“Rather than being told how and what to think about what we are reading, we are asked to reach our own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.”

Tell us about yourself!
Hey, Malaysian dreamers! My name is Tan Guan Tyng and I am a senior in St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What is my major? This is my favorite question because I have no major; my major is not ‘undecided’ but I actually have had no major during my time in college. Most people give me a confused look because, unlike most people, my academic major is not the characteristic description of myself. This is because of the system that my college has, which I shall explain later. Beyond academics, I love hiking, singing, dancing, and cooking. To me, there is nothing like going to blues dancing on weekends, after a whole week of immersing in the world of great books by awesome authors.

What about your US education do you value most?
I really value the fact that people from the United States are generally respectful of who I am, who I want to be, and what I want achieve, regardless of where I am from.

During my freshman and sophormore years, I was pretty active in performing arts. Besides several plays and solo singing with a band, I was also part of the two most famous musicals: “Sweeney Todd” & “Don Quixote – The Man of La Mancha” ! (Just in case you don’t recognize me, I am the long-haired police officer in the middle 😛

Why did you choose to study in the US? What does the “liberal arts” mean to you?
First of all, I would like to clarify that I did not come to study in United States because of the United States itself. I chose the United States because of the unique liberal arts education offered by St. John’s College.

In classical antiquity the study of liberal arts was considered essential for a person to take an active part in the civilized world. I was intrigued by this – I have always wanted to be an individual who thinks, reads, speaks and writes, not motivated by the interpretation of textbook writers, but by the authors who originated the ideas themselves. For example, Plato, Einstein, Euclid, Kant, Augustine, Galileo, Mozart, etc. are the authors that pioneered the most fundamental ideas that this world is built on.

St. John’s has a unique approach to the liberal arts, It has a distinctive program where we read and explore a common body of works that are timeless, and therefore timely, from different disciplines – mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology, language, history, political science, economics, theology, etc (you name it!). One thing that I learned is that many of these authors did not devote their works to matters of a particular discipline, but their works often touched multiple disciplines. The college’s coeducational community, free of religious affiliation, takes an opened-minded approach to ideas of all kinds. Rather than being told how and what to think about what we are reading, we are asked to reach our own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.

Another distinctive aspect about the liberal arts at St. John’s is the low emphasis on structured assessments. We do not talk too much about grades and we do not take any exams to measure how well we do academically. We are all evaluated by the professors for our class contribution and our essays. So, instead of being bogged down by the grades, we are more interested in learning itself rather than learning for the sake for getting good grades. And of course, we are not just a bunch of nerds who just merely care about answering the hard fundamental questions.

How has US education changed you as a person?
I think it has broadened my perspective towards life. It has given me a great opportunity to grow as an individual as the United States places individual growth as a high priority, unlike other cultures of other countries.

A piece of advise you would give to someone looking to further his/her studies abroad.

To balance out my rigorous academic work in St. John’s, I decided to join one of the toughest but the most fruitful summer internship programs in the United States called Varsity Company International. After being in this program for these past 3 summers, from being a rookie intern to an experienced student manager, I have learned so many practical skills and successful principles that I could never have learned in any kind of classroom settings.

Just by being on this website, I believe that you are at least considering going out of your comfort zone (Malaysia) to pursue the best education that you could ever have. While an overseas education does not necessitate your success in life, I will mention that the opportunity has helped me grow to be a young, independent adult.

Regardless of where you choose to study, the most important thing is that you are making the best decision that will put you on track towards your life goals. Be thorough in doing research when you are selecting colleges/universities so that you will not regret your final decision in the end.

Any last comments?
If you are someone who wants an education that helps you to prepare for your life rather than just focusing on training yourself to be a professional in one or two fields of study, feel free to request more information from me about St. John’s College. I am more than willing to help you understand more about this college to see if this is a place where you belong for your undergraduate education.

“US education…The liberty in making choices based on your interests, passion and principles, with just guidance and advice instead of pressure from those around you.”

Shanggar is currently a rising senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida. He is pursuing a major in Aerospace Engineering specialized in Aeronautics and also minoring in Math, Psychology and International Relations. Shanggar just completed an internship with Gartner and is now part of the Teach for Malaysia Support Corp. He also recently started nation building projects such as Project 2063, and a joint collaboration effort between top 50 Malaysian corporate companies known as “The Harimau Project”.

