I’ve been dreaming to study in the US my whole life. I was pretty resolved about going to the US for undergraduate studies. No comprises; can’t push the dream for graduate school even. It was when Maybank offered me a full scholarship to a US university of my choice that I saw my dream come true and alive. I realized I was living my dream when I read Cornell’s admission letter. The journey for this to happen certainly was not a walk in the park.
The whole time, I had no answer to the question “Why the US?” especially for an undergraduate, other than I just feel like it. Well, one year down and now I can answer this rationally. So, why the US?
1. Interesting experiences that let you grow and understand yourself. As cliched as this may sound, living in a new place of new culture and new people has helped me understand myself and encourage the learner (& adventurer) in me. Growing up in the Pearl of the Orient, never have I known that I was in love with hiking and exploring hills and falls. Here, it has become my hobby to explore nature’s wonders in upstate New York. The fact that Cornell has 3 falls and so many trails right on-campus just adds to my thrill.
My one-year in the US has helped me check off some odd listing in my non-existent bucket list. Be a roommate with a snake for 8 months? Check (Yes, pet snakes are allowed in one of Cornell’s dorms). Feed a snake dead rat? Check. Walk by a trail that’s at least 10 meters high with no railing? Check (Note: Depth scares me). Drag two luggage worth 50 kg around 42nd Street, New York City all by myself because I couldn’t find the bus stop to the airport? Check. These memories among others strengthened and made me more confident.
2. Inspiring people. So many amazing and inspiring people surround me every day. I met so many interesting people from all around the world who have influenced my perspective about the world in some ways. The thought-provoking conversations about Southeast Asia and its potentials with friends from Malaysia’s neighbors, the intro-to-American-life mini episodic conversations that lasted for the whole year with my American friends, and the socially responsible acts and brotherhood bond in my Alpha Phi Omega (APO) – Gamma Chapter fraternity are some highlights of social life in my freshman year. Witnessing the complexity in the way people think and regard the world beyond theirs exposed me to some interesting perspectives.
I initially thought I would meet interesting people only among my peers but found out soon enough that my professors will leave a lasting impact on me too. I had a government professor who had a “Caution, landmines!” sign on his office door. I had a Math professor who teared up in front of a 200-people-lecture for racial violence issues happening. I had a Computer Science professor who was friends with Edsger Dijkstra and loved poetry and would tell a beautiful poem every class. I had another Math professor who was obsessed with making surfaces (torus, Mobius, etc) using papers. Maybe it is the friendly relationship between students and professors that motivates us to excel in classes and learn beyond classroom syllabus.
3. Individuality is appreciated. The academic system is the US appreciates you as a person. Your thoughts and ideas matter. Hence, there is never a “stupid” idea or a “silly” question. In fact, you are encouraged to speak up, no matter how silly you may think you sound. There is always support to bring your ideas alive, to assist you through your learning, and to nurture your interests.
Having said these, an opportunity to study abroad, especially in the United States will change you as a person and evolve your being. An opportunity like this does not need to break your bank! Join me in USAPPS 2018 to find out how you can carve your path to study in your dream school in the U.S.
My first time seeing the famous central campus clock tower at UMich
In my upper secondary years, I was often asked where I would be pursuing studies in one or two years time. Back then, I would literally answer, “Aiya, don’t know la..” I just knew one thing, I loved and will always be a big fan of the study of Economics.
I studied in a typical all-girls public high school in Kuching, Sarawak. I happened to be placed in the science stream, meaning I was required to take classes in Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Additional Mathematics etc. Economics was not offered to science stream students in my school. But that did not keep me from reading the ‘The Economics Book’ (yes, this is the title of the book) and ‘Freakonomics’, the first two books I read which sparked my desire to pursue Economics despite being told that I would make a good doctor.
My passion and interest in Economics are the main reasons why I chose to study in the US, eventually. As crazy and unsophisticated as this may sound, I wanted to study in the US because many of the famous economists who wrote the books and articles I read (and whom I admired) were professors in US universities. Nevertheless, I also believed that the flexibility of the US higher education system would benefit my study in Economics. To me, Economics is a broad subject which requires, not only mathematical knowledge but also an understanding in various fields ranging from business to science and technology as well as the humanities like psychology and history. As I worked on my application to UMich, I made sure to emphasize on my excitement to take classes in different departments and how that would bolster my educational journey in UMich.
