Two Years in the Land of the Free – Calvin (Stanford ’17)

In this post, Calvin Yeoh (Stanford ’17) shares his journey to the U.S. – the inevitable uncertainty and fear, the struggle, and, finally, the payoff.

Calvin (Me during ski trip in freshman year!)

A brief recap of my two-years in the land of the free:

My first foray into U.S. college education came when I was still in Form 4, when my parents and I sent my sister off to college at Madison, Wisconsin. My sister took the bold step to study in the States rather than being with her friends back home, or the U.K. or Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, for reasons I could not understand at that time. I questioned her decision to be so far away from all of us, to be within a culture that was completely foreign from the one we were used to. However, being at Madison for a week while helping my sister settle-in also made me start wondering about college. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? With all its natural beauty and vivaciousness, Madison got me hooked to the idea of studying in the States. (though I soon came to realize that not every college in the States was beautifully wedged amongst three lakes, where students can watch the sunset while enjoying ice cream made in a lab) Call that a brief introduction to “college life”.

Fast-forward three years, I found myself taking a flight to the States, albeit to the West Coast, two thousand miles (or about 28 days’ walk) away from Madison. I walked into campus with a weird sense of excitement and trepidation. On the one hand, this was the moment I’ve been waiting for, to begin a life of higher learning. On the other, since almost everyone here had to work their ass off to get into Stanford, does this mean that I have to work doubly, triply, or quadruply hard just to “stay afloat”? Everyone I met during my first few weeks exuded a sense of confidence and poise, and they seemed to already have college all figured out – the courses that they planned to take, the clubs they intend to join, even their weekly workout routine! And there I was, trying to make sense of the independent-life I’m suddenly expected to lead and curing my jetlag and hurriedly running off to the next orientation event, for fear of missing out (read: FOMO/kiasu).

Stanford soon turned out to be an amazing ride, one with its own vagaries, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. Academics at Stanford are rigorous, but they are not the only things that challenge and enrich you. There is some truth when people say that an American education is beyond just textbooks and whiteboards and problem sheets. Like learning how to bike without hands, learning in college is a process of taking risks and daring to try new things – you may fall or slip once or twice, but the sense of satisfaction and reward at the end is something you carry with you for a long, long time. At Stanford, I found myself partaking in a myriad of activities I would never have imagined doing so. I baked bread for a charity group to end world hunger; I danced (or attempted) salsa a couple of times; I ran barefoot from fountain to fountain (that opportunity is rather scarce now, given the drought that we’re facing); I skied off a mountain. And through these activities, I’ve met some of the most humble and down-to-earth people here, awe-inspiring and unique in their own ways. Almost two years on, I find myself beginning to call this place “home”.

I can still vividly remember one of my favorite experiences at Stanford. Being an amateur astronomy-enthusiast, I went to an open space preserve about 30 minutes away from campus with a couple of friends, hoping to catch comet Lovejoy’s transition across the sky. There, everything was pitch black, and you pretty much use red light for illumination, be it a star-chart on your phone or the digital display on your telescope, because of a biological effect in our eyes that changes our sensitivity towards different colors called the Purkinje effect. The preserve, being elevated about 300m above ground, was perfect as one could see the majestic beauty of the Bay Area in its night lights and the twinkling stars above. As my friends and I huddled together against the strong frigid winds blowing at the hilltop, I felt a sense of warmth, comfort, and satisfaction. This, is what I came to college for, to do some of the things I enjoy the most with the people I enjoy being with. Into our eyes, the universe emptied its creations, the sprinkling of stars amidst the pitch-black canvas that stretched out across the horizon. What amazement I felt when a streak of light appeared at the top-right corner of my field of vision – a shooting star right before my eyes! For this amateur astronomer who grew up under the perpetually-cloudy Kuala Lumpur skies, it was a moment of ecstasy.

For all the hard work that was expected and the hard alcohol that was provided*, Stanford turned out to be a paradise that many purported it to be. From the outside, one might imagine or call this a “resort” – what with the sun-kissed sandstones, the palm trees and fountains that dot our campus, and a beautiful church right smack in the heart of campus. However, beyond its physical beauty, Stanford also taught me to think independently, to follow my own voice and to avoid falling into the mainstream. Now you might be inclined to believe that Stanford is mainly a computer-science hub, an incubator for the “next big thing” to burst out of Silicon Valley, but it is also a place for the literature-enthusiasts, the philosophers, the future teachers, the activists and the physicists, to name a few. College is a place for you yourself to decide how to make the best out of your time, and I’ve decided to learn as much and as widely as I can about the world.

