A new FAQ page and more things to come!

We know we know. If you’ve been a loyal follower of our blog, you would have noticed that we have been committing the biggest sin of blogging – not updating our blog at all! We truly are sorry. Finals week was tough and we spent so much time preparing for the workshops that something had to give (besides our sleep). But brace yourselves, we are launching a new surge of content. You think we’ve dried up the content well? More things are coming. Like, for instance, we are now introducing our own frequently-asked questions (FAQ) page right HERE!
Introduced by popular demand, we will now curate questions about us and what we do during our workshops in that page right there so that you won’t have to email us in case you have questions! Not that we don’t want you to stop contacting us but now you can find answers to some general questions that you might have even quicker and save that email for other questions! 😀

Register for USAPPS 2013

Great news – we are now accepting registrations for our 2013 workshops! We will be holding 5 workshops this year: a half day workshop in Penang open to students, parents, teachers and counselors; 3 separate half day workshops in Klang Valley for students, parents and teachers and counselors and a comprehensive 2 day workshop for students to get more detailed information about US college applications. Head over to our workshops page to find out more by following this link: http://www.usapps.org/2013-workshop/

Brown University & UPenn Talk on 27th September

The Alumni and Alumnae of Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania cordially invite you and your parents to An Introduction to Brown and Penn.

Please join Elisabeth O’Connell, Associate Dean for International Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and Panetha Theodosia Nychis Ott, Director of International Admission at Brown University on Thursday, September 27, 2012, 7:00 p.m at International School of Kuala Lumpur, MRR 2, Jalan Kolam Air, 68000 Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Directions:  From Downtown, take the Elevated Highway (AKLEH) to Ampang and take the Ampang Jaya exit.  This will place you on Jalan Kolam Air and ISKL is the second school on the Left off the end of the exit ramp.
There will also be a session of “Applying to Top Schools in the US” by Brown University and University of Pennsylvania at 2pm-4:30pm on 27th September at MACEE.

“It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to study, but if you sort of know the kind of environment that works best for you…it will go a long way in making your study abroad an even better experience.”

Cheryl is about to start her Junior year at NYU this coming Fall. She studies Public Health with a minor in Public and Social Policy. That apart, she will be an Resident Advisor(RA) this coming year and she has very recently joined the Alternative Breaks board as head of International Logistics. She is also research assistant at NYU’s Center for Heath, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies. Fun Facts about Cheryl: She is an incurable caffeine addict and her favorite animal is the platypus.

Check out how Cheryl chose her school in the US and what she is doing in NYU!

A critical piece of advice you would offer a student looking to further his/her studies abroad

I cannot stress enough how important it is to not only pay attention to the reputation of the school, but also to their expertise in whatever major you’re pursuing. A school can be top ranked, but this does not mean necessarily that it’s the best school for whatever you plan to do. Secondly, what helped me ultimately make what I consider the perfect decision for me in regards to where I study is that I knew what I wanted academically, but I also knew what sort of environment I wanted to be in. I knew that I loved cities, and constant hustle and bustle and I knew it was imperative that I be in a lively atmosphere. When narrowing down the colleges I wanted to go to, I made sure that I also looked at where these colleges were situated. It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to study, but if you sort of know the kind of environment that works best for you, I think it will go a long way in making your study abroad an even better experience.

What was your most memorable experience in your college life so far?

I’m part of the Alternative Breaks program at NYU, which is a service project carried out during winter and spring breaks, sort of as an alternative to the traditional partying it up in Florida. Both my freshmen and sophomore spring breaks, I went to the Dominican Republic for a week to teach English along with 13 other NYU students. I was a participant my freshmen year and I co-site led the trip my sophomore year. It has been quite honestly, the most sobering experience of my life. Education is not a priority in the DR, and school children there attend maybe a third of what a student in the United States does. The environment in the DR is very political and incredibly volatile. The whole experience has made me grateful for the relatively stable environment I have always had, both in Malaysia and in the United States. On a less serious note, the DR is an incredibly beautiful country with people who are far more generous than they should be. I’ve made some of my best friends doing this service project as well as discovered what I truly want to do with my life.

Meet Kai Syuen!

Well, what can we say about Kai Syuen except that she’s been such an AWESOME facilitator! She is a rising sophomore at UPenn. If you like what you’ve read in this interview, be sure to come to our Two-Day workshop THIS WEEKEND to meet her! 🙂

Here we go… Let’s meet Kai Syuen!

This is Kai Syuen!

