Life After College – Calvin Yeoh (Stanford ’17)

A brief update by the author, following a post written 5 years ago: http://www.usapps.org/2015/07/06/two-years-in-the-land-of-the-free-calvin-stanford-17/

Fast forward 5 years, I find myself staring at the glistening water of the San Francisco Bay at Coyote Point, at once in awe of how quickly the past half-decade flew by and how slowly time seems to be moving as we enter month #4 of shelter-in-place. Overhead, an Alaska Airlines aircraft with the iconic Eskimo emblazoned across its rudder descends into SFO as air traffic slows to a trickle, a far cry from the millions of passengers that it served during normal times. 

It’s been slightly over 3 years since I graduated from Stanford and started my next chapter here in the US. I still vividly remember the weird sense of déjà vu as the euphoria and trepidation in the days leading up to Commencement began to really set in, bringing me back to the very first time I set foot on the hallowed grounds of Stanford. I spent many a balmy summer evening on a lawn along Mayfield Avenue with friends, attempting to distill the myriad of experiences and lessons we’ve gleaned over our undergraduate days, unabashed by the mistakes, trials and tribulations we’ve endured, grateful for the deep relationships we’ve forged and excited by what the future holds as we continue to paint the canvas that is our lives. 

As this chapter continues to unfold, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to start and continue building my career within the burgeoning technology ecosystem that is Silicon Valley, first as an investment banker and now as a venture capitalist, all while being a stone’s throw away from Stanford, where it all began. Would I do it all over again? Certainly, without a shred of doubt.

Why the U.S.? – Anchal Bhatter (Brown University ’23)

The summer after graduating from school, although excited, I was terrified to go to the US – I was a relatively sheltered kid who had never lived outside Kuala Lumpur. Realising that I would soon be moving to the other side of the world on my own and not knowing anyone there made me extremely anxious. I was so scared that I wouldn’t make any friends, that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to the American education system, and that I’d just want to come back home. 

But I was very soon proven wrong. I was taken aback by how welcoming, kind, and understanding Brown’s community was – they made me feel at home almost instantly. It is such a privilege to be surrounded by such a diverse, intellectually curious, and passionate group of people, where even casual conversations can be so thought-provoking. Brown has the reputation of being the most “liberal” and “social” Ivy, and this is certainly evident on campus – there’s a very strong “work hard, play hard” culture. 

Academically, Brown’s liberal arts education and ‘Open Curriculum’ is one of a kind. It allows me to experiment with my education and shape my curriculum to reflect my own interests and aspirations. Whether it be understanding the science behind modern physics theories or learning about the history of the world’s refugees, each class brings together aspects from different disciplines. Bringing current global issues into class discussions has really helped me look at the world through multiple perspectives. 

Sure, I’ve experienced my share of homesickness and imposter syndrome. But every time I walk around campus, I think about how surreal it is that I’m actually here. I can easily say that my first year at Brown has been the best year of my life.

Why the U.S.? – Charissa Lee, (Wesleyan ‘23)

Core 2020.

Choosing to study in the US was not easy. I had my mind set on the UK and my father thought (and still thinks) that “the US is very dangerous”. Even after I was offered a full scholarship from Wesleyan University, I still had doubts: Can I survive winter? Will I miss home? What if Americans are really weird? But I took a leap of faith and committed to Wesleyan. 

Attending Wesleyan has allowed me to stretch my academic interests to unimaginable places. What I value the most about a liberal arts education is the intention to draw connections between disciplines. Be it choreographing socially-aware dances, debating the merits of Marxist analysis or learning the semantics of Mandarin Chinese, class discussions often intersect with ideas of religion, class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity. This intersectionality bleeds into everyday conversation on campus in the dining hall, and even the laundry room. At first, it was stressful to ensure I always said the ‘smart’ thing. But I soon realised that, at Wes, saying the ‘smart’ thing wasn’t important, being open-minded was. 

Culturally, Wesleyan is unmatched. Wes has a hyper-political culture which I first found overwhelming but I have come to appreciate, knowing that my encounter with intensely passionate people is a rare experience. The visual/performing arts scene on campus is spectacular. Whether I am watching a friend performing in a student-run production or a classmate presenting their creative work, I am constantly inspired by the talent and creativity of my peers. 

The unofficial motto of the school is “Keep Wes Weird”, and I believe this common appreciation for individuality and quirkiness creates a space for people to hone their skills, try new things and thrive in an accepting, caring community. 

My decision to go to the US was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision.

Why the U.S.? – Sean Lim (University of California, Los Angeles ’21 – Financial Actuarial Mathematics & Statistics Major)

Core 2020

The United States has always been my top choice for furthering my education. The diversity of people and the flexibility of choosing majors makes the United States one of the best education systems in the world. Most importantly, the idea of a community college in the United States intrigued me the most as it gives students a fresh start, discounted quality education, and the chance to transfer to a world-class university. 