Looking back, I feel eternally grateful for the education that I’ve received and gone through thus far. With admissions rates dropping faster than the bass, choosing and getting into a college can be a tough and emotional process, and once you’re in one, enjoying it can be another. Life is full of uncertainty, and most of the time we get what we want, but sometimes we don’t. In the long run, it doesn’t matter – what matters most is how you face and embrace each of these uncertainties as they come. As Leo Tolstoy, under the pseudonym Kozma Prutkov, said, “if you want to be happy, be”.

To the generations of the past, present and future, I endow you with this snippet of advice. Don’t be afraid to go off the trodden path; Don’t be afraid to question; Don’t be afraid to walk against the tide; Don’t be afraid to be who you are and become what you want to be.

*For clarification, the University does not explicitly provide alcohol or condone alcohol-consumption.

Dear Past Self — Amanda (Tufts ’18)

Hindsight is, indeed, a wonderful thing, as Amanda (Tufts ’18) shows in this heartfelt letter of advice to her past self.

Amanda Ng
Dear Amanda,

It is Day 2 of Chinese New Year of your Form 4 year. You are on the computer in your Mom’s room — to escape the heat and the irresistible cookies — and have just discovered something that will change the rest of your life. “Financial aid for international students,” reads Harvard University’s website. For the very first time, the possibility of a path other than the public university in your state reveals itself.

You will very quickly learn about: the liberal arts approach; student activism; professors who have coffee with students; living somewhere where you get to wear a winter coat; pursuing an education completely in English … And you will fall in love. You will fall head-over-heels, stupidly in love with the idea of going to university in the U.S. — it’s something about lying on green lawns and reading books written by dead Greek men, right?

I’m writing to you, not to tell you how exactly things will unfold, or even that “everything will be okay” — because between where you are and where I am right now, there will be plenty of not-so-okay moments. Instead, I’d like to offer three simple pieces of advice — which, knowing how stubborn we are, you probably won’t accept so easily, but I can try:

One: Never apologise for your deep curiosity and “weird” questions. You were born with a fascination for all kinds of people, ideas and places. You are “itchy” to try everything. Try everything. Be that one kid who sticks her hand up and ask questions in class — but more than that, look up from your book and around at your classmates, and figure out what they’re interested in. Armed with a little bit of blur sotong recklessness, you will slowly collect an unlikely but precious set of experiences. Your “annoying questions” will one day turn into the ability to “ask the right question at the right time,” to make people uncomfortable and have real conversations. Never stop reaching out and being genuinely interested, and your life journey will astonish you, again and again.

Two: The time you have right now is just as important, if not more important, than the time you will get to spend in university. (Spoiler: Yes, you will go to university.) It is not where you are, but what you make of it. Remember that it’s not how much you do, but how meaningfully you live. Your family will not live forever. Your friends will move away. You will be displaced from city to city, over and over again. There will be many tough decisions and rough moments on your road ahead — stay open and keep listening to the perspectives around you, but most importantly, listen to your inner voice. It is already telling you things you will take years to figure out how to articulate and live out.

Three: Always, always be grateful — for your energy and personality, for the doors that will open, for the people who help and support you even though they have no good reason to believe in you. Thank them, again and again. Because you are and will continue to be ridiculously lucky and privileged. You have always had a mum who’s incredibly open, loving and supportive. And you will cross paths with: Teachers who care enough to deal with your shit in and out of classes; friends who are brutally honest because they care; a non-profit founder who will teach you to question why you really want to go to university, and craft your own definition of success; host families who will comfort you with home-cooked food and the wisdom of strong women; USAPPS, a community that you never thought you needed but eventually wouldn’t have made it without …

Dear Amanda,

You didn’t do much to deserve this, but your life will turn out to be astonishingly, overwhelmingly exciting, fulfilling and gratifying — soak it all in, because that’s all you can do. And never, ever forget to say “thank you” for all the people and pieces of your life, and use your privilege to pay it forward. College is but part of the journey, and what a beautiful journey it will be.

Life will be incredibly kind to you, so be sure you are to others, too.

 

With peace, love and respect,
Amanda

Dear Past Self — Affan (UC Irvine ’18)

Looking for some practical college application advice? Muhammad Affan (University of California Irvine 18’) has got you covered with this nifty little cheat sheet.