Chelsea fans out there, behold! Shanggar is a die hard Chelsea fan in which he flew to London just to watch them play in their stadium, Stamford Bridge. He also aspires to be a filmmaker someday, has written a script to titled “Black December” about 4 years ago and hopes that it would someday make it to the silver screen!

Here’s what Shanggar has to say about his experience in the US:

Why did you choose to study in the US and why should students consider the option of studying in the US?

For me, it was simple enough because I had chosen the course I wish to pursue and I knew that US would be the best place for that studies. Let’s just say that everyone who wishes to major in Aerospace Engineering will first come across Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, since it’s arguably the biggest school for that studies not only in the States, but also in the world.

I believe that students should consider studying in US, simply for the experience. It’s like a whole different world there, with so many distinctive cultures all around the country. The people that you meet throughout your years in university will give you the realization of how big and diverse this world really is, and the experience would certainly widen your perspective and leave you with a different way of thinking for the rest of your lives.

College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle

What about your US education do you value most?

The liberty in making choices based on your interests, passion and principles, with just guidance and advice instead of pressure from those around you.

List some of the crazy and exciting things you have done in college or in general in the US:

I skydived! This is certainly something I would have never gotten an approval from my parents had I wanted to do it in Malaysia. But I went for it over there, and only told my family about it afterwards! Besides that, I cycled around the entire city throughout the night along with a couple of friends, and we even crossed the ghetto area which is reported to have had drug dealing business. A couple of days later, we read the news that the mafia gang there were involved in a shootout with the cops and some of them died on the scene. We were gob smacked!

Shanggar Skydiving!

A piece of advice you would give to someone looking to further his/her studies abroad…

Be open and just embrace the different cultures that you come across. Keep the friends you’re comfortable with close to you, but just ensure that you don’t limit yourself to that. Be proactive and take the trouble to make new friends from different parts of the world, and also be open to learn their language and culture while you’re at it.  If things don’t go too well, don’t stress yourself. At the end of the day, what really matters is the experience you gain. It’ll certainly be nice if you have amazing stories to share with others back home, and maybe even to your kids someday. The key is to just enjoy and live your life to the fullest, and hopefully someday you can inspire others. 

“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.

“… 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 clichéd 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

“… American education causes a graduate to think about learning in more than one way, and ultimately realize that all fields of study are related.”

Jamie graduated from a prestigious US university a few years ago. Check out Jamie’s American education experience at the alma mater!

As a graduate, how has your US education benefited you in your post-graduate endeavors?

As a graduate of an American college, I have realized two major benefits that may not have been available to me in other education systems. The first is an ability to make connections between two different fields of study, or what my alma mater might call “interdisciplinary understanding”. By pushing a graduate to study other fields besides his or her degree, American education causes a graduate to think about learning in more than one way, and ultimately realize that all fields of study are related. Because of this skill, I am able to quickly make connections between problems, and see the larger picture while others may be struggling with understanding the details.

The second major benefit, which may not apply to all US colleges, is that I learnt character and leadership. I think this is a point that is not brought up enough. Many other education systems teach someone to be a good professional, with all the skills necessary to succeed in the marketplace. Instead, most American colleges pride themselves on a certain culture, either of leadership or individuality or persistence. The underlying idea is that all graduates of College X will hold to a certain set of ideals or values upon graduation. This is something I have found to be very helpful in my work, and also something that is rather rare in most other education systems.

“Study Abroad…That’s a fantastic opportunity that is nowhere as widely available in most universities around the world — except for the US.”

John Lee graduated from Dartmouth College in 2011. He read Economics at Dartmouth and is currently working as a Business Analyst at Capital One in Washington D.C. In his junior year, he spent his Fall semester studying abroad in University College of London (UCL). John was a facilitator of USAPPS in 2009 and 2010. If you would really like to meet and talk to him (provided he is back in Malaysia), ask him out for mamak and buy him a teh tarik!

Here’s John’s 2 cents on liberal arts education and choosing the US for tertiary education.

Why should Malaysians choose the US for their tertiary education?                                     Something which a lot of Malaysians (myself as a freshman included) don’t think about is study-abroad opportunities. It seems a bit silly, studying in an overseas university and then doing a foreign study programme on top of that. But it’s a fantastic opportunity to travel somewhere new and study in a different academic environment. I and a lot of people I know personally experienced both UK and US university education because my university (Dartmouth) offers undergraduate foreign study options in top UK universities. 1 out of every 2 Dartmouth students spends at least one academic term studying abroad. That’s a fantastic opportunity that is nowhere as widely available in most universities around the world — except for the US. Don’t just think about the academic options your target universities offer — also think about their additional academic programmes at other institutions.

