Charis graduated from Brown University in 2013 with a Sc.B in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, taught English and Visual Art for 2.5 years, and now freelances as an illustrator.
1) WORK ON YOUR APPS EARLY
Yes, people pull off writing papers in a single night in college, but apps have so many different parts that you’ll regret trying to put it off till the last minute, then realizing that you forgot to get enough recommendation letters/ enter your parents’ college education details/ submit a portfolio/ etc. Know when procrastination is helpful, and when it isn’t.
2) DON’T BE AN ASS
Don’t send mass emails to people asking for help without so much as a ‘thank you’ or personalized message. Don’t insist that you only want to go to Harvard/Yale/Princeton and that other schools aren’t worth it. Don’t be a misogynist. Don’t set up fake profiles online to celebrate your awesomeness. Don’t fake accomplishments or accolades. Frame what you’ve got in a positive way.
3) DON’T WORRY ABOUT SCHOOL PRESTIGE
Why do people want to go to prestigious institutions? Because the other people who go there are connected to powerful networks and structures in the US and all over the world. Because doors open for you when you have certain names on your resumé. Because uncles and aunties make more audible sounds of awe when you announce where you went to school, and in Malaysia most people don’t know about those tiny liberal arts colleges anyway.
Eh, whatever floats your boat.
4) DO WHAT WILL HELP YOU LEARN AND BE HAPPY
Go to a school where you think you will be able to spend the vast majority of your time learning and engaging with subjects you are interested in. Don’t go to a school because there are a lot of Malaysians there and you’re scared of talking to people who don’t understand your Malaysian accent. Take subjects you enjoy learning about, do projects you enjoy working on, with people who challenge you and support you. Work part-time jobs where you get to improve your skills and meet interesting folk. Don’t worry too much about future employability. If you’re used to taking the initiative and pouring your time into things you genuinely care about, you will have picked up enough skills to be able to apply to most jobs. And if you have an overseas degree, good English language skills, and other transferable skills like analytical thinking and communication, you’re in the privileged top 10% of the Malaysian workforce anyway.
5) YOU’RE GOING TO DIE SOMEDAY
This holds true for everyone, which leads us to the next point:
6) HELP OTHER PEOPLE
You don’t have to come back to Malaysia to do so. You can help people anywhere in the world. But if you have the privilege to go to university and obtain an education, which is about broadening your mind and learning to see, then, well, you should use that to work against injustice in the ways you know how to. There will be nuances and compromises. Don’t compromise too much and for too long.
7) CAPITALISM/ WEALTH INEQUALITY SUCKS
Use your time in university to learn why – both theoretically and in hands-on, real life scenarios. Learn how the ultra-rich in your university live. Learn how the rich in Malaysia live. Learn how the poor in both countries live. See how comfortable you are with it. Figure out how you can live in ways that resist capitalist thinking and pull. Make the most out of your time in the US, where many universities have strong activist communities and liberal leanings, to struggle with this, in the hopes that you won’t forget once you graduate and become exposed to all kinds of expectations: to keep earning and consuming more and more, to work your way into the elite, to measure up to standards which may not be your own.