Affan

Dear past me,

The US application process is complicated, isn’t it? Well, don’t panic! Here is a cheat sheet I made for your reference.

SAT Prep
Everyone aims to get a perfect SAT score, but in reality it’s really difficult, especially for those who have certain limitations, such as time, since the exam itself is about 3 hours and covers subject matter such as grammar and math. My suggestion is to start early and do the SAT exercises with your friends. If you do it alone, you would only refer to the answer scheme and don’t necessarily understand your mistakes.

Post SAT
Once you’ve gotten your results, you may or may not be satisfied with it. Don’t be discouraged as you can register for another SAT exam. Be mindful of the SAT exam schedule so that you can organize your schedule ahead of time, especially when you are studying, say, in a Pre-University program.

Average SAT score
You’ve tried your best but still didn’t get a 2400 SAT score (LOL). Don’t get too frustrated about it! In the US, admission counselors look at your credentials holistically. They try to accommodate most of their applicants through many channels such as going through your academic performance, co-curricular activities, letters of recommendation, personal statement and prompt-based essays. These are the ways that you can utilize to impress them.

Which University?
There are many factors that can guide you on picking a university that fits you. Some people may decide to study at a university where most of their friends go to. I chose to be in somewhere different simply because I’ve always wanted to study in California. Besides that, a university’s ranking can be a factor, as certain students choose a university that has high rank. The weather can also be a factor, as some students prefer temperate places such as in the west coast (Oregon, California, Arizona), while some just want to have fun in the snow like in the east coast (Pennsylvania, New York). Essentially, just do some background research on their programs, tuition fees, and learning environment so that you can find a university that makes you feel at home.

I’m stuck. I can’t do this by myself. I really need someone to guide me.
If, let’s say, you are filing information on the university’s application form and find yourself confused, just shoot the university’s counsellors an email. Don’t get too intimidated with sending an email because counsellors are humans too and they want to help you as a prospective student. Besides asking counsellors, ask your peers or someone who has undergone the process of applying for advice. I’m pretty sure they’d be glad to help you. You know what they say, “malu bertanya sesat jalan.” 

Best,
Muhammad Affan Bin Othman
University of California Irvine 18’

Why the U.S. – Sara-Ann (Mount Holyoke ’18)

Going to university so far from home can be daunting for some. After spending a year abroad, Sara-Ann Yong (Mount Holyoke ’18) shares a few reasons she wanted to further her studies in the US back when she was applying to university, and a few reasons that she sticks by her decision today.

Sara (1)

My biggest problem after high school was not knowing how to proceed with my tertiary education. It was daunting that countries like the UK and Australia admitted students by major, and I was unsure about what I wanted to pursue. For 12 years, my academic choices were predetermined by a system and I was desperate to start shaping my own education. I was a pure science student throughout high school and A-Levels and I couldn’t appreciate the rigidity of the education I was receiving. On one hand, I wanted the opportunity to explore other fields of study, but on the other hand, I still wanted the sciences to be an option in case things didn’t work out. I didn’t want to commit to a major, end up disliking it, and be stuck with it for three or four years.

The US offered the flexibility I yearned for.

I applied to college as an ‘undecided’ major, and it was comforting to know when I got to Mount Holyoke that almost every other freshman was ‘undecided’ too. I initially planned to major in Biology, but I took one class in the field and realized it wasn’t for me (luckily I didn’t apply to the UK :p). Now one year into my undergraduate degree, I can safely say that after taking a handful of seemingly random classes that piqued my interests like psychology and scene design (thank you, distribution requirements!), I will be declaring my major in Architectural Studies when I go back to school this fall.

As a current student, my reason for applying to the US has not changed. Going to school in the US has not only given me an open-ended education and allowed me to dabble in different fields, enabling me to find my true passion; it has also opened my mind in the way I view the world.

I never expected to end up in an all-women’s college, but being a part of the Mount Holyoke community has made me a lot more passionate about women’s rights, sexual liberty, etc. – issues that I didn’t care for as much before going to the US. I’ve met some of the most wonderful and accepting people – people, who have followed me outside in the middle of the night, let me jump around like a kid because it was snowing, then called me back inside two minutes later because it was 1 a.m. and they wanted to go back to bed. Mount Holyoke is so breathtakingly beautiful that I’ve spent evenings watching the sky turn pink, purple and orange as I walk to a dining hall after acappella practice wondering how in heaven’s name I got so lucky. I’ve become obsessed with mozzarella sticks (seriously, I cannot find them in Malaysia, please let me know if you do). I’ve spent nights at UMass Amherst with the craziest bunch of people and taken the last bus home, swearing that I would never drink again. I’ve also spent nights in the studio and stayed there till seven in the morning working on my final project, Elmer’s glue and paint covering my hands, and it didn’t matter much that I hadn’t slept in two days or that I had a class in two hours because I was finally doing something I enjoy.