Having been through a tumultuous sophomore year in UMich, I must say that every amazing experience and aspect of the US education system which I have ever heard of were entirely true. These aspects include a flexible curriculum (as I mentioned before), holistic college experience, a vast array of social and career opportunities etc. But to me, the US education system or at least, my first-year experience in UMich was not only defined by those aspects above.
Visiting an ice cave in the Upper Peninsula with a couple of other Malaysians
Here are two things I learned which are also good reasons why I would choose to study in the US all over again, setting aside my desire to be taught by the economists who wrote the books I read in high school:
1) Your opinions and thoughts always matter
I tend to think of myself as a relatively quiet person since I almost never dare to raise my hand to contribute to a classroom discussion. But here in UMich, my professors told me that they want to know what I think. And that, if you speak your mind out, there is no boring comment or opinion unless you intend for it to be. However, what really surprised me was how my professors often took everybody’s ideas, mashed them up a little, and came up with even more interesting points to add to our topic for the day.
This routine in UMich gave me a newfound confidence as I became more engaged with my peers and professors in class to enrich my learning experience. More importantly, I was able to emulate this confidence in many activities I participated in on campus. I realized that this is how we learn in and outside the classroom as we constantly question and think about the facts in front of us.
2) It is not enough to dream. We need to live the dream.
I really do think that the US education system centers around the theme of experiential learning. We are always encouraged to put our ideas and plans into action whether it is through volunteer work, internships or by joining a club that fulfills your passion. UMich has provided me with the facilities, tools, and services to seek out these opportunities on and off campus.
Seeing all the creative and impactful startups and initiatives on campus, as well as the stellar performance of UMich alumni in their respective fields, have inspired me to act on my dream of using economics to serve the community that I am part of. I start off small by participating in a consulting club that provides pro bono management consulting services to on-campus administration and departments. I see this as a chance to improve my school for the benefit of the UMich community. I am also passionate about the Malaysian community at UMich. For this reason, I decided to join the Michigan Malaysians’ Student Association in their efforts to put together a cultural performance every year.
An entrepreneurship professor once said this to my class, “Don’t just describe the idea on paper. You gotta start thinking of ways to make it happen! …”
Malaysian Cultural Night 2018 Group Photo
Consulting Club Group Photo
Speaking of dreams and passion, I have always wanted to help other students like yourself to pursue your studies in the US. I hope everything I have shared so far will encourage you to delve further into the prospects of studying in the US. I look forward to meeting you at USAPPS 2018 this year! I am more than happy to address any questions you might have about the application process or my experience in the US.
Let’s face it, education in the US is not cheap at all. However, there are numerous ways to finance a US tertiary education. Some of the options include scholarships and financial aid from universities. Scholarships are mainly local and they are provided by, inter alia, Khazanah Nasional, JPA, and CIMB ASEAN. However, most of us are not aware of need-based and merit-based financial aids.
Ben Yap is a rising sophomore at Princeton and he intends to major in Computer Science. Ben had a very humble background: his father was a sole-breadwinner who works as a food vendor at a food court in Ipoh. There was no way that his parents were going to pay for his tertiary education but he has always wanted to study abroad, so Ben took up the Sime Darby scholarship after SPM and pursued A-Level at KYUEM.
Ben did not think much about studying in the US, but when his offer letter from Princeton came in, he knew that it was the right choice to make. However, Sime Darby did not agree on sponsoring him to the US, so Ben dropped the scholarship and looked into other options amidst the chaos of A-Level exams. He knew there was so much more that the US has to offer but he was uncertain of his intended major, which was a huge deterring factor for corporate companies when offering Malaysian students scholarships. Luckily, Princeton offers need-blind financial aid for any admitted students, irrespective of their nationalities.
Princeton gave Ben a very generous offer: Instead of having to pay $65,000 every academic year, he only had to pay $1000 in his first year, and $600 per annum in his subsequent years at Princeton. His financial aid covers his tuition, accommodation and dining meal plans. Princeton even provides Ben with $500 annually for his miscellaneous spendings. To fund his personal expenses, Ben works in Princeton’s dining hall in his freshman year. Although working at a dining hall might not sound glamorous, he got to meet many people from different backgrounds, classes and academic fields. He is also a guide at Princeton during summer, where he brings visitors around the university for tours.