Choosing to start in a community college for my U.S. education was one of the most important decisions I had made. During my time at Foothill College, the stigma was that many people make comparisons between community colleges and “real” colleges — perpetuating the idea that a community college education is somehow less valid than one from a traditional four-year university. Community college was crucial as it was a huge second chance for me. My high school results were not always the best to get into the universities that I want to attend. Most importantly, the idea of spending four years in a public/private university that would have substantial financial cost wasn’t attractive, especially with no financial aids/scholarships available to me at that time.

Fast forward to today, I am attending my dream university, UCLA with a transfer scholarship from my community college! My time at UCLA has been amazing, especially with its abundance of resources and its balance of academics and social life. If I had the chance to restart my education career, I would undoubtedly choose to begin at a community college again as it had taught and shown me things that I don’t think I could learn from anywhere else in the world.

Why the U.S.? – Xen Ping Hoi (University of California, Los Angeles ‘19)

“Studying in the US facilitated my growth into a more well-rounded individual and enabled me to find my passion in academic research. 

 

I entered UCLA intending to double major in Biochemistry and Economics; I believed that having financial knowledge in addition to my technical background would give me a competitive edge in the job market. Fast forwarding three years: I ditched my second major in Economics to graduate within three years, joined a research laboratory my second year onwards, and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science. 

 

My undergraduate experience in the US drastically changed my career trajectory. I would not be pursuing a career in research science had I not been exposed to the research opportunities in the US and received the encouragement of my friends and mentors at UCLA. My freshman year plans to sell my soul to corporate life and/ or earn lots of money after graduating were put on hold after discovering my interests in Molecular Biology and Immunology. 

 

Despite hyper-focusing on taking core STEM classes to graduate on time, I was still able to learn about different subjects outside of STEM (i.e. Sociology, Architecture, History). Through those classes, I learned to think more critically about the socio-political and economic issues within our society, improve my (still) pleb writing skills, and met a diverse group of people. I think that’s the beauty of an American education system: it allows you to focus and thrive in your specific field of interest, but it also broadens your perspective and interests through a general education.

 

Applying to the US for my undergraduate studies is the best decision I’ve made education and career wise so far. If I had to re-do my college experience, I would no doubt choose to study in the US again.”

Why the U.S.? – Rachel Tan (Uof Kansas’19)

 

“Congratulations! You have received a University of Kansas KU-IIE Undergraduate scholarship… The scholarship provides a full tuition waiver awarded by KU and will continue for four years.”

 

When I received that email four years ago, I could clearly visualize the next three years of my life. I would accept the scholarship offer. I would board a plane and move to the other side of the world into a four-bedroom apartment with three complete strangers. I would transfer to the University of Kansas (KU), and I would graduate from the university with a bachelor’s degree in three years. I felt ready, but in hindsight, nothing could have prepared me for the experiences in store for me.

 

I did graduate with an Honors degree in Political Science and Global & International Studies, but not before taking KU up on every opportunity it had to offer.

 

Facilitating KU’s six-week summer orientation program for 4,000 incoming students.

 

Completing a summer internship in China.

 

Going on a semester abroad in Denmark.

 

Writing not one, but two undergraduate theses on Malaysian politics under the supervision of two knowledgeable and dedicated professors.

 

And, after graduation, receiving a funded postgraduate offer from one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

 

These experiences are beyond anything 18-year-old me could have hoped for, as I reveled in the joy of receiving that fateful email four years ago.

 

Although my time in the US was not always smooth sailing, I persevered with the support of my friends, family, professors, and one very helpful International Student Services Director. And in the end, my undergraduate experience turned out to be the most enthralling, educational, and fulfilling years of my life. I am forever changed by my time as an international student in the US, and I hope by volunteering with USAPPS, I can help make the experience a reality for someone else too.”

Why the U.S.? – Pauline Chong (University of Virginia ‘22)

 

“After completing my A-Levels, I recall myself dreading the college application process. Since high school, I was set to read law in the UK not because I wanted to, but because everyone told me it was a good career option. Later on, I realized that I’m not cut out for the legal sector because if I was completely honest, I had no idea what I wanted to study in college. How are you supposed to simply decide on a college major when you have no clue what it entails? I yearned for the opportunity to explore and try different things, hopefully also finding out what I am passionate about during this process. When I became aware of the academic liberty that an American college education can provide, I figured this was exactly what I needed.