I chose the US because I wanted to learn, really learn – not just to memorize and regurgitate facts to obtain a good grade. I can say that in the past year, I’ve achieved that.

Thinking of studying in the U.S., but don’t know how to get there? USAPPS is a workshop by Malaysians, for Malaysian dreamers who want to apply to U.S. universities. Students, parents and teachers are all welcome. Come meet Malaysian current students and alumni from U.S. universities. Register here – http://www.usapps.org/the-2015-workshops/ 

Myth: U.S education is no different from education elsewhere – Yeng Kerng (Cal Poly ’18)

Is going to school in the US different from going to school in any other country? In our Mythbusters series, Yeng Kerng (Cal Poly ‘18) shares about his experiences furthering his studies in the land of the free.

Yeng Kerng

The United States of America – land of the free and home to an increasing populace of international students. With over four thousand universities to boast, the US remains the world’s leading destination for international students. Yet, despite all the praise we hear, there seems to be a lack of interest toward studying in the US amongst Malaysian students.

The most common question I get about the U.S. of A is regarding my studies, or rather, about how studying in the U.S. is different from studying in other countries. I’ll start by pointing out the obvious: Education in the U.S. isn’t purely academic. Academics is without a doubt one of the biggest factors that comes with your degree, but what really sets the U.S. apart from other countries I would say, is the diversity you experience. The U.S. is literally a huge melting point of cultures and ethnicities; in no other place would you be in a room with Caucasians and Latinos sharing a bowl of kimchi made by Indians.

Another important thing to note is that you may have to take classes outside of your major. Engineering majors like me are still subjected to taking history and psychology classes. One of the biggest aspects of the U.S education system is to build character and develop life skills; these classes are there to help you apply subtle but vital life skills in your degree. Remember, education is 20% information, 30% ingenuity and 50% getting the ingenuity to work with the information.

Of course, going to university in a different country may be daunting. For example, Cal Poly is mainly made up of caucasians, so unlike some other schools in California, Asians are a minority here. Having said that, I was very well received when I first came and was integrated into the college within the first few days. Americans that I’ve dealt with are definitely more upfront and personal, which was a welcoming change from the more timid Malaysian persona.

Whatever your reasons may be and wherever you may go, studying abroad is an experience unlike any other. Take this opportunity to travel the world and learn about new cultures, and let the experiences shape your life completely. Also, should you visit California, please let me know – I’ll bring you to In and Out (a famous burger place)!

Yeng Kerng- Burger

Dear Past Self – Amanda (Wesleyan ’19)

As she gets prepped to leave for her first year in the land of the free, Amanda Yeoh (Wesleyan ‘19) reflects on some things she would have liked to have known while she was applying to university. Here’s the second edition of our “Dear Past Self” series.

Amanda Yeoh

Dear Amanda,

I generally don’t spend too much time wondering what my life would be like if I had known XYZ. But it wouldn’t have hurt to have known a couple of these things when I was in your position.

Getting into the college you want is all about preparation, preparation, preparation. The earlier you can begin, the better. Studying for the SATs in Standard 6 is pushing it… but note that you’ll be in a pool of applicants from the US who have prepped for college their entire (junior) high school lives. The point is, figure out what you want as soon as possible—and more importantly, what is financially realistic—then work towards your goals. Visit as many college booths as you can, even if you’re not considering attending a specific college, because you never know what you may be missing out on.

 You’ll want to look your best on paper. Be it from your extra-curricular activities to your academics, you should always challenge yourself into becoming better in what you’ve set out to do. Dedication to your chosen commitments is a huge plus point as well—it’s not enough to participate in activity just to boost your resume. While that is an understandable launching point, you must be able to demonstrate how significant your contributions have been. Don’t be lazy either. Take the most academically rigorous classes your pre-university can offer. US colleges hold your academics in high regard, in case you thought otherwise.

