance of the host society 4) the methods of getting to each other between them 5) the biases on other ethnic groups and cultures, 6) the agreement between the cultures, 7) the familiarities between the cultures, and 8) the ability to use the local language. Also, the knowledge and the understanding of local culture, duration of stay, and the experiences of living in a foreign country are other factors that influenced the cultural adaptation and adjustment as well.

In the matter of creating a living space for social adaptation of the Thai-Melayu Muslim youth in Malaysia, the interesting findings showed that the students chose and refused to engage in the cultural clashes that related to the ideologies, ideas, and identity. In some situations, there was a need for contention and also negotiations. Furthermore, when living with other Melayu Muslims such as with Malaysian or other people, demonstrating the identity is unavoidable to have a characteristic of accepting the creations of definitions, judgments, perceptions, or prejudice of related people in the relationships. Besides, the expression of the identity might be something that static. However, there were other matters which are changing and depending on the conditions and the context of the changes in describing the identity of oneself according to time. The country boundaries, crossing-border activities, and way of life that correlate to other people throughout their educational life in Malaysia showed that Thai-Melayu Muslim youth in Malaysia is one of the groups that are as complex as other groups in the diverse society. The explanation of the experiences of living in various aspects is, therefore, an understanding of the identity of other Malay people, in particular the group of young Thai-Melayu Muslims in Malaysia who are considered as a fellow human who has thoughts in their way of life that have different definitions.

A division of the lines or territory region often comes with the process of creating the “us”, “them” and “otherness” of all things that are within and outside the specified territory. In other words, space management (spatialization) is a process that goes along with social management (socialization) which is inevitable. However, although the creation of the boundaries and groups or the creation of a unified society that is separated from other societies outside of that boundary is something that can always run along the way, it is not an overlapping or static relationship (Jakkrit Sangkhamanee, 2018: 9). Another research conducted by Appadurai (1996) also suggested that the region of ​​globalization has a shift characteristic. In short, a nation is not a box that comprises everything together rather it also has some leaks. This means that the situation in the modern nation cannot be controlled at every time.

Problems and obstacles in crossing border as "Nayoo"

The finding of the research regarding the problem and obstacles in crossing borders among Thai Muslim students was the VISA. In other past, students could utilize the passport only to cross the border with the validity to stay for 30 days. After that, students should proceed with the application for the students' VISA within 2 weeks with the payment fees of 700 baths. However, since the announcement of the past ASEAN Community Meeting in Thailand, the application of VISA must be completed before crossing the border. The application should go through Malaysian consulate in Thailand and the cost of application processes was over 10,000 baht (the actual VISA fee is only 2,000 baht). Based on the observation from the data providers, the deep reason for the adjustment of the VISA system in Malaysia was due to Malaysia and Singapore rather did not want to join the ASEAN community where it was too open to cross the other country borders. This is due to the fact that both countries afraid that it would cause crime or even human trafficking and drug issues.                                            

According to the information given by the interviewees, it was clearly illustrated that the main problem of Thai students who are studying in Malaysia was the student visa renewal. Although most of the international students who are pursuing their studies in higher education usually have a duration of study for not less than three years, the student visa granted by Malaysian authorities would only be one year. Consequently, the students have to renew their visa every year. Moreover, each process of renewal the student visa such as document preparation including pictures and health insurance as well as waiting for the approval visa took a total of approximately three months. This signified that the students were required to reapply for a new visa after they just studied in Malaysia for 7-8 months. Besides, the university was responsible for submitting the visa renewal documents to Malaysian immi- gration. While waiting for approval, the students would not have a passport to travel outside of Malaysia. Thus, we could not deny that this is suffering for Thai students especially from the southern border provinces who often travel back home. However, in the case of UUM which is located near to the Thailand border, the university allowed the students to apply for the visa renewal in a 3-month advance. The student should submit other documents first. Meanwhile, the passport should be submitted to the office once the process of the visa renewal application had a progression of at least 90%. After that, the visa renewal would be issued in approximately 7-14 days.