Throughout his freshman year, Ben has studied a wide range of subjects including Spanish, Computer Science, and Cryptography. He is also part of Princeton’s Poker Club and the Institute for Chocolate Studies. He stays on campus over the summer to plan the Community Action Program which is part of Princeton’s orientation for incoming freshmen.
Ben will not be bonded to any company upon his graduation and he intends to seek for career opportunities in the US. This is the beauty of financial aid in the US; no other nation in this world offers such kind of scholastic opportunity. Ben’s journey to Princeton had not been easy at all, but he would tell you that every hardship he has encountered had taught him important life lessons. Despite attending one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he remains the cheekiest, coolest and funniest person you’ll ever meet.
As admissions decisions season welcomed itself earlier this year, Jia Yi (Harvard University ’21) was presented with a commonly met dichotomy among Malaysian students: the U.K. or the U.S.? Among acceptances to stellar schools from Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, she ultimately chose Harvard for several reasons. Continue reading to find out why!
Why The U.S.
I hope that you’re all well.
I’m Jia Yi and I am a rising freshman and a prospective Economics major at Harvard College Class of 2021.
In this post, I will try my best to summarise why I ultimately picked the US (and why you should too!) and how I navigated through the US application process. Hopefully, my advice will be beneficial in your future application endeavours and decision processes.
Before entering into the crux of this post, I will provide a short background about myself for context:
For my secondary education, I attended an International School in Malaysia. I did the British curriculum ie IGCSE and A-Levels and was widely encouraged by my teachers, peers, and family to apply for higher education in the UK.
The UK had always seemed like a natural choice, after all, I was already familiar with the expectations of the UK programme. Coupled with the fact that most of my friends and siblings were planning to apply to the UK and the relative geographical proximity of UK to Malaysia (compared to the US), the UK seemed like an obvious and safe choice.
However, I was attracted to the liberal arts program in the US. Though studying in the US had been a childhood dream, it seemed unpragmatic: geographically far and culturally dichotomous – an unlikely and far-fetched option for someone who had always been streamed into the British route. I was not sure whether I would be suitable for this program.
It was only after I competed in an academic decathlon competition at Yale University that I began to seriously consider higher education in the US.
To me, the most significant attraction about the US is how its academic institutions are at the forefront of academia, technology and ideas. The US is generally more reflexive to the structural changes in society and to the academic interest of students. I was enthralled by this opportunity and wanted to be at the frontier of cutting-edge knowledge and experience.
I began planning out my university application schedule in early January of 2016. Starting out with fixing dates for standardised testing, I remember spanning them across January until October. *Just some advice, if you’re planning to apply for early action, please take all your standardised testing preferably before September. During August- October, things do get very stressful and standardised testing only amplifies unhealthy cortisol levels.* Upon receiving some of my standardised testing scores and speaking to my guidance counsellor, I narrowed my university choices and started looking at the essay requirements for each university in the common application website. My actual writing process only began in July. Then, I had thought that I had given myself ample time to craft all my application essays. However, I only finished every component of my application in October, very close to the deadline for early application. So, please make sure to think, plan and start your university application early- you will definitely not regret it!
For me, deciding to apply to the US added a significant load to my already heavy academic and extracurricular commitments. Even though I had foreseen the differences between the UK and US education, I had underestimated the stark stylistic differences between these applications. The US application required a deeper sense of self-introspection – a format which I was not comfortable with. I was more accustomed to the format of the UK personal statement which was partially impersonal and more academically focused.
So when I first started my US application, I felt lost and overwhelmed by the essays and standardised tests. There were so many essays, activity logs and requirements to fill up – was it possible to finish all these in one summer?
Moreover, I felt a seeming disconnection between my home culture and the American culture. My writing style looked stale next to their richly descriptive essays. My thought process and ideas also seemed different and out of sync to theirs. And after hours of surfing College Confidential, I began feeling as though I wasn’t good enough. A niggling voice in my head kept telling me that maybe I was too different. Perhaps, I did not belong in the US.
Yet I remained resolute in my applications. Deep inside, I felt that the US was the right place for me and that I just had to try no matter how difficult it seemed.
