The UK, the US or Australia are the first countries that come to mind when Malaysians think about studying abroad. But one country with world-class universities and free tuition is Germany. And more and more young Malaysians are finding their way to the country of the poets and thinkers to study. And our today’s guest Jonathan Lau supports them on their way. With his business German Educare, he prepares and consults Malaysians to bring them to German universities. We discuss why studying engineering is so popular and why it is important to study abroad.
This episode is proudly sponsored by Siemens – Ingenuity for Life
The MGCC memberbytes.
With me, Sebastian.
Selamat Pagi and Guten Tag. Welcome to the memberbytes. Podcast series of the Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce and Industry MGCC, coming to you from the heart of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. With me, Sebastian. This podcast is proudly presented by Siemens. Ingenuity for life.
In the megabytes, we talk with our members about their business and experiences in Malaysia. In the past episodes, we often talk with Germans doing business in Malaysia. In today’s episode, we changed the perspective a little bit and talked with Jonathan Lau who has a Malaysian perspective on Germany.
With his business German Educare, he prepares and consults Malaysian students going abroad to Germany together with his co-founder, Gyvinne Koh. Jonathan started his business here in Kuala Lumpur. Both studied themselves in Germany and therefore know how valuable German education can be. Jonathan graduated with an engineering degree from the Hochschule Heilbronn and lived there until 2010. When he returned to Malaysia, he started working for different companies, with one of them being Intel. Since 2017, he is his own boss now with his company, German Educare.
S: Hi, Jonathan.
J: Hi, Sebastian. Thanks for having me.
S: Together with your co-founder, Gyvinne, you studied in Germany and now you help other Malaysians to do the same. What made you choose to go to Germany?
J: So both me and Gyvinne were quite lucky to receive a scholarship from the government to study in Germany. So what we really want is that we wanted to study engineering. And when we got the offer for the scholarship, we saw and did some research that Germany is actually quite famous for that. It turns out to be really a blessing for these guys, at least for me. Gyvinne has always wanted to study in Germany.
S: What were your expectations when you arrived in Germany for the first time?
J: I did not have a lot of expectations. But I was very excited to go overseas and study there. So I really went to Germany with a very open mind. And yes, from day one, the experience has been really amazing. I see a lot of new things. I discover a lot of new things.
S: You studied in Heilbronn in the southwest of Germany. In comparison, the Malaysian community is quite small in Germany. Were you part of a network there?
J: Yes. There are actually a few Malaysian networks In Germany. In Baden-Württemberg, there are many students that are sponsored by the government of Malaysia and we are actually very close to each other. So, let’s say in my university alone, in my cohort, there are five Malaysian students and across multiple cohorts, there are easily 30 Malaysian students in Heilbronn alone, and in the surrounding area like Ulm, in Mannheim and Karlsruhe they are equally about 20 to 30 Malaysian students at those universities as well.
S: And how is it here in Malaysia? Is there a network of Malaysians who studied in Germany?
J: There is officially an alumni network for Malaysian students that are back in Malaysia, which have studied overseas, but at the same time, from my own university, we have our internal support group. So we do keep in touch with all our seniors and our juniors that have studied in Heilbronn for example, in my case.
S: What were the things you needed to adapt when you moved to Germany?
J: I think this is very cliche, but for my personal experience, the toughest experience is to learn German. Everything else is very fresh and exciting and I didn’t have a lot of trouble adapting to it. But adapting to speaking German to a native speaker is very different compared to learning German in class and in Baden-Württemberg, the people don’t speak Deutsch but Schwäbisch. That makes it a bit difficult.
S: Let’s talk about your business, German Educare. Together with Gyvinne, you founded German Educare. What was the reason for that?
J: Yes, so a lot of Malaysian students want to study overseas, right? But the majority of Malaysian students want to go to English speaking countries. Australia, UK and the United States being one of the more popular options for Malaysian students and being graduates from Germany, we felt that it was such a waste because we see that there’s so much potential and we also notice that there are so many international students from all around the world studying in Germany. We felt that Malaysian should have more opportunities to also go there and study in such a country, especially if they want to do engineering.
S: Due to the Corona travel restrictions, students can’t come to Germany. How is this affecting your business for the upcoming winter semester?