There were also other obstacles in the process of visa renewal application such as the delays and oversight in the work conducted by university staff as well as a frequent change of staff which caused the lack of expertise in their works. Sometimes there were also cases such as loss of documents which caused the additional delay in the process. Consequently, the students had to spend more time in preparing new documents and also had to pay for the penalty. In some cases, fees were also charged for visa application fees. Furthermore, some students also mentioned that the rules and regulations for applying the visa were changed almost every year.

Therefore, the main key to the adaptation when facing the problem of renewing the visas and different educational and social systems was by joining the student community network. The students have not changed their minds or abandoned their dreams by flying back to Thailand although they encountered a difficult situation abroad. However, most of them tend to integrate into the network of student communities in their university. The interaction took place in the form of face-to-face and also through social networks. This is because TSAM and Thai Student Clubs in each university was a safe and comfort zone that helped to build morale and give advice to the student were handling various problems while studying and living in Malaysia. Although many people have feared that sticking with the country mates would affect their English development and improvement, in the end, they still chose to interact with the other Thai students for the sake of survival. In addition, the network of Thai students in Malaysia also assisted them not only in education but also in personal and social life outside of school hours. The students were satisfied and willing to be helping each other. Besides, while living in a network of Thai student communities, the students were also accepting Malaysian and other foreign students into their social world. This caused the occurrence of the social interaction between Thai students and also cross-cultural interaction with other foreign students. These interactions continued consistently and form a pattern that allowed them to anticipate each other actions. (Trans-boundary Migration Research Unit, 2017).

2.4 The incidents that occurred in motherland shook the lives of students abroad

When the unrest incidents occurred in the southern border provinces, crossing border among Thai-Melayu Muslims students were affected. However, the findings showed that there was no problem at the Thailand Immigration Checkpoint. The reason was that the passport contained a legitimate database that verified as a student. Therefore there were not any extra inquiries required from the relevant department. Moreover, this data of students who were studying abroad particularly from southern border provinces were created by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC) following the strategy plan of the government. The objectives were to support comprehensive information of students who were studying abroad which would be beneficial for systematic management. This database was conformed to the strategy established by the National Security Council (NSC) which consisted of firstly, data collection of students who will travel to study abroad, secondly, data collection of students who are currently studying abroad, and lastly, data collection of student alumni. Based on the data obtained, it appeared that in 2018, the SBPAC has recorded the data received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and related agencies in a total of 17 countries, involving 4,788 people. The record showed that the most recorded country in the database was Egypt with the number of 2,268 people registered. The second place was Malaysia with the number of 220 people registered in the system. Thirdly, there were a total number of 602 students registered in the system who are studying in Indonesia accordingly. However, the students would be questioned sometimes by the immigration authorities at the Malaysia Immigration Checkpoint. The student would be questioned such as what happened in your area, what is the situation nowadays, etc. before they were allowed to cross the border. This situation occurred regularly on the students who were from the three southern border provinces Furthermore, when the students arrived at the university, their friends at universities particularly Malaysian would ask them about the current situation. Due to the fact that most of the Malaysian consumed the news on the television and newspapers, thus, the students tend to explain a current situation with a good image to foreign friends. For instance, the students would reply like "nothing much happened, but sometimes the media make it as a big matter". However, if there were other friends who are particularly interested in the situation, the students would explain that "Sometimes the unrest situation may be caused by the pressure of the government, causing the local people to rise to fight for their needs and the demand" etc.

Due to the situation that occurred in the southern border provinces, many foreign students still understood that Thailand is a city of Buddhists even Malaysian students themselves. Occasionally, Malaysian students were confused about why the students who came from Thailand were able to speak the Malay language. Furthermore, the research findings also revealed an interesting fact which showed that the students from Turkey, who have studied in Malaysia, have given particular significance to the conditions of Thai-Melayu Muslim students from the three southern border provinces. This was because they thought that the area of ​​Patani, Aceh, or Cambodia was the same as Palestine where people were living in the midst of the unrest issues. These people still required to be helped. Thus, they attempted to group the students from Turkey and visited the three southern border provinces to provide various forms of supports such as organizing a donation camp, zakat, etc. They also communicate with other students in Turkey to inform them and seek assistance for the brothers and sisters in the southern border provinces as Muslims in the same nation.