All the required essays took a few months to refine. I remember ‘Americanizing’ my British writing style into a more active and confident voice. I also harmonised my home culture with the American culture. My culture had taught me that to be humble is to be demure and to not brag about your achievements. The US application process taught me that being humble does not mean self-deprecation or silence. To be humble means knowing yourself and being confident about your strengths and weaknesses. Upon reconciling my perceived polarising home culture with the American culture, the disconnection did not seem so jarring anymore. In fact, I began seeing American values through a different lens. This mutual understanding and realisation empowered my conviction that perhaps the US was the right place for me.
What I’ve learned from the US application process is that everyone, no matter how unexciting you may think you seem, has a story to tell. Do not be afraid to share your voice, your story, and your wit. Let your personality shine through in your essays.
Upon receiving all my university decisions, I ultimately chose the US over the UK for three reasons:
The flexibility of the US degree:
At 17, I was not set on a specific course and wanted the academic freedom for self-discovery.
I had always enjoyed a combination of sciences, humanities and the arts. So the liberal arts program was perfect as it provided me with the academic freedom and flexibility to pursue this combination of subjects – this would not have been possible in the UK.
Moreover, I feel that learning and new perspectives best came from the cross-fertilisation of ideas across different fields. So, I prefer the holistic education available at US institutions.
The supposed trade-off between extracurriculars and academics:
Previously, I had always thought that the tradeoff was between coming to the US for extracurriculars and going to the UK for academics.
However, after speaking to many of my seniors who studies in both the US and UK universities, I was very excited to learn that you get direct teaching from the professors in the US while in the UK, you tend to get lecturers instead. So, there was not really a trade-off in academics in the US.
In addition, there are also more extracurricular opportunities e.g undergraduate research opportunities, academic fellowship, internships in famous companies etc in the US. Of course, these opportunities would still be possible in the UK, but it is a lot more challenging because of existing UK Student Visa restrictions.
The Culture of Daringness
I greatly appreciate and value the culture of daringness in the US. After communicating with many of the seniors (in the US) and learning about their current achievements and future goals, I became deeply inspired by their dreams. I wanted to be emboldened and share a similar outlook as them.
Ultimately, the choice of going to the US was a very personal choice- it really depends on you and what you are looking for in higher education. Admittedly, I had oscillated frequently between going to the US and to the UK for several months. However, I decided that I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment and in a place where I greatly admire its culture of daringness.
If you are very clear on your future career aspirations and want to pursue a professional course e.g Medicine, Law etc, the UK could be the right place for you. If you are like me and want to have the academic and career flexibility, the US could be the place for you.
I hope that going to the US would be an enriching experience filled with many opportunities for personal and academic growth. I am beyond excited to see where this path will take me in the coming years!
So why did Kavi chose to study in the states and not anywhere else? So he can merge both of his interests in Astrophysics and Computer Science! Oh, did we mention cool opportunities like a semester abroad in Switzerland for an internship with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to work on an Artificial Intelligence in Particle Physics project? What’s even cooler is that these opportunities can be yours, too!
Why The U.S.?
That’s a question I’ve been asked multiple times over the years. Every single time, I ponder about that time in my life when I had to make a crucial decision on charting my next path in life. I had many options, but America stood out for no apparent reason. At that point in life, I could not come up with a reason as to why America seemed like a very appealing option, but it just was. With a skip of a heartbeat, I trusted my intuition and chose to go to the United States for college.
Now, 3 years on, I consider that decision to be one of the best I’ve made in my life. Why?
Over the last 3 years, I have grown so much as a person. I would attribute that personal growth to the flexibility of the American college education system. The fact that this system allows you to take control and plan your college life helps you think about your interests and goals in life. The system allows you to develop your passion and add some elements to it and then connect all the dots together. For example, I started off my college career wanting to be an Astrophysics major. Some time along freshmen year, I stumbled upon Computer Science and really liked it. And guess what? The American college system told me that I could extensively study both fields and graduate with a double major at the same time.
The options that this system provides you is limitless. I learned to speak a new language. I learned about archeology around the world. I had an amazing professor who taught me about medieval European history. I will be learning how to swim next semester. And the list goes on.
Wow, it seems like I have a considerable amount of free time to do all these things that are not related to my major. And all those things that I mentioned are actual classes and not “extra-curricular activities”. So do I have more free time? How?
