|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)