However, the relationship between Thai-Melayu Muslim students in Malaysia and their country remained unaffected. The results of the research clearly indicated that the students still have an attachment to their country while studying and living in Malaysia. In particular, the commitment to their parents who still lived in Thailand. Moreover, the students still seek and consumed Thai cultures even they were away from home. For instance, they still communicated between each other using Thai and also the Melayu language. They also followed the ongoing entertainment programs and also news on Thai radio and television through the internet and various social media. Furthermore, they still preferred to consume Thai food, which was not difficult to find in Malaysia. Some of the students even preferred to bring snacks and canned food from Thailand. They also traveled back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia regularly (on average of once per month). Nonetheless, this did not signify that cross-border activities and also culture exchanges would not have any limitations or obstacles. This was because the relationships between the two borders involved the sovereignty of two or more countries. Therefore, cross-border activities of people and cultures occurred according to the opportunities in social, economic, and politics and also based on the limitations of the countries involved. Lastly, the attachment to the homeland and the relationships within the Thai student association network in Malaysia were two important characteristics of the adaptation in living abroad. (Trans-boundary Migration Research Unit, 2017

2.5 Melayu language, English and living skills before studying abroad

The most common obstacle and the problem of studying abroad was the language. This was because it could affect the communication between the individuals and also groups both in daily life and in the classroom. It also created difficulty in understanding the attitude and interpersonal thinking, resulting in a lack of correct interpretation as well as understanding different cultures. Moreover, it also restricted the students from having new local friends. Therefore, learning a language faster would help the students to adapt to different cultures and environments.

According to the results obtained, there were two fundamental obstacles that the students were required to overcome when pursuing their studies in Malaysia. Firstly, the languages which consisted of Malay language and English. Thai students must learn the Malay accent of the Malaysian people. Some of the words might be similar to the Malay dialect used in the southern border provinces. However, some words might be totally different. Therefore learning the Malay language might take one or two semesters in order to understand and get familiar with. On the other hand, Thai students also were facing a problem in learning English especially the grammar because they adhere to the learning structures taught in Thailand. Therefore, the students were asked to forget about their previous lessons learned in Thailand and utilize the new learning process in Malaysia instead. The results also showed some interesting findings which were many students who traveled across the country to study in Malaysia had to go back home because they did not pass the language course. Malaysia offered 2 years' duration for learning the language. However, if the students improved drastically, they can skip the class. This indicated that it depended on the student's effort in learning different languages. Also, many students had to prepare some food supplies from home because they did not familiar with the food in Malaysia which has a specific taste.

Encountering different educational systems would certainly take some time to adapt. Despite posse- ssing a full criterion and passing the English proficiency test set by the university, some students still some difficulties studying in Malaysia. This was because they were unfamiliar with the education and learning system as well as the management and cultures which were totally different from Thailand. For instance, the learning system emphasized critical thinking, self- study, and group works that helped the students to think and listen to other people's opinions. Also, the students were taught to think critically and courageously to defend their ideas by presenting through various channels such as presentations in classes or report writing. Some Thai students were afraid to exchange or defend their opinion with others, especially the lecturers.

There were some Thai people in Thailand who believed that Thai-Melayu Muslim students would not have communication problems because they can speak the Malay language. However, in reality, the main interviewees explained that although the Malay language that was commonly used in the southern border provinces of Thailand had a similar accent with the Malay language used in Kelantan, it was totally distinct from the standard Malay language. In addition to that, some of the Thai Muslim students were not proficient in using the Malay language at all.