Yes, and this “free time” is absolutely why you should choose to go to college in the US. An undergraduate degree in the US typically takes 4 years to complete. The system is designed to give students the flexibility of planning their college lives, meaning you choose what you want to do besides school work and you choose when you want to have fun. I chose to use this extra time to try my hands out at some astronomy research. During my sophomore year, I studied meteor showers and their various effects in the lower atmosphere. The reason I was able to get this research job was my background as an Astrophysics and Computer Science double major, which was only made possible by the college education system!
This American college education system that allowed me to learn French and do multiple degrees at the same time gave me the opportunity to use these skills through a study abroad program. Study abroad programs are programs for students to typically spend a semester in another university, which could also be in another country. This past semester, I studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. I took Physics classes in French at the University of Geneva. I also did an internship at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where I worked on an Artificial Intelligence in Particle Physics project. All of this was made possible because I had the opportunity to learn multiple skills throughout my college life.
I’ve had to work hard to be given such opportunities, but the American college education system gave me an avenue to invest my effort. This system provided the framework that allowed me to grow as a person, learn new skills and expand my boundaries. I might not have known why the US before I chose to go there for college, but now I can tell you why you should choose to go to the US for college. Come talk to me and other amazing facilitators about our American college experience at the USAPPS workshops!
Introducing our second member of the 2017 core committee- meet Elina! A current freshman at UCLA intending to declare a major in Economics or Cognitive Science, Elina has a myriad of other interests that include fitness and fine arts. Read to find out how the U.S. education system can accommodate anybody’s wide range of interest, just like how it has to Elina’s!
Why The U.S.?
Simply put, I wanted to hone my logical precision and improve on consolidating my thoughts.
Thing is, I did not know how to achieve this so I thought that it’d be nice to pursue my tertiary education and be able to gain a wide array of knowledge from various subjects whilst still concentrating on a particular subject of my interest for the completion of my degree.
I love fine arts very much. Knowing that the height of athleticism is acquired through proprioception which helps athletes excel in their sports as well as knowing that contemplating on and understanding the characteristics of materials and properties of available resources helps artists create works that optimize the potentials of their resources and materials guided me throughout my childhood and I grew up thinking that an artist’s aptitude is defined by his or her technical precision and visual acuity. I spent my entire life thinking about spaces such as —- inter alia, spaces between my friends’ hairlines and eyebrows, spaces between my parents’ shoulders, spaces occupied by people, spaces between people, and spaces between spaces. This perspective has helped me improve my technical proficiency significantly as I traversed through my school years. Nonetheless, somehow the knowledge that I have acquired about technical precision and spatial familiarity never seemed to make me content; I felt that I was severely lacking mental precision and my thoughts were not in order. The divergence of my thought process lacks absolute convergence. My intuition told me that perhaps in order to improve on my thought process, I should expand the circumference of my existing knowledge by learning about many different things and take as many different classes as possible. The flexibility in tertiary education in the U.S. seemed like a perfect fit for me, so I applied to the U.S. and voila! I’m already completing my freshman year at UCLA.
I definitely did not regret my decision of coming to UCLA. UCLA’s a very, very big school and there is no doubt anyone here would feel like he or she is just a number amongst the other 31,000 bright undergraduates. However, if anything, the crowdedness of this place has given me a lot of room for self-reflection, reading and recalibration of my thought compass. The breadth and depth of classes that I have been taking here throughout my freshman year has helped me think better as a person. As ironic as it sounds, the divergence of the knowledge that I’ve acquired here seem to be leading me to some sort of convergence of thoughts. They might seem irrelevant and unparalleled with my artistic goals, but I definitely feel like a better thinker now. No where else but the U.S. would I be able to find the opportunity to take a multivariable calculus class, learn the basics of C++, study the origins of Abrahamic religions, justify the moral behind infidelity in an English writing class, discuss my thoughts on Michael Sandel’s trolley car problem, listen to Behnam Sadeghi analyze the logic of religion scientifically, all in one academic year.
California has been a wonderful place for me, not just academically, but also athletically. I’ve always been athletic since I was very little, and California has plenty of athletic activities to offer. I absolutely love hiking and camping in the national parks here. Having been overseas only a few times before coming to LA, I feel superbly blessed to be able to see and do a myriad of things here and I genuinely hope that everyone else will be able to experience the blessings that I have experienced.
(This is Arizona, not California!!)