 

 I spent my first year in the US at a small, liberal arts college before transferring to the University of Virginia. Determined to make the most of my time here, I enrolled in the maximum amount of credits allowed each semester and did a credit overload in the past semester while juggling numerous club activities at the same time. I also took classes like Feminist Philosophy, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Nuclear Politics, which were crucial factors in my decision to declare a major in Foreign Affairs as it required interdisciplinary knowledge of various subjects that I was interested in.

 

The autonomy to shape my own education has been an extremely rewarding experience. This is because if you asked me what subject I would study in university when I was younger, I’d probably answer anything but Foreign Affairs as I just couldn’t wrap my head around politics. Today, I’ll still say that politics make my head spin but it has become an important part of my life and I have no regrets going down this route.”

Why the U.S.? – Faris Durrani, (Georgia Institute of Technology ’22)

My story is not a bed of roses. 

I struggled a lot ever since I came to the US. I had great difficulty adjusting to the new culture here and finding friends to talk to. I joined a lot of clubs in my first semester finding the ones that tick and trying to talk to people but, I always lose interest in them. 

Being in a new country with a different language and different people did not make it easy. I thought I could, but I was wrong. I got lonely, depressed, spent a lot of me in the room trying to hide. I could barely talk to my parents and there wasn’t the Malaysian support system you’d find in the UK. 

On some days, I almost lost it. 

I had to go to counseling (which didn’t help very much) and I just waited for it to end. I had YouTube and parents to call but ultimately, I was glad to have a God to speak to, someone to listen to me. I thought of how wrong going to the US was where things were too different from home. 

But in time, slowly, the pain disappears. 

I learned to distract my loneliness by being very busy and I stayed away from my room often. I’m slowly making good friends, having fun being loud in classes, joined weird clubs, learning more, building my inner self through pain. 

It was hard and honestly, if someone were to ask me for advice about studying abroad, my first response would be don’t. Studying abroad is not the fun you see on social media. It’s difficult, but I don’t regret it. I’m learning much. I’m glad to survive the first ordeals and to have friends who ask me if I’m doing fine. 

Not everyone is.

Why the U.S.? – Brendan Yap (New York University ’21 – B.A. Economics)

 

“Before I left for the US, I thought to myself – am I going to be one of those Malaysians that only hangs out with other Malaysians, or am I going to be those who completely “forget” my Malaysian roots, speak in a weird accent all the time (oops actually I do this sometimes), and spend my time only with non-Malaysians? Indeed, I thought I only had 2 choices. It seemed to me, after all, that everyone I knew who studied abroad ended up being one or the other anyways.

 

How wrong I was. As weird as it sounds, studying in the US both allowed me to surround myself in a global community (NYU plug in here, you can’t get a more diverse community than New York City) while strengthening my Malaysian roots. With NYU having one of the tiniest Malaysian populations amongst American colleges, I had no choice but to step out of my comfort zone. But boy, it is well worth it. From attending free Broadway shows with classmates (perks of going to school in New York City again!) to joining the NYU Quidditch team (yes, we’re a real thing! Join your school’s Quidditch team for a great time!!), I love every moment I get to immerse myself in American culture. At the same time, my fondness for Malaysia grew ever stronger as I realize how much I actually missed home. I am actively involved in a plethora of Malaysia-based student organizations as it gives me an opportunity to connect with fellow Malaysians in the US.

 

Studying abroad is truly unique in the sense that it allows you enjoy the very best of both worlds.”

Why the U.S.? – Lillian Lau – (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ’20)

“Home feels different now. It is…smaller, confined. I grew up a sheltered millennial child, and studying in the US was my first experience of extended separation from everything comfortable. No, it wasn’t all golden and gleaming – I had my fair share of bouts of homesickness and loneliness, strange sensations of being a balloon, bobbing about in the isolation of space. But it was also a time of self-discovery. In the loneliness, I reached out and found a new family. My balloon was burst open, and like fluid particles intermingling in a mixture, and all of a sudden I found myself swirling amidst new places, new faces – new opportunities. 

Familiarity has a different meaning now. It no longer solely means cold marble floors on a sweltering afternoon, or the sweet-salty taste of Mum’s ABC soup for dinner. Familiarity has been colored by my American college experience – by dollar-coffee refills during finals week, 99-cent blueberries at Aldi’s, and haphazardly put-together potlucks of Dunkin Donuts and homemade laksa Sarawak. Familiarity is now being unafraid of wearing my honest opinion on my sleeve, of casually approaching professors to ask for help, to striking up random conversations with the cashier who thought I was a freshman in high school. 

When I return home, I am hungry. Not merely for my fill of banana leaf rice and teh ais – but more more. There’s a place in me that has been defined by my time in the US, and sometimes I no longer know who I was before August 2016. When the time comes for me to leave and return home, some serious re-definition of life will be in order. I guess I will only be ready for it when the time comes. Till then, who knows?”