Dartmouth College during graduation

As a graduate, how has liberal arts education benefited you?                 Liberal arts education, even in US research universities, strongly stresses writing and presentation skills. This isn’t just about knowing how to string coherent sentences together or being able to stand up and present a PowerPoint deck without stammering, although those are important too; to communicate well you need to organise your thoughts well, in a way that makes sense not just to you but to your audience, and can convince them of what you’re saying. This has benefited me tremendously, both personally and professionally.                                   It’s not easy to communicate well, but US education places an emphasis on this that dwarfs anything I’ve seen elsewhere.

“Liberal arts mean…learning a wide variety of subjects and issues to become well-versed in preparation for any future career.”

Dinesh is currently a rising junior at a liberal arts college – Macalester College, Minnesota. He is pursuing a major in Biology, a minor in Political Science, and a concentration in Community and Global Health. Prior to this, he attended HELP University College for A levels. Dinesh received two fellowships with funding from Macalester for this summer – 1. He is setting up a Speakers Bureau at Planned Parenthood, a sexual and reproductive health center. The Speakers Bureau will be made up of trained volunteers that will be able to go out to schools to carry out comprehensive sex education. 2. He shadows health professionals in emergency medicine, pediatrics, infectious diseases and more.

Check out why Dinesh chose to study in the US =)

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?

In my opinion, the American system of education emphasizes different things than the more familiar styles of education we have experience with. In the US, you learn from your peers as you discuss issues in the cafeteria, from the student organizations you join and from the classes you take. I believe you will be able to do all these things in other countries or Malaysia, but it’s easier in the US simply because many universities here emphasize different forms of learning outside the classroom. American education has changed me tremendously as a person. Part of that is going to college and gaining independence, and part of it is learning to learn in completely different ways than I am used to.

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

Liberal arts to me mean that I am a Biology major, a political science minor and have a concentration in public health. Liberal arts mean that I have many friends in my major, but just as many if not more in other majors. Liberal arts mean that I took Organic Chemistry, Cell Biology, Medical Anthropology and Political Sociology in one semester and loved it. Liberal arts mean the difference between specializing at such a young age and learning a wide variety of subjects and issues to become well-versed in preparation for any future career.

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

Say hello to everyone during the first few weeks of school. You’ll make friends you never thought you would.

If there was one thing you could do over in the past 2 years, what would it be, and why?

I would have gotten snow boots earlier- Minnesota winters are brutal.

Macalester College

“Flexible curriculum…allows you ample opportunities to explore different fields, and not be stuck in something you don’t enjoy doing!”

An MIT Experience: Coyin is a rising junior at MIT and is pursuing Biological Engineering. This summer, she is doing an internship at the Center of Cellular and Molecular Platforms in Bangalore, India. In MIT, Coyin is most likely to be found in a basement lab playing with fly larvae to get them to digest organic waste matter. This fly larvae project ‘Esperanza en Vuelo’ which means ‘Hope in Flight” is an organic waste management project based in Nicaragua. Both her internship and project are fully funded by MIT.  Apart from geeking out in the basement lab, Coyin also plays the keyboard in a Hip Hop/R&B band.                                                                                                           Here’s why Coyin chose to study in the US! =)

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?

I don’t have a “why-should” answer, but below are some reasons for my choice:
– Flexible curriculum: Since most US schools only require you to declare a major at the end of your first or second year, this allows you ample opportunities to explore different fields, and not be stuck in something you don’t enjoy doing!
– MIT (and many US schools) offer a tremendous number of opportunities in undergraduate research, and research was something I wanted to try when I was applying to colleges.
– Many people say the US system is not in-depth enough for the fields of sciences/engineering. While this may be a disadvantage twenty years ago, the world is changing so fast now that whatever technical knowledge you learn in college may not help you at all in your workplace! The way of thinking and learning new things that best suits you is probably the most valuable skill you will ever get out of a college education.

A critical piece of advice you would offer a student looking to further his/her studies abroad…
Instead of waiting for things to happen to you, make things happen!