Speak to as many people as you can! Ask lots of questions about schools you’re interested in. It’s one of the many ways to determine which colleges “fit” you best. It’s important to get a sense of what a college’s culture is like because you want to spend four years flourishing in an environment that helps you maximize your potential. If you’re not into Greek life, you probably don’t want to attend a college whose Greek life is a huge part of the school’s culture… (The weather should be a factor too!!!!)

Always use your time wisely. Why not learn a new skill (via edX or MIT) during your holidays? Become an independent learner. You actually want to be an interesting individual—more than just “2200; Malaysian; President of Club XYZ”. Read voraciously—I cannot stress this enough—because it is through reading that you’ll develop your thoughts and opinions.

Above all, keep yourself motivated. To quote one of my favourite figures on Twitter, Goldman Sachs Elevator, “’Do what you love’ is great advice for making 30k a year.” Remember that at the end of the day, your education is one of the largest investments you’ll make in your lifetime, and you’ll want to maximize your returns.

Stay savvy.

Amanda

 

Dear Past Self – May May (UPenn ’17)

If our facilitators could give any advice to their former applicant selves, what would they say? In the first of our “Dear Past Self” series, May May Pau (University of Pennsylvania, ’17) reflects on all nighters, cherry blossom adventures and her journey so far in the U.S.. 

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As I look at my half-packed suitcase at the end of my sophomore year at Penn, there are still things that completely baffle me – how I applied and got in, how I have this beautiful apartment, how I survived two full years in this insane institution. There are still mornings where I wake up thinking that I deserve none of this – the now dead and dried up flowers from my show in March, the wall full of handwritten notes from people who love me more than I know how to describe, the super high quality printer paper they have in Wharton printers, admission to the school that one of my closest friends called his dream. Then, there are other days where I wonder how it is that there was ever a point in my life I considered giving up on all of it and giving college a pass.

People say, “You will not remember the all-nighters you pulled studying for that midterm”. That is untrue. You will have distinct memories of sitting in a GSR with Petra and Peter till 8AM one Sunday morning and the exceedingly long walk back from DRL with Miao after astronomy lab, as you will remember skipping Friday class to see cherry blossoms in DC, screaming your lungs out at Half Moon Bay, and nearly getting run over by cars driving in the bike lane in West Philly. You’ll have more “first”s than you could ever have imagined – first frat party, first hamantaschen, first Amazon shopping spree, first major academic disappointment since Moral Studies in Form 4; MLB game, hush puppies with melted butter, snowball fight, contra dance, Yogorino… In your first two years at college, you’ll get to do more than some people will in a lifetime. Things won’t always go as planned, but there will be people who let you have one candle on your birthday cake and people who wake you up in time for your 9AMs. You will live, and life will be so full – of surprises, of challenges, of insurmountable grace.

When things seem the bleakest and hopelessness clings onto your heart like paint on glass, remember these three things: First, you are more than what you are (or are not) on any piece of paper – a resume, a transcript, or even a rejection letter. You have much to say, much to give. Have faith that you are worth it, and don’t take chances away from yourself. Second, you couldn’t have made it anywhere near where you are if not for the people who have supported you all this way. It is a blessing to even be able to start on this journey, to know that college exists, to be in a position where applying is a possibility. Be grateful. Say thank you. Finally, a lot of things in life – the weather, success, failure, admission, rejection – are completely beyond your control. Just give it your all, and roll with it – things will be okay. You’ll be told that teardrops taste a little salty, but also a little sweet – there will be pain, no doubt, but there will also be immense joy. Don’t give up. It will be beautiful.

It will be so, so beautiful.

All my love,
May May

Meet Chien Teng!

Also joining Amanda as a facilitator in the Penang Workshop this 21st June is none other than Chien Teng! We are certainly glad to have her back this year.

Went to LA for Spring Break and it was such an awesome getaway! Not to mention the perfect Cali weather.
Went to LA for Spring Break and it was such an awesome getaway! Not to mention the perfect Cali weather.

Introduce yourself

Hi everyone! My name is Chia Chien Teng and I am a rising sophomore at Brown University. I am a potential double concentrator in Economics and International Relations.

Did you apply elsewhere? Why did you choose the US?

I applied to the UK as well, but chose the US ultimately for the flexibility the system provided as I wasn’t ready to commit entirely to a single field of study. This past year, I managed to gain a very holistic education by taking classes in object-oriented programming, poetry and Korean; it has enriched my experience here so much and I have absolutely no regrets!

