May 12, 2010 - It's been EXACTLY a year since I came back from the States. Throughout this past year, studies had been keeping me busy most of the time and I practically had no break at all! I still remember telling my friends in the States how tough my final year is gonna be...and yes it was...but here I am now, finally done with college!! It's kinda scary how time flies huh!
When I first came back, it took me some time to readjust and get used to things that used to be familiar but yet felt different. I guess it's normal to have the tendency to compare a lot of things between both lands, and also complain about this and that. But as time goes by, reality starts sinking in and the hectic study life here left me no time to 'daydream' anymore.
Recently, I met other State alumni members in several occasions and each of us shared about our wonderful experiences in America. As I shared about my experiences, it reminds me of all the good times that I had within that 9 months. I'll also look back at my blog & pictures every now and then...brings back so many good memories. Now that a year had passed by, I've been reflecting and asking myself..."So what have I learned from my UGRAD experience? How have I changed? Have I accomplished the goals that I wrote down during the Re-entry workshop in DC?" A lot of thoughts have been running through my mind...
Detour of a Lifetime
When I first started college 5 years ago, I've set a road map for myself...just like many others who have been through this path -- complete 2 years of diploma in Penang, then proceed on to 2 more years of advanced diploma in KL, study hard to pass ACCA, then go to UK for top-up degree program, then get a job as an auditor in one of the Big 4 firms. That was the original plan and I would say that I was quite focused all these while...juz like going on 'auto cruise'...it's already programmed in my mind and all I have to do is to follow the 'plan'. But then this wonderful opportunity came along when I received a call from the U.S. Embassy saying that I had been chosen as one of the seven Malaysian scholars to participate in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State. So I decided to take a detour and it turned out to be a journey of a lifetime...a dream come true...and a life-changing experience!!
Discover a New You
Traveling all alone to a brand new place knowing nobody and start everything anew...sounds pretty scary huh! Yup...this is exactly the process that every UGRADers have to go through. When you get out of your comfort zone, that is when you really start using your 'common sense' and this is also the most effective way to learn & absorb valuable life lessons. The good thing is...nobody knows who you are, and you don't have to worry about embarrassing yourself coz you have no reputation to lose. It's like pressing the restart button, you get the chance to build a new 'image' for yourself. This new image will be a reflection of every decision that you make over there...whether to change for the better or worse...it's all up to you to choose. But don't forget, everyone back home is still 'watching' you.
Venture Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Most of us tend to get too comfortable living in our own comfort zone that we hardly think about getting out of our shell-confined life. In fact, I was also enjoying living in my shell with my small little victories and achievements. Then I came to this turning point that gave me the chance to break free and explore the world. Leaving part of my life in M'sia and starting everything from scratch in a new environment taught me so much about humility and the importance of being open-minded. Whatever I've achieved in the past do not count..I'm nobody..and I have a lot to learn from other scholars from different parts of the world who have achieved greater heights. Coming back last year, I went through the same process of detachment which allowed me to step away from the limelight, step back, and learned to look at things from a bystander's perspective.
Harmony in Diversity
I went to America expecting to learn more about American culture but surprisingly, I achieved much more than that. In fact, I learned more about the WORLD and also my own country...oh yea...tell me about broadening horizons. For this, I'm glad that I was hosted in UAH where there were hardly any other Malaysians around, and that's the best part about this program. It gave us the opportunity to not only make friends with Americans, but also befriend with people from all over the world. It's amazing how we bonded so well & built a strong friendship despite our differences. We shared about our country, culture, language, lifestyle, and it made me realize how much I didn't know about other parts of the world. Besides, I've also learned to value my home country and culture much more now. I never realized that being able to speak 5 languages is actually pretty impressive...haha! This experience has taught me to appreciate the diversity of the world, keep an open mind, free myself from stereotypes, be less judgmental, and constantly challenge my own perceptions.
Free Yourself from Stereotypes
We Malaysians know that M'sia is a developing country, but many Americans classify M'sia as a third world country. I don't agree with that statement, but well, perhaps that's the reason why our country qualifies for the UGRAD program. One thing I realized about Americans is that they are very patriotic, and that's good, but the downside of this is arrogance. I remember that when I was having my surgery, the ER doctor told me that a lot of Americans have never traveled out of US & Canada, and they think that the world is all about America. That's pretty true! I'm glad that M'sia is much smaller than US...we can easily get to another country within an hour's flight. My view is, you'll never know a country until you've traveled to that country and meet its people. So, never judge a nation or a country based on what you see on TV or internet. Come and see M'sia for yourself...it's definitely not third world at all...haha! :p
A World of Opportunities
The Global UGRAD program not only gave me a ticket to the land of opportunity, but it also opened my eyes to lots more 'global' opportunities. Before this, I've never really thought about venturing beyond this region for studies or work. Coming back this year, I've been looking into scholarships and job opportunities overseas. I've also been thinking about what I really wanna do in the future...perhaps take the road less taken and follow my passion? There are so many great opportunities out there and I wanna grab whatever opportunity that comes along. I realized I'm always attracted by anything with the word 'Global' these days...I guess this experience has definitely made me a bigger fan of the world. I'm inspired to travel around the world to see and experience the lives of others.
Give Back & Make A Difference
I know that I'm very lucky to be given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live through this amazing UGRAD experience and I'm always counting my blessings. I wish more people can get to experience this as well but unfortunately it's not possible. So the best way to share my experience is by giving back to the community. As a UGRADer, I had the opportunity to volunteer, and this opened my eyes to the spirit of volunteerism among youths in America. I realized that I need to do much more than juz getting a degree and secure a good job with good pay. As one of the UGRAD alumni in M'sia, I look forward to being involved in more community projects and encourage more M'sian youths to contribute their time and skills to these meaningful activities.
Last But Not Least...
Time to wrap up...i'm running out of words. Pardon me for the non-linkage of this long post...I'm just blah-ing whatever that came across my mind. All in all, this UGRAD experience had been the best journey that I've ever had thus far. I've experienced great things, met wonderful people, traveled to different places, acquired new knowledge, exposed myself to different cultures, and built lasting relationships across borders. I've got wonderful stories that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. My UGRAD journey in the States had ended a year ago but my UGRAD spirit is still burning. I'll keep learning and exploring as much as possible in life, and be the best person that I can possibly be!
P.S. Don't ever shut your own door of opportunities, dreams do come true if you believe it. Dare to Dream!!! Be brave enough to take the first step and you'll make it big! :)
By: TANG KHAI SHING (UGRAD 2008-2009)