Your dream of studying in the U.S. shouldn’t just remain a dream, as Kauutam Uthaya Suriyan (University of California, Berkeley ’20) has proven to himself. Against all odds, Kauutam showed that with hard work, one can reach for what is deemed impossible. Everybody has a different college application journey- come to USAPPS 2017 to learn about the different journeys our facilitators have braved through to get where they are today! You can register here: http://bit.ly/USAPPS2017
After a 20 hour back-breaking flight, I finally reached the place I have heard so much about in the Hollywood movies I have watched throughout my life. “The United States of America,” they call it. For many others, it’s the “Theatre of Dreams”. I walked out of the plane with my head held high and a voice in it saying, ”Champ you made it!!!”. Soon, the same smile and confidence were humbled by the customs officer and a stern look on her face. She gave my passport a good stare and sent me to the immigration office. A gruelling one hour wait in the Immigration office gave me the chills and lead me to start asking questions: Will I ever belong here? Will I ever be able to call this place home? After secondary checks by the immigration officers, I was cleared to leave the airport and be on my way to my dream college: University of California, Berkeley.
I wasn’t just walking to my college dorm, but down memory lane as I reminisced the struggles I had to brave in order to get here. Since I was 7, I would cut newspaper articles of university rankings and paste it on my bedroom wall, dreaming of reaching the impossible. My love for UC Berkeley begun after I watched Vaaranam Aayiram, a Tamil movie where the protagonist falls head over heels for a girl in a train. He would go all the way to the girl’s college- UC Berkeley- to woo her over. Watching the beautiful scenes taken on campus, I remember telling myself that that was where I wanted to go.
However, I was told that I was dreaming for something out of my league, especially as the son of a taxi driver who struggled to make ends meet. Years of hard work, sleepless nights, and the beautiful support of my family and friends later, I received a scholarship to study in UC Berkeley. 8 years later, on UC Berkeley grounds I stood: I am a Golden Bear at last.
I dragged all my suitcases to the campus dorms. Though my confidence returned, it was constantly attacked by the voices in my head reminding me, “you are an immigrant. You are to be extra cautious with each and every step of your way.” I got my keys and was greeted by one of the warmest smile I have ever seen in my life. I never would have suspected that the beholder of the smile would later turn out to be a very special friend to me. A Vietnamese refugee, Hung Hyunh moved to the states for a cardiac surgery. 8 months forward into his new life which America had leased him, Hung was elected by the students to be a senator and represent them.
Hung was only one of the unique and inspiring individuals I was going to meet in my forthcoming year at Berkeley. As I began to meet more people, I realized that not only was I surrounded by a community of diverse backgrounds but also one that had the identical hope and dreams that I had. That dream was to strive and be the best versions of ourselves.
The people here want to make this world a better place for all the inhabitants. They had endless ideas for a start up and public policies. I met two people in a party who agreed the walks to cafeterias for late night meals were troublesome, which lead to a startup idea three months later for late night food delivery. Every conversation I had the privilege to participate in enlightened my mind; they served as a gateway to a new world for me to understand the varying personalities and societies that make up this world. I started to become more accepting of those who were different from me. I stopped taking others as weird, but as special and individualized.
I attended social gatherings and frat parties, literally bumped into so many people and started to realise how important networking is because you can’t take for granted what you might learn from the next person you are about to meet.
During the first couple of weeks alone, I was already being exposed to various opportunities the American education had to offer. From consulting clubs to dance clubs, you can learn anything and be anyone you want to be. All you have to do is step up, approach people and show your commitment. The quote, “Opportunities are up for grabs” is what the American college strives on. The system equips you with everything they deem necessary for your development and maturing; all you have to do is be brave enough to leverage it.
The Kaautam who boards the plane back home to Malaysia for summer break is a different man. This Kaautam is one who is braver, more curious and a higher fervor to learn. Though broken by failures, he is stronger than before and not to forget, just a little bit “cooler” than the Kaautam, 9 months back. Obstacles were no longer just obstacles, but a platform for self-improvement. Foreign ideas and concepts did not remain foreign, but as an opportunity to learn something new.
America may not be everything I imagined it to be. It is beyond the Friday night parties, the beautiful Californian beaches, the freedom to do anything and the Hollywood glamour you see on the TV screen. This is a place for second chances, for as much failures it takes to find your true passion, for the liberty to transform into anything and anyone you want to be. This is America. The land of the free, home of the brave.