Introduce Yourself!
I’m Kai Syuen and I’m from Kuala Lumpur, born and bred. I’m definitely a KL-ite through and through- I think it’s a beautiful city, litter on the roads and all (gives it character!). I’m a rising sophomore from the University of Pennsylvania and am planning to major in Philosophy Politics and Economics (mostly because I can’t decide which of the three I like best!). I did A-Levels at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur (in Brickfields- best Indian food in KL!), and went to Wesley Methodist School.

I love gaining new experiences, which is why I love travelling and learning new things about life and the world (I’m ALWAYS up for trivia). This means I have phases in my hobbies, whether in filmmaking, geeking out over video-games, or a two-month-long ping-pong craze. However, one constant in my life is definitely my love for writing; also, I enjoy philosophizing and deep thinking while dishwashing.

I first attended USApps in 2008 as an ignorant Form 4-er. While I wanted to be a facilitator last year, timing wasn’t right, so this year is my first year facilitating. It’s been great and the best part about it hands down is meeting all the US-bound Malaysians- we all have a tinge of (good) crazy so it is always fun to hang out!

What did you do in high school?
Even though being a prefect is the benchmark of the Malaysian over-achiever, I never became one because I couldn’t make sense of my school rules enough to uphold them (you’ll understand if you go to my school). So I focused on developing valuable experiences, and developing my interests and passions. One thing I did was not limit myself to just participating in activities within the school, with all its teenage petty politics on gaining positions in clubs/societies. Instead, I went volunteering for NGOs in Malaysia. I also developed my writing and joined writing competitions. One major experience was finding a cause I was passionate for, after ‘shopping around’ a little- the environment. I spent a few years volunteering for environmental NGOs and did some environmental awareness advocacy work.

One thing I learnt in high school was not to just follow the ‘conventional’ path to success in high school (a string of Presidencies, prefectship, etc.), but to follow my personal interests and cultivate my passions.

Do you remember much about your college application experience? Tell us a little about it!
I remember rushing my college applications because I had NEVER thought of going to the US- I was in love the UK the whole way. I only started doing SATs very very near before the deadline, with no time to retake it. So I actually took a day off during a holiday in London to do my SAT subject tests in an international school outside London- time was that short! I only started my essays 2 weeks before the deadline- that’s because unfortunately, I am the kind of writer who can only write when the feeling hits me (because of my diva-esque inspiration), so I rushed my essays.

DON’T DO WHAT I DID. It will only cause you the worst 2 months of your life.

All said, my personal experience has led me to believe that the US college application experience is as life-changing as meditating on the meaning of life in a Himalayan mountain. It really causes you to re-evaluate your self, and your place in the world, and your hopes, dreams and plans for the future. It’s a truly valuable experience that really develops you as a person, particularly during your time as an insecure teenager.

Of course, even though you feel you’ve figured yourself out after the experience (like I did), going to university after that messes you up again, for the exciting journey of figuring yourself out again.

UPenn in Spring

Why did you choose to apply to the US?
Like I mentioned earlier, I had never thought of going to the US- I was in love with London and the UK and didn’t even conceive of going to the US. However, as a Form 4-er attending the USApps workshop, I could tell that even if I DIDN’T end up going to the US in the end, the applications process is a great learning experience and a growth opportunity. So don’t look at the tons of forms/essays as a chore- it’s an adventure!

I applied to both UK and US universities. In the end, what made me go to the US was the applications process itself. US universities administer such a tedious process because they actually care about you as a person and how you would fit into their community. They don’t just care about your academic knowledge, but whether you can grow and develop as a person in the 4 years you spend at their institution. With the liberal arts curriculum, US education is really for broadening your perspective, giving you an education for life instead of just the tools to do well in your career.

In the end, I chose the US because it wanted to feed my soul, in all its intellectual and creative yearnings, instead of just honing my mind.

Give three areas you feel you’ll be able to give advice on:
Essays, getting the most out of US education, and Malaysian Scholarships applications for overseas study

Tell us about your favourite college class?
I’ve only had one year of classes so far, but I’ve found every one interesting in its own way, and life changing in their own small ways. They all added something to my perspective towards life. However, my favourite class so far is definitely an English seminar on fantasy novels (at Penn, seminars are particularly small classes of less than 20 students, and more discussion heavy than just conventional lectures by professors). The class analysed books like George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones, Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, as well as fantasy films like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It allowed me to indulge in my inner fantasy geek, discussing the books and understanding them in a totally different level. It may be difficult to believe, but some things I learnt about fantasy in the class are definitely transferable to real life!