If you have any questions on UCLA, arts, camping, hiking and other random things, feel free to hit me up! If you’re into hitting the gym (be it lifting and/or cardio) and anything athletic, we’d be good friends too!
USAPPS is back and so is our series of insights, musings and stories from our super excited team of facilitators! What other better way to kick it off with a blog post from none other than our very own core committee member?
Meet Rachel, a current freshman at University of Pennsylvania who is pursuing a major in Actuarial Science and possibly, Finance. Here, she shares -with just the right amount of cantor- why she chose to study in the States and why you should, too!
Why the U.S.?
Not that many people are familiar with my story, so here it is: My whole life, I wanted to study in the U.K. After receiving my SPM results, I toured A-Level colleges in Malaysia and started going through the syllabi (yes, I’m a nerd). It was my lifelong dream to study in England, and I was so close to making it a reality. However, my glee was short lived because my scholarship provider decided to send me to the U.S. instead.
At that point, I was devastated. Why would I want to study in the U.S.?
After a few weeks of being bummed, I started conducting research about college life in America. I told myself that I would make the most out of the experience. Now, after almost 2 semesters at the University of Pennsylvania, I can confidently say that being sent to the U.S. was a blessing in disguise, and here is why.
1. I can take whatever classes I want to take, and graduate whenever I can
Imagine taking a class on Jay Z and Kanye West or a class that analyzes the Hunger Games. Well, in America, you can!
The flexibility of the education system here is one of the main reasons most students choose to pursue their degrees in the U.S. Here, we aren’t constrained by the major that we declare in our first year, unlike in the U.K. For instance, I’m enrolled in a lot of language classes even though I am a business major. One of my friends is in a Sitar class, and another is in a Yoga class (all for credit!). There is really no limit to what you can do in college classes here.
As for graduating, the recommended period one studies here is 4 years, but depending on when you complete the required number of credits, you can graduate earlier (or later). I know quite a few people who are graduating after 3 years, and some who are graduating after 5 years.
2. The grading system keeps me on my toes
I am someone who loves to study at the last minute. Back in secondary school, I would only open my Sejarah textbook the night before the exam and try to remember as much as I could. Here, with constant quizzes and assignments, I don’t have to cram right before the final exams because I would have studied consistently throughout the semester.
3. The holistic experience
The U.S. system emphasizes holism, so extra-curricular activities are as important as classes. There are out-of-class activities in the U.K. and Australia, too, but there is more emphasis on them here – just look at the university applications, which consider each applicant holistically. There is something for everyone here, whether you want to pitch stocks or want to advocate for LGBTQ rights.
Last semester, I took a class, Management 100 which provided me with so much hands-on experience. In this course, Freshmen are randomly assigned into groups of 10, and have to work with a non-profit organization in Philadelphia to take on a project. My team organized a week-long art show. Some of my friends had to provide management consultation to their clients, while some taught elementary school students.
4. Greek Life (WOHOO!)
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, it’s not uncommon to see groups of college students walking to the different frat houses on campus. I personally do not enjoy frat parties that much, but I have attended a few just for the experience. They’re fun, especially if you go with a bunch of friends.
Before I came to the U.S., I told myself that I would never be involved in a fraternity or sorority, but guess who’s in a business fraternity now? Me. Professional fraternities aren’t technically considered “greek life” but that’s as ratchet as I’m ever going to be.
All-in-all, being here has been amazing so far, and I’m looking forward to the next few years. Let’s see if I come back with an ang-moh boyfriend.
Paggie Tan is a rising freshman at New York University ’20. Here, she shares why she chose to study in the United States, and how that means she has complete freedom to define her own academic route.
I remember the exact moment I chose to study in the U.S. over reading law in the UK: I had just turned 16, nestled on my couch, fresh off a shower with a turban wrapped around my head and had about 10 tabs open on different American universities (UCLA, NYU, Boston University etc. you get the idea). I was rambang mata; I found myself so lost in the ‘fascination’ of even being able to study in America. At an embryonic stage of decision making, I thought that the notion seemed like a far-fetched pipe dream as I live in a relatively small town and that going for it would mean that I will be the first in my entire family to head overseas to study, what more to the U.S. Choosing to do so was a very rare instance where I come from but I was determined. Now, this is not going to be a rambling of what I did in the years to come but rather an answer to a question, one that I still owe myself.