Apart from having to encounter different languages, accents, and pronunciation, Thai students in Malaysia still had to face other difficulties. Due to the fact that the student stayed far away from home, the student might feel lonely and miss their homes. They also faced a problem of living in a dormitory with unfamiliar students as well as financial management issues. The students also needed to handle their own routine life by themselves such as travel planning, class schedules, food and necessities, and laundry. This adaptation might take some times but the student would gradually adapt and overcome the problems by themselves. The experience gained while studying in Malaysia changed the students’ lives to be more mature and responsible where they could take care of themselves. They grow up in both academic and also personal lives. (Trans-boundary Migration Research Unit, 2017)

Another interesting indication of studying in Malaysia was the prior preparation. First and foremost is the financial matter. It cannot be denied that money was one of the necessities that required for survival. Many universities had increased the tuition fees which directly affected the students. However, students who received scholarships to study in Malaysia might not encounter this kind of issue. Secondly, the academic result. Students who wished to study in Malaysia should have a minimum GPA of 3.00. This was due to Malaysia has a system to filter the students before they can be entered into various universities. Therefore, Thai students should have to prepare themselves since secondary school by trying to score the highest grade. Besides, Malaysia has a slightly different educational system than Thailand. For instance, Malaysian students would study until Form 5 in their secondary school. After that, they would enter into the pre-university course for one or two years. This showed that Malaysia has created a framework and platform for students' self- awareness before they entered the university. Consequently, the system for screening and selecting the students who were from another country was quite strict especially the students’ language proficiency. This was because the languages used in the higher education system or universities in Malaysia were English and Malay language. Lastly, approaching the lecturers was better than asking the seniors from the same country only. The students should ask their seniors about which lecturers had good interaction with Thai students.

Based on the findings of this study, it showed that the issue of people living in the border region did not involve the adaptation only. However, there were other issues related to the border which should also be considered in order to see the diversity of people in that border area. As proof, a study conducted by Yot Sansombat and his colleague (2012) which indicated that the border was different in 3 ways which were:

  1. A geopolitical border which meant the space barrier of the country sovereignty. The government often used a force to suppress the independence efforts to establish the autonomous regions of various groups. History taught us that colonialism often left a legacy of conflicts between the state and the minorities. The geopolitical boundary was the indicator of the status of citizenship and it also deprived the rights of foreigners, refugees, fugitives, and others. In this respect, the border creates the arguments of the inclusion and exclusion of rights. In addition, the geopolitical boundary also influenced the power of the state in that particular area where they could use against the citizens. The government was the only organization that claimed to have the fair legitimate power and right to use the violence when there was a provocation.
  2. The ethnic border, caused by the feeling of being relatives to each other, utilization of the same language, similar cultures and traditions, and descendants from the same ancestors. Also, the creation of the identity of the group separately from others through the creation of historical awareness.
  3. The cultural border may be broader and covered the interaction between various ethnic groups living in nearby areas. Also, there were hierarchies of power between ethnic groups. There was an exchange of ethnic identity and the borrowing of cultures and languages. The emergence of geopolitical boundaries caused by the division of national states often directly affected the ethnic borders and also the local power relations that have existed a long time ago.

Thomas (2016) (cited from Chakkrit Sangkhama- nee, 2016) suggested that the border should be re-understood in a way that encourages its diversity and flow to be more prominent. It was certain that the borders that have diversity still have some characteristics in common. For instance in the case of the Sungai Ko-Lok border area which had a common characteristic of being religious and ethnic. Besides, although the border was the process of social division, the border still defined, allocated, discouraged, and created the membership with various groups in society. Nonetheless, some other aspects cause us to reconsider and analyze the role of the border more closely (Thomas, 2016, quoted in Chakkrit Sangkhamanee, 2016), offered 4 aspects that are very important to the development of the understanding of border areas.

