Let's face it. There aren't a lot of moments in life where you can point at and say, "That's when my life changed". Moments in life are fleeting, they fly by, and if you don't pause for awhile and bask in the glory of it, it goes away. Most moments aren't significant enough to be remembered. The ones that do get remembered get pushed back further in the space of one's memory, when other events take center stage.
If there's one event in my life that I can safely say changed my whole course of action, it would be studying abroad. It's a lot to say that these few months of my life could change so many things, but I do believe that I have learnt a lot of valuable lessons, many of which will never be replaced.
Since arriving to the US on August 2011, I have had many happy moments, excellent personal development experiences, made many wonderful friends and gotten the chance to explored my full potential that could never be realized back home.
Perhaps the most important lesson that studying abroad has taught me is the lesson of being independent. Although I've been away from home for two years while studying in Kuala Lumpur, it didn't feel as though I was away from home at all, with occasional visits back home and the assurance of knowing that my family was looking out for me and my friends were always there. Coming here, not knowing a single person in Florida did scare me, but I was at that stage of my life where the mere idea of embarking on a new adventure excited me. I am still at that stage of life now, and great adventures keep appearing. For the first time in my life, I learnt to manage my own finances and my daily activities. I learnt to depend on myself for everything and to do things on my own. Being a very people-oriented person, I love spending time with friends, but being here has given me a new found appreciation of being quiet and being alone.
A few months into this exchange and I already I can see how much the US has changed my thinking and opened my mind to many possibilities. I am starting to think critically, questioning what people tell me, especially in the educational field. The fundamental difference in the education system between Malaysia and the United States is the element of critical thinking. In Malaysia, your knowledge is transmitted from your teachers, and what you learn is what your teacher offers to you. More often than that, it is what he or she knows, and nothing more. In the US, you learn to study independently, relying not just on your the knowledge gained your professors impart, but also on other sources of information. I learnt to maximize my most loyal companion, Google, and to utilize books as well as online platforms of information, learning more than what is expected of me. The assignments and projects here require you to search for information on your own rather than to depend on your text books. That's what I believe learning should be- a process of thinking and discovering. Learning is an adventure on it's own. Yes, that is the nerd in me talking. It's a great feeling when you get your results back and you see the row of straight As, knowing that all the effort you put into studying and doing your work was worth it. It's nice to know that you are judged on your capabilities here rather than your ability to correctly predict what question will be on the next test, or on your "luck".
Studying abroad is changing the way I look at the world. My knowledge of people, of culture, of history, of places has been transformed. It's one thing to see pictures in text books and scenes in movies. It's another thing to actually be at a place, to see something, to touch it and experience it. At that moment, you realize that those photos and those movies could never justify the feeling that when you see it in person. Studying and living in a difference culture gave me the chance to see the world from a completely different perspective. Talking with people from different racial backgrounds and different countries makes you think and question your stands on certain issues. I learnt how to talk to people who may not think or communicate like me, learning to understand their culture and sharing my values with them. Even boring things like shopping for groceries with them becomes a fun (and funny) educational experience! My stereotypes towards people and cultures are dispelled every day as I meet amazing people from all around the globe.
My travelling experience here has given me a new perspective of Malaysia. Being in one country alone gives us limited views of our world. Upon taking a step out to a foreign place, I am starting to learn more about my own country and am starting to see how Malaysia fits into all of humanity. I am learning to see my own culture through the eyes of someone else. Margaret Mead sums up my whole experience perfectly in this single quote: As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate lovingly, our own.
Now, I think that I am officially able to think in a global perspective and finally step out of the box.
Studying in the US has given me a lot of things. Confidence, passion and determination are probably the ones that are the most unforgettable.
And the countdown to returning home begins. Six more weeks before classes end, and another 60 days till I bid good bye to the United States, a place that will always hold a special part in my heart.
And though I know that I will be sad when I leave, I am not afraid anymore, because I know that the future will still shine brightly for me, as long as I keep this passion to succeed burning in my heart.
By: Nasha Lee (UGRAD 2011/2012)