Why did I choose to pursue my tertiary education in the States and not anywhere else?
First, it is the flexibility of the curriculum that provides room for academic control – I can choose what I learn in ways I feel prepare myself for the future best. The mantra of ‘I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way’ is linear to the education system that is earnest in helping me discover what it is that I am passionate about. No longer will I be pedantically retaining facts in my brain (sometimes, not even knowing what they mean) only to routinely regurgitate them out in the examination hall. For the first time in my scholastic life, I have the power to learn instead of study.
It is also the different opportunities that the U.S. offers, both socially and intellectually. In the U.S., pursuing an education is more than the books you read or the lectures you attend. It’s also about the things you do and the people you meet. As a two-time USAPPS participant, I have had the great pleasure of meeting a lot of people who you can tellhave so many colorful experiences. Their stories have motivated me to reinstate my faith in choosing the U.S. For instance, the exciting activities that happen around Yan Jie’s campuses (Case Western Reserve University) such as a zombie-nerf-run fusion, the hands-on applications of what they have learnt in classes (Pang Fei got to inject a worm with Alzheimer’s at Oberlin!) and the places they go (Kah Yee is going to 7 different countries with Minerva. SEVEN). I have learnt how, through the stories, that these moments will change you in ways that cannot be explained and I want that for myself. I chose the U.S. because it is simply an education that cannot be taught – it has to be experienced by yourself.
It was also the honest application process. Throughout the development of my application, I was constantly questioning my identity and reflecting on all the people, places, and things that have shaped me – from choosing which teachers who will be writing my letters of recommendation to the infamous essay-editing. It provided me a tiny window to all the maturing that I will undergo in the States and I liked what I saw (though I did cry once or twice.. and by once or twice, I mean maybe a couple of hundred times). Unprecedentedly, I am more than numerical figures and a bunch of alphabets. Who I am as a person actually matters in my academics. In fact, it is a part of my academics.
Though there are probably a thousand better answers out there as to why one would choose to study in the U.S. but these are mine. I’m starting this September and of course, I am excited and anxious at the same time. Though nobody can guarantee me anything, my decision to study in the U.S. can guarantee me an enriching, eye-opening and fulfilling 4 years of my life.
Syairah Ridzuan (University of Texas at Austin ‘15) finds a shift in focus in her academic journey: discovery and learning over letter grades.
For the first eighteen years of my life, I never dreamed of visiting the United States, much less living in that country. In fact, I knew nothing about the other side of the world, and I had no desire to learn more about the countries on that continent. My focus was fixed on Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM); it was (and still is, sadly) the gatekeeper that largely determines the career paths of many Malaysian youths. Not getting straight A’s will significantly lower your chances of admission to the top academic programs in local universities. Hence, my focus had to be singular at that time. And I came through – with results that met societal expectations of academic excellence. I managed to secure a scholarship that covered my entire undergraduate studies in the United States.
Whoa, what? The United States?
Nobody said anything about studying there.
I thought I had applied for a scholarship to study in the UK.
Yep, that was how I reacted after reading my scholarship offer letter. From that moment onwards, the learning curve began to steepen. Not only did I have to learn about a different higher education system, I also had to learn about other, equally important matters like the culture in the US. I was going to do more than study in the United States, I was going to live in the country for the next four years of my life. On my own. It was both an exciting and a scary prospect for me.
And I’m glad I went with it.
The University of Texas at Austin has taught me more than just economics models and theories; it has guided me to discover more about my interests in computer science, architecture, psychology, and theatre. More importantly, UT has taught me that academic excellence is important but not paramount in my life. Rather, the institution has demonstrated to me the importance of giving back to the community, whether it is through conducting research or doing weekly volunteer work. Good grades don’t matter that much. They become mere alphabets on a piece of paper called a transcript that attest to your ability in certain fields and help you land a job that hopefully pays you more than enough for you to survive. Apart from that, those letters don’t say much about you as an individual beyond the realm of professionalism. Therefore, strive for both academic and personal growth.
The United States will be a fine place for you to grow up and strengthen your own roots. Challenge your beliefs in all its forms, Compare them with the foreign culture you’re exposed to in your university and examine them in new light. You’ll come out a whole lot stronger – as a person and as a believer in whatever faith, ideology or cultural practices that you live by.