  1. The border is an in-between, which means the researcher should not reduce the view of the border to just a simple line that separates two regions due to just historical reasons only. Jakkrit Sangkhamanee (2016) attempted to explain that the social division has occurred before the political division or the existence of the government. Also, the division groups based on the cultures and traditions happened a long time before the emergence of the state borders. Therefore in this sense, the border was the one that determined the state or created various social groups, not the state or the social groups who created the border. The border did not always have to be a part of the state or other groups. In many cases, the border existed "between" the state and various social groups and became the third party that was not completely merged into a state or any social groups. Even though the boundary was completely narrow or the lines between the societies could not be seen by the naked eyes, that did not mean that the border or the separated-lines did not exist. Hence, the narrow borders that are barely noticeable between the social and political groups are of their own importance. Besides, not all the government and social groups were homogeneous. There were always classifications, divisions, and categorizations "within" government and also other social groups. In short, the border is the "in- betweenness" that requires more research, comprehension, and understanding in it.
  2. The border is in motion. Even though sometimes the border was considered to be static and received a well-defined manage- ment system, in reality, the process of separation was often a dynamic process. There are always modifications, negotiations, avoidances, and invasion along the borders. However, the study on border issues should not be in terms of movement, transportation, or passage of people, products, cultures, or things only. It also should not consider the opportunity to move back and forth across the border only. This is due to the fact that the boundary of the regions can also be changeable. Natural boundaries such as rivers, shores, or even social borders are never been controlled by anyone. Besides, the border itself is often controlled to expand or change according to its roles and context, and the relationships between the particular two countries. The border of the two states is not only in the form of the separated lines that have been established but it also could become a checkpoint area that is several kilometers away from the border. Therefore, the border has never been static. Hence, the study on the border matters needs to be cautious and intensive by not looking at it as an institution or mark that cannot be moved.
  3. The border is also a process of circulation. The role of the border is not just a screening as we often understand. However, it would be more appropriate to consider the border as a process of circulation of people and other things. Therefore, the borders are not only appearing in two regions but also within the state and various social groups at all times. Due to the disintegration and movement characteristics of the border, therefore it did not work in the form of separating something or easily integrate some things. The border always creates a boundary. Plus, when a lot of things flow into the border area or there are changes occurred within the border areas, it can make the things that are already fixed cross or stack many different ways. For this reason, the classification, which we often fix to the boundary, has never been fully responded to. The characteristics of things that are operating within the border areas are therefore more likely to have mixed with each other. Sometimes the border does not create bifurcation or the opposite ends, but it creates a process of circulation and recirculation of the border separation to occur endlessly.
  4. The border should not reducible to just space. In other words, the border should not be seen as a result of spatial management only. On the other hand, it is the spatial management that is resulted from the creation of boundary lines, borders, and the management which bring the flow of dynamic circulation processes in different forms and dimensions. This border creation process occurs not only in physical areas such as state territory but it is also dependent on the economic agree- ments, cultures, and society. With all the recognitions, understandings, and relation- ships that are object-oriented and not, therefore we should look at the border of two countries only as of the separated areas of two territories but we also should look at its characteristics and other elements which can be assembled to be the norms of separation.


The study of border areas should be looked at in many dimensions. Not only in terms of the area but also consider the people, products, and cultures that flow across borders. This is because the border area has a unique characteristic that is different from other areas of the country. The border is often viewed only in the dimension of social and region division. Also, the borders are often controlled by government regulations and measures in various ways which always changed. Furthermore, these regulations and measures tend to create conflicts and oppose the ways of people's life. Therefore, in this study, the researcher attempted to look at the dimension of the border through people who live and gain benefits from the border and what is the definition of the border to them.

It can be seen that the previous studies regarding the border as discussed in previous sections illustrated that the smooth relationship between people and the border is not at the border that only consider the national security matter. However, there are still other dimensions that need to be considered. Therefore, the boundary should be re-understood in a way that makes diversity and its flow more apparent. Even the story of the people who live near the border which is called "Melayu-Muslim students in Malaysia"


Surachai  Vaivanjit is a Doctoral student, Asia Studies, School of Liberal Arts, Walailak University, Thailand. This article is part of his doctoral thesis entitled “Adaptation in Living Space of Thai Malay Youths in Malaysia”, Doctor of Philosophy Program in Asian Studies, Walailak University, which is supported by Walailak University Fund and King Prajadhipok’s Institute.


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[1] The summary of “Come study in Malaysia, Dr. M tells international students”, published in Bernama. Dr. Mahathir gave an interview on June 3, 2019.


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