Favorite country? Favorite Malaysian food? Favorite bands/music/books?
Malaysia- we may have our faults, but when I’m here, even walking on the (sometimes littered) streets of KL, or riding on the ever-late LRTs, it feels like home.

Choosing my favourite Malaysian food really causes super rambang mata! But my favourites are definitely Cantonese boiled soup (any type!) and our tropical fruits (durian, mangosteen, rambutan, everything).
I gravitate towards indie singer-songwriter music, from home-grown Zee Avi and Najwa, to Kina Grannis and Imaginary Friend. I tend to like songs rather than artistes or bands, so most of my favourites consist of specific songs rather than favourite bands. However, I appreciate any good melody, so I can appreciate Eminem and Flo Rida, as long as an excellent melody and meaningful lyrics can be found.

My favourite books are anything that adds to life’s meaning, and has emotional resonance. Like my interests, my taste in books is highly according to phase- I had a phase on Indian authors, and now I’m having a Haruki Murakami phase. I have a constant fascination for fantasy novels (of the Philip Pullman and George RR Martin variety). I’ve never had a romance novel phase, though (except for a Cecilia Ahern chick lit phase). Two of my (constant) favourite novels are To Kill A Mockingbird and The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nightime.

“… I realized the beauty of this education isn’t the wide variety of classes. But, it was the ability to learn how to learn.”

Yugen recently completed his freshman year at Oxford College at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He intends to major in Business Administration (Finance) and Sociology. Yugen is a Resident Assistant (RA) of his dorm at Emory (It is very common for on-campus housings to have Resident Assistants). This basically means that he is the Big Papa of the dorm. As a RA, Yugen is the go-to-person if any of his dorm-mates have any academic, personal or roommate issues.

Fun Facts about Yugen: He LOVES nasi lemak. He is learning how to ride a bicycle (haha!) and desperately wants more Malaysians to come to Emory! He is also starting to develop a romantic relationship with Fried Chicken only because he goes to a school located in the South.

Check out Yugen’s liberal arts education experience at Emory.


How has the liberal arts education changed your approach to learning? 

You know something is wrong if all you have to do to get an A is memorize your textbook.

My high school learning experience was no different than an average Malaysian student. Only that, I never really understood why I had to learn some subjects in school. To me, learning should start from passion, not compulsion.

The liberal arts education in America was my own “refreshment”. Instead of taking prescribed classes, I had the freedom to dictate the classes I wanted (or at least fits my schedule). I found myself taking random classes ranging from Yoga to Art History. Instead of deciding how to “get-through” a class, I learned how to pick classes. More importantly, I learned to how to decide on things that matters to me the most.

The further I experienced this education; I realized the beauty of this education isn’t the wide variety of classes. But, it was the ability to learn how to learn. Taking random classes challenged the traditional “study hard and memorize” formula. In fact, you are forced to unlearn and relearn different skills.

Now, I no longer memorize facts. I question them.

Oxford College at Emory (Courtesy: emory.edu)


“…my favorite aspect of liberal arts – the emphasis on learning through doing instead of just knowing!”

Amelia in Croatia

Amelia Lee is a rising senior at a liberal arts college – Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania. She is pursuing a major in Geology and a minor in Environmental Studies. This summer, Amelia is conducting an off-campus research on hydrogeochemistry in the University of Arizona. Previously in the Spring semester, she studied abroad in Krakow, Poland. One of Amelia’s passion is phot0graphy. She used to dabble in Bug(Entomological) photography and she submitted a bug photography portfolio as her Arts Supplement. She also does some pretty interesting things in college such as working as a bouncer and as a food photographer! She shamelessly uses her Asian skills to be a food photographer at Bryn Mawr.

Fun Facts about Amelia: She can ONLY do multiplications in chinese (HAHA!) She loves reading, eating, watching sunsets and long walks by the beach (Guys: Hint Hint). Amelia would also like to see the aurora borealis one day!

Bryn Mawr is a liberal arts colleges and is part of the 7 Sisters alongside with Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College, Smith College, Barnard College, Radcliffe College (now merged with Harvard College) and Vassar College (now coeducational).

Here’s Amelia’s opinion on the liberal arts =)

What do the “liberal arts” mean to you personally?

Parent-friendly answer: “Liberal arts”, to me, meant that I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in a curriculum that draws form a wide range of disciplines and was able to freely explore my interests without compromising on the quality of my education.