Tell us about your transition to college

I am really blessed to have met some really diverse groups of people this past year, all of whom have helped make my transition to college a pleasant and loving one. I never once felt homesick because Brown became my home almost immediately.

Some of my friends and I before we set off for Boston during Fall Weekend - my first trip out of Providence.
Some of my friends and I before we set off for Boston during Fall Weekend – my first trip out of Providence.

Has the US changed you? If yes, how so?

The way I view the world – I am now a lot more passionate about human rights, women rights, sexual liberty and racial equality, things I didn’t care as much for before I went to the US. The youth activists here are really passionate about what they do and that has inspired me to do the same not just in the US but in Malaysia as well.

One of the highlights of my freshman year - teaching a Malay language class. It was an amazing opportunity for me to share both my language and culture with language enthusiasts!
One of the highlights of my freshman year – teaching a Malay language class. It was an amazing opportunity for me to share both my language and culture with language enthusiasts!

 

 

 

Meet Amanda!

With the Penang Workshop only 3 weeks away, it’s time to meet our first featured facilitator, Amanda Ng. Lookout for her in Uplands!

Discovering Narnia in Penang
Discovering Narnia in Penang

Introduce yourself

Heya, I’m Amanda Ng Yann Chwen, a pre-frosh from Tufts University! I was born and bred in Penang, but spent a couple of years pursuing the Singapore A-Levels in Lion City as an ASEAN scholar. I love diving into new experiences and meeting different people, but am clueless about directions and terrible with names. I also use too many words (as this blog post attests). At Tufts, I hope to pursue Peace and Justice Studies, International Literary and Visual Studies and/or Education … Aiya, in other words, I’m happily undecided, and cannot wait to explore, discover and celebrate the world we live in! Eventually, I hope to return to our tanah air to help to make things a little bit better. I want to work together with fellow Malaysians to make sure that every kid in the country has access to the opportunities and excellent education they deserve – one small step at a time.

What do you do in your free time?

I read, write, watch CNN and terrible TV, try to help people and do random things. I’ve been on a gap year of sorts (eight months lah) since I left Singapore in December. So far, I’ve worked at a clothing store, waitressed at a bed and breakfast, interned at an arts festival, learned how to drive, taken dance classes, reached out to Iban kids in a jungle school, and been spending lots of time at home with family and catching up on sleep … Currently, I’m also a happy minion with Teach for Malaysia, helping the Fellows based in Penang with their initiatives outside the classroom.

 

Enjoying the slower pace of her gap year back home in Penang, being a tourist sometimes.
Enjoying the slower pace of her gap year back home in Penang, being a tourist sometimes.

What do you like about your college?

“Tufts oozes curiosity and enthusiasm like a rainbow-puking unicorn.” (And I got to write that in my essay.) A Tufts education is about celebrating knowledge, and then using what you’ve learned to make the world a better place, in your own way. I love that it’s a great school, but more importantly, it is unpretentious, and the people are really, really nice! The Tufts community is quirky, down-to-earth, warm, incredibly supportive, unafraid of challenging conventions and at the end of the day, kind. Every email I sent to current students was replied to in full, with a sense of openness and eagerness to help. My admissions officer knew me months before I applied, was more than happy to answer my questions, and still keeps in touch post-admission. With an adorable mascot (Jumbo the elephant!), courses like “The Politics of Pokemon” and the most diverse community of nice people I’ve ever met, what’s not to love?

How did the USAPPS help in your application process?

The Klang Valley two-day workshop I attended was awesome, in clarifying my doubts. Because of the workshop’s length, the speakers are able to address the various aspects of US apps in detail, instead of just skimming through everything. And as participants, we had plenty of chances to ask questions.

More importantly, I think becoming part of the USAPPS community was monumental, in providing the psychological/emotional support I needed to get through applications. To feel like you’re not alone in doing this, knowing that there are so many people you can reach out to if you need help. (Yay for the Facebook group.) The facilitators were amazing, always so eager to help. We kept in touch long after the workshop ended, and they would always be happy to answer the questions I bombarded them with. (Thank you Dylan, Amelia, SinSeanne, Sharon, Philip, Elaine and everyone else!)

USAPPS 2013 throwback, Sharon gets a free post-workshop massage!
USAPPS 2013 throwback, Sharon gets a free post-workshop massage!

Why is USAPPS 2014 special to you?