J: Yes, actually, for that one, we are still trying to figure it out with the embassy. From our understanding, the German Embassy has started processing study visas. Actually, my colleague is right now at the embassy to check that out. Fingers crossed, there is no issue with them going over to Germany provided the German government accepts our students to enter the country. Apart from that, the winter semester application deadline has been postponed. So there’s actually a lot of opportunities for our students to still catch the winter semester.
S: And how is your planning for next year?
J: We have no idea but we are prepared for both scenarios. Even for now, our German classes are conducted on a blended basis. So even if in Malaysia the MCO were to happen again, it will not impact our classes at all because our classes can be done in their own time. At a pre-arranged time, the students will meet up with the teachers on zoom, or if it’s allowed in our classroom.
S: You are not only helping your clients with teaching German, but you support them also in other ways?
J: Yes. We are not really a Language Center where we provide only German. We actually assist students with every single thing that is needed until they reach their university. So I mean, the typical thing we do is to help students with their visa application. But when the Coronavirus happened, one of the things we did was to immediately contact all our students in Germany. We check with them if they’re all right and we actually get every single one of them to register with the embassy so the embassy knows where they are and if they are alright.
S: How was the situation before Corona? Was Germany becoming more popular or less?
J: So leading up to the corona pandemic, we see a lot more students that are interested to study in Germany. And we can actually see that in the enrollment. Every new semester we have more students who are enrolling. Before the Coronavirus, our single class has 30 students and after this of course it has been impacted by quite a bit.
S: You are also partly responsible for that trend. What are you doing to promote German education?
J: I think that is really because of the awareness that we have been doing over the past three years. We have been taking part in the education fairs, reaching out to the media. going to the schools directly and we give talks to the students. Overall, we have been quite well received. A lot of schools are happy to have us to talk about this pathway.
S: And do you believe the positive trend will continue after the crisis is over?
J: Definitely. I think going forward, more and more students will see the benefits that Germany has got to offer. And looking at the economic situation, I actually feel that Germany will become an even better destination option compared to others, like the United States, for example.
S: Due to the historical ties of Malaysia to the UK as a former colony. British universities are well known here and some are even present with their own local campus. How famous are German universities? Do people know about TU Munich or RWTH Aachen?
J: Yes, actually most Malaysian students, if they know about Germany, they only know those
top universities and TUM and RWTH are among the top choices. Actually what we want to do is we want to educate them. There are about 400 institutions in Germany and it’s not just about TUM and RWTH. Other than universities, there are also options to study at university of Applied Sciences.
S: When it comes to subjects, it seems Malaysians by far prefer to choose to study something within engineering background, like yourself, for example.
J: Yes. At the moment, engineering, science and technology; Those are still the more popular courses among Malaysian students in Germany.
S: Is that specific to Germany or do Malaysians also like to study let’s say, humanities, somewhere else?
J: The trend for students in Malaysia? Yes, you get to see more of them doing humanities. But it’s also in a way how the German industry is like. When we talk to people about the brands that are recognized in Germany, they all know about the German automotive industries. For example, they know about Mercedes, about BMW. If you are talking about household brands, they know Siemens, and they know Bosch. So I think it’s because of this brand recognition that they do think that Germany is stronger for engineering and for humanities, maybe not so much.
S: Before they come to Germany, you educate the students and the parents about the options and what to keep in mind. What are the factors you discuss?
J: One of the key things that we do is really to lay out everything to them. What are the pros? What are the cons? What are the differences?
But it is not so much about what is being offered that our students actually struggle to think about, is more to discovering themselves, what they want to do as a career and what they have passion in? And we actually work on those a lot more. Because where to study, what to study, which course exactly to study, which city to study, that is actually easier to decide once you know what you really want and once you know what career pathway that you want. So we work on that more.
S: If more and more Malaysians go abroad to study, do you see a risk of them staying there and have a so-called “brain drain” in Malaysia?
J: Well, I wouldn’t think of them going overseas as a risk. I know that some people talk about brain drain. But on the other hand, I think that if we don’t take the opportunity to gain experience in those countries, we will never be able to achieve the same level of, for example, technology competency. So I strongly believe that these students, if they have a chance to study overseas, they should stay on and they should work there. I personally think that many of these people, for whatever reason, but usually for family reasons, will eventually come back to Malaysia. And then they will bring with them the wealth, the experience and the knowledge that they have. So I actually think it is a good thing and not a concern at all.