Real answer: C’mon guys, anyone can wax lyrical about intellectual discussions, small class sizes and amazing academics, but few mention my favorite aspect of liberal arts – the emphasis on learning through doing instead of just knowing!

Wyndham Alumnae House @ Bryn Mawr College

My liberal arts education afforded me opportunities do things I would have never dreamed of. I interned in a theatre company, a home furnishing company, a state run sewage treatment plant, and an oncology center for pets. I learnt Judo, mentored underprivileged teenagers, and worked as a food photographer. I did summer research projects in the boondocks of Wyoming and the oil fields of Louisiana. I also studied abroad in Poland and backpacked solo in Central Europe. All these experiences made possible by a liberal arts education’s commitment to facilitate growth through hands-on exploration helped me – as clichĂ©d as it sounds –to grow as a person. I learnt to adapt and to be versatile, I learnt to listen and respond, I learnt to behold beauty differently. As I graduate (if all goes well, knock on wood!), I am convinced that the experiences I had through my liberal arts education will equip me with an enriched and disciplined mind that will help me wherever I am in life.

A critical piece of advice you would offer a student looking to further his/her studies abroad

You are the author of your own college experience, make every moment count!

Also, a rice cooker can cook more than just rice. Get to know it really well.

Amelia in a fire retardant suit while sampling oil fields in Louisiana

“US is an excellent path for the student who values breadth over depth…and eventually wants depth but prefers to delay or supplement it with variety”

Su Ann Lim is a recent graduate from Columbia University with majors in Economics and Political Science. Her favorite parts of college were sledding down the icy steps of Columbia on a dining hall tray in the middle of a snowy night, and spending all-nighters in Butler Library with her closest friends, studying but not really studying. She blogs at www.quaintly.net.

Why should students choose to study in the US, especially when alternatives may cost less, take less time, and offer more familiar styles of education?

Studying in the US is an excellent path for the student who values breadth over depth in his or her education, and it is excellent for the student that eventually wants depth but prefers to delay or supplement it with variety. Ultimately, studying in the US is about choosing how to become a well-rounded individual in the way that you like best, and the liberal arts system is generous with its options to choose from.

The US is for you if you are uncertain about what you want to do but also want an education in various other things (music, literature, statistics, physics, philosophy!) even as you commit to one major field. Each semester/quarter in your first and second years is like a new shot at discovering yourself and what you want to study — be it what everyone else is studying, what your parents want you to study, what you’re good at, or what you love.

As for lovers of depth, fear not! US colleges do champion breadth in education but they also preserve depth. Your third and fourth years at college are when you concentrate on your major field(s), conduct research or write a thesis — basically focus, focus, focus. But of course, still with the option of taking a fun class here and there on the side =)

What kind of fun classes? Crazy and exciting classes that are incredibly educational about the world that we all inhabit, such as: French Pornography (Stanford), The Economics of Sin (Middlebury College), The Science of Superheroes (UC Irvine) and Cultural History of Japanese Monsters (Columbia, my alma mater!).

Courtesy of Su Ann

A critical piece of advice you would offer a student looking to further his/her studies abroad

People often say that college in the US hones critical thinking and forming/articulating opinions better than college anywhere else. I think that might be a little unfair to universities in the UK, Australia or anywhere else, because students from these places are also trained hard to think critically and form sturdy opinions. While there are schools in the US — particularly the liberal arts colleges — that are fully committed to the Socratic method, small seminar settings and communication between students and professors/mentors, these things are not exclusive to US colleges.

Wherever you choose to go to school, be it in the US or not, seek out these things and immerse yourself as much as you can in them. Even where there is no liberal arts system, there will be classes that are taught by professors who value the Socratic method, mentorship, and taking time to nurture the bright and the curious. There will also be great student groups that bring together eager people with common goals for action, and difficult classes that will push your boundaries and require you to constantly form and defend your opinions. Find them and learn as much as you possibly can from everything! Know your limits, but don’t be afraid.

As for candidates who are certain they want to go to the US and nowhere else, my suggestion would be to embrace the liberal arts system, but be careful not to be overwhelmed by it. With all the choice and freedom available to you, it’s easy to go wild taking too many introductory classes, or spend way too much time flip-flopping on a major, or spread yourself too thin. Keeping your mind open is a good thing, but at major steps of the way you should be grounded by what your goals are. Always ask yourself if you are getting what you want out of an education wherever you chose to be.


Su Ann during graduation