I remember this moment at the end of the workshop last year – Chen Chow had led all of us through this raise-your-hand, shout-your-dream-school, BELIEVE-in-yourself, you-can-do-it kinda emotional, motivational session. And standing among the participants, I looked at the facilitators all huddled together onstage, and told myself … I want to be on that other side of things next year. Lo and behold, I will indeed get to be on that other side as a facilitator, and thankful to write “Amanda, Tufts ‘18” on my sticker. USAPPS has helped me so much, so contributing a little time and energy, to hopefully help more young Malaysians achieve their dreams, is the least I could do!

Meet Bee Chern Wei!

We’re wrapping up with the last member from the USAPPS Core Committee 2014. This bubbly and fun guy has an infectious laugh which you might be mistaken for a mad scientist.

Chern Wei during Cornell's 2014 Grad Ball at the Museum of the Earth
Chern Wei during Cornell’s 2014 Grad Ball at the Museum of the Earth

Whaddup all! My name is Chern Wei, and I am a rising junior at Cornell majoring in Biological Sciences, with intended minors in Biomedical Engineering and Creative Writing. I am an aspiring scientist interested in physiology, developmental biology and infectious diseases (I’m a big fan of House MD). My dream? To run my own lab, and be the first Malaysian to ever win a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. In my free time, I slug around Facebook (the way you probably do too) but I also do poetry and prose composition for fun. I’m also a Penangite, and yes, I was born and raised with Char Koay Teow and Assam Laksa all my life.

 

What are you involved in your college that you never saw yourself doing?

I have no qualms about the answer to this: AIESEC Cornell! Quick intro: AIESEC is a student run organization (the largest one in the world, in fact) which facilitates cultural exchange. And how do we do that? Through internships! We send people from US (Cornell students for the Cornell chapter) to various countries (Brazil, China, Hungary, you name it!) and also bring people into the US for the same reasons. What have I gained from this? An amazing network and an incredibly diverse group of people who I now have the opportunity to work with, and learn from. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I’d never thought I’d get involved in the process of sending someone to Milan for an internship.

Chilling out in the Sun with some AIESEC buddies
Chilling out in the Sun with some AIESEC buddies

What is your favorite class?

I took a writing-oriented history class during my freshman year called Witchcraft in the Early Modern Atlantic World (it’s an actual class!). What do we do? We read and write about actual 17thcentury court documents of witch trials from Germany and Salem (most of them were sentenced to hanging, unfortunately). We attempted to justify the relationship between witchcraft and political oppressions in Inca, Peru, and Kongo. We even speculated (and debated) on the existence of witches by scrutinizing various texts by religious figures on identifying witches and witchcraft symbolism. I could go on and on and on, but really, if you talk to me about witches and rituals, boy, are you in for a treat!

What do you like about your college?

Gosh, here are so many things I love about Cornell. The professors are amazing; I mean, they’re all really established in their fields and so freaking passionate about what they do, it’s contagious. Many of them are also really down to Earth, and truly care for their students. My Comparative Physiology professor takes time on Tuesdays to have dinner with us, to chat about Biology or simply random stuff! And my Organic Chemistry professor sings opera from time to time in class. We also have really good food and they are everywhere (no kidding, we have ten ‘buffet-styled’ dining halls, and over twenty cafes on campus). Not to mention, Cornell is located on top of a hill, graced by gorges and waterfalls. How much more can you ask for?

 

Kesha’s concert at Cornell, September 2013
Kesha’s concert at Cornell, September 2013

It may have been a while back but how did your application process go?

It was definitely no ride in the park, but it was also an incredibly rewarding experience. I think what made my application process so memorable was the essays, which were in itself, an amazing journey of self-discovery. I remember countless nights where I slept past 4 in the morning, not because I was stressed. But because I was so engrossed in writing, and I had these clouds of inspirations floating around me; I did not want them to go away! My Common App personal statement was finalized during the wee hours of the morning, two days before they were due. Oh, that satisfaction. Looking back, I really miss those late nights with my Iced Milo, and Lays chips. And occasionally my Curry Maggi Noodles.

Why is USAPPS2014 special to you?

Because I’m home for it! And because it’s another year to give back! When I was a participant, I was blessed and fortunate to have had so much support from other facilitators. Many who knew what advice to give when I needed some. Many who encouraged me, and told me to belief in myself when it came colleges applications. Now, I find it my own obligation to do the same. To give others the incredible opportunity that I was given. And to be able to help others achieve their dreams of studying in the States.