S: One of the advantages of Malaysia is that you actually don’t need to learn to speak Malay to live and do business here. How is it in Germany? You learn to speak German, for example.
J: Yes, it is highly recommended for students to learn German. Some of the course requirements don’t require them to have the German language and you can even study in English in Germany. But if you are in a country, where the native language is in German, and you speak to them in German, you actually can have a better relationship with them. So it’s not just about them being able to understand you because they can speak English as well. But if you speak German with them, they will be more impressed. They know you took the effort and they will make an effort to know you better as well.
S: Can you explain a bit the differences between a German University and a Hochschule or Fachhochschule?
J: The biggest difference is that the university is more focused on theory. Well, the university of applied sciences or Hochschule focuses a lot more on the applications.
If we look in terms of what comes after the education, people who studied at a university of Applied Sciences, they just transition so much better in the industry. And I have spoken to professors from the university of Applied Sciences, they share the same view as me. They feel that students that studied at a university of Applied Sciences are more suitable to be in the industry. Whereas if you want to be an academic or if you want to be in research, then a university would definitely be a better path.
S: German universities are basically tuition-free for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. How is the rate of Malaysians continuing their post-graduate studies in Germany?
J: From my own circle, I noticed that many of my friends will choose to come back. I will say maybe about at most 40% of them will stay on to finish their masters. And a few will do even further. But at the moment, I do see a lot more Malaysians coming back after their bachelor’s degree. Among our own students we always advise them to stay on to at least complete a master’s degree, because it just makes so much sense. And if they choose to work in Germany, a master’s degree will have a lot more value in Germany.
S: I think it’s fair to say that the German lifestyle and mentality is quite different from the Malaysian one. Is there a clash for Malaysians when they deal with Germans?
J: This is a very interesting question. From my experience, one thing I notice is that when I first got to Germany, I thought that all the German friends or rather the German students are racist or they’re not interested to know other people but eventually I found out that they are as persons, they are very close-knitted and they are not as friendly as Malaysians. So that’s one big thing right? As Malaysians, we see a stranger and we call them uncle or brother, although we don’t know them. In German society, even if you are classmates they might not make the effort to reach out and be friends with you. But if you understand that that is how they are, we can then take the effort to reach out to them. If I invite them over for dinner, they will usually be nice enough to come and then over dinner, you get better bonding. So understanding the differences is in my opinion very important because otherwise if I don’t know that, I can be there for five years and not know that they are not being “un-nice” to me, they’re just like that as people.
S: Can you explain a bit about the Malaysian education sector? It is highly commercialized.
J: Yes, it is very commercialized. So even from childcare to even before they start schooling, a lot of parents will tend to choose the private pathway. After primary school, there are private options in secondary school, especially in big cities like KL, or JB. We see the trend where most parents will actually send their children to take the private education system instead of the public education system. And naturally, at the college and university level, we have a lot of choices for private schools instead of the public schools.
S: And we come to the last question since you know both countries very well. What do you appreciate most about both countries that they could learn from each other?
J: I really love how Malaysians treat each other. We are very warm people and I love that a lot. I also like that, it’s so easy to get my friend out in the middle of the night, like, let’s go to have supper at Mamak, or on weekends. In Germany, it can get very quiet sometimes, night-times, weekends, you’re just with yourself. It is also a good thing if you have something to pursue, you have time to do that.
But what I really liked about the Germans is their systematic thinking. To me, that makes so much sense. You plan well and everything just falls into place nicely.
S: Thank you Jonathan for the interview.
Thanks for joining me.
If you would like to know more about German Educare, visit their website at Germaneducare.com
And for more information about us, the Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce, visit us on LinkedIn or go to our website Malaysia.ahk.de. There on our membership directory, you can also find German Educare and all our other members. This episode was sponsored by Siemens. Thank you for tuning in. I’m Sebastian and stay tuned for more of our episodes. Until then, Jumpa Lagi and Auf Wiedersehen.