|Global UGRAD Malaysia||
It’s important to learn from disappointments and turn them into an advantage.
It had been a childhood dream, not only of mine but of many others, to pursue my tertiary education overseas. I scored 9A1s and 2A2s in the 2006 SPM. With my active co-curricular involvement and the fact that I was a government pensioner’s daughter, I was confident that a Public Services Department scholarship would be mine.
But my hopes were crushed. I became one of 10,697 scholars who were rejected for a scholarship that year and I was not offered a matriculation placement or any other scholarship awards. Dejected, I enrolled at a private university following my parents’ orders to pursue a course of their choice and I couldn’t have cared less about my studies in my foundation year.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t make studies my first priority. Strangely enough, I met people through my involvement in various activities at college that planted this seed of thought ... never let go of your dreams and make the most of what you have. I became a changed person, clear on my direction and determined to give it my all.
They say success is 99% hard work and 1% luck. My 1% of luck came after completing my industrial training in my junior year of college. I was awarded a scholarship to undertake a year of studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou)! That convinced me that if you want something badly and you work really hard for it, the opportunity will present itself.
I learned to walk boldly into challenges. I represented Malaysia in a presentation competition among young engineers in an Asia Pacific regional meet, was the driver for my college’s eco car teams in local and Asian region competitions, worked at a call center during the summer holidays and was involved in musical performances annually. When it came to academic projects, I always made sure that I knew every aspect and meticulously checked through the video, presentation slides and report.
My year in Mizzou proved to be the most amazing year of my life. When I stepped off the plane at Boston Logan International Airport, which was my point of entry, I couldn't believe that I had actually achieved a lifelong dream.
It then became second nature to me to always be on the lookout for new things. Hence, in the first week itself I decided on my compulsory internship in the states – to help build a hydrogen fuel cell car and compete in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas (SEMA) 2012. One of my teammates introduced me to the Mizzou Fermentation Sciences Club, an activity you could hardly find in Malaysia. Never have I tried so many varieties of beer and stout that included red pepper and pumpkin!
Academically, I took up one of the most challenging courses –Introduction to Nuclear Engineering. Our class was small yet diverse in nationalities and ethnic origins. There were military and marine personnel who were on sabbatical, former nuclear plant workers, physicists from India and Vietnam and a handful of undergraduates who were wet behind the ears like me. And we would all huddle together to share notes and discuss after class hours, study previous exam questions together, something that didn’t happen in the other classes.
I made many friends from all around the world during my year abroad. It was initially hard to adapt to another’s culture and decipher each other’s accents. It was tempting to stick to Malaysians or other Asians but that would have defeated the purpose. In the end, my best friends were from Serbia and Montenegro.
Putting aside the compulsory involvements, my other fun attempts included fencing, speed dating, making a potato gun, couch surfing and swing dancing. Eventually I graduated in mechanical engineering, yet found myself drawn to journalism.
Despite the obvious financial drawbacks of such a move, my experience taught me that a degree is just a pathway to the working world, and that it is more important to do something you are passionate about. Most of all I learnt that when life knocks you sideways, you should use it as an opportunity to carve a new path.
> The writer is grateful for the chance to live the American dream and hopes to see those lucky ones overseas make the most out of their college life.
By: Christine Cheah (UGRAD Alumni Malaysia 2011/2012)
When the e-mail from MACEE stating that I have been given a chance to undergo an exchange programme to U.S. arrived in my mailbox a year ago, little did I know that I was on my way to embark on a journey of a lifetime… a journey that would eventually change my entire perspective of life.
Being raised by baby boomers, I have always been taught that I have to excel in studies, or else I’d probably end up as a ‘pisang goreng’ seller (banana fritters seller) or something like that. It also didn’t help that the people around me were constantly telling me that the only thing that matters is getting a secure future which options consist mainly of medicine, law, accountancy or engineering.
But, I was never one to sit still and just focus solely on studies. I was actively involved in extra-curricular activities and I loved doing community service. I love learning new things and being involved in charity events, home visits, cleaning up zoos… but how much more of these could I do? Over time, I started to realize more social issues happening around me. But I felt helpless. I mean, unless I married a filthy rich husband, how am I to dedicate my time and effort towards these causes? That was, until I went to the U.S.
I was excited at the thought of going to the U.S. Excited to see new things, learn new things, meet new people and I did have my fair share of fun and experience while being there. I got an opportunity to work with driving simulators and eye trackers (something I’ll never get to do in Malaysia), met lots of awesome people, watched Wicked on Broadway (total dream come true!) and lots more. But the best experience I had was being exposed to an entirely different culture and seeing life in a different perspective.
Being in the U.S. has taught me that there is more to life than just studies, getting good grades and getting a secure job. There are issues that needed to be addressed… issues that are bigger than you and I can ever imagine. I was SO amazed by how socially conscious my American friends were. Many of the people I met dedicate their lives and future to be full time social workers or be in public service or spend their free time volunteering in hospitals, soup kitchen or wherever that requires volunteers. It was amazing to see how selfless they were even during their pursuit of education. I was determined to take heed of their examples and hoped to make a change when I head home.
But as I set foot back home again, fear started creeping up on me. Fear of my passion dying off. Fear of not being able to cope with studies. Fear of thing not going my way and eventually becoming complacent. Slowly, these fears were starting to cripple me… until I volunteered for TEDxKL 2013. Listening to the 12 speakers as well as working with a team of highly passionate, goal-oriented youths has proven to me that nothing is impossible as long as you set your mind on it. So I decided that I had to be more alert and look out for more opportunities. Before I knew it, more opportunities started coming in. From being one of the 500 plus delegates at the Global Startup Youth (where I got to meet and learn from amazing people and youths who are creating impact in their respective countries) to working with a team of highly motivated individuals in Malaysian-American Alumni Partnership (MAAP) to working with fellow Malaysian UGRAD-ers and the U.S. Embassy on a community project, I have not looked back ever since.
All this would not have been possible had I not had the opportunity to go abroad. I will forever be thankful to the Department of State, World Learning and MACEE for this opportunity and all the guidance they have given to me. I am also really thankful for my family and friends who have shown so much support and help while I was in the U.S. Last but not least, my utmost gratitude to the wonderful UGRAD-ers who are not just my friends but are now family to me.
I may not be Mother Teresa, heck, I’m a FAR cry from who she is and what she has done. But I believe in doing my part in giving back to the community. I am well aware that I need to be realistic. There are things that I can and cannot do, but for as long as I live, I will continue to contribute and work with like-minded individuals on giving back to this community I live in.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."
By: Carolyn Cheong (UGRAD Alumni Malaysia 2012/2013)