By SYLVIA TAN MOH SZE
“Study hard, do your homework, get good grades, and only then can you get into a good university and get a good job” – this was the message ingrained in me by my parents ever since I learnt how to read. I was also told that hard work and determination would get me to the heights of success. I would not wholly deny its truth, but in order to achieve one’s dreams, I believe that luck and the flexibility to adapt to the most feasible route play important roles as well.
In the first few months after SPM, I was confused. Opened up to a surfeit of tertiary education options but limited financial capability, I was partially torn between studying somewhere inexpensive and studying where my friends were. Taking all of those factors into account, I applied for a plethora of scholarships.
Initially, I did not get any of the scholarships that I applied for, and since Form Six was not an option I wanted to explore, I enrolled into Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman under its Diploma in Accounting programme, which offered me a tuition fee waiver with my SPM results. I decided I would then continue with an Advanced Diploma in Commerce (Management Accounting-cum-CIMA).
Roughly one month into KTAR, I was informed that my appeal for the Public Service Department scholarship was a success. For the PSD application, I decided on Actuarial Mathematics because I had taken enough Science classes in high school to last me a lifetime. I was never good at Physics, so I opted out of Engineering. I also have no affinity with Arts, which left me with Business or Mathematics. I could not apply to study Business because during that year, Commerce or Economics in SPM was a requirement, both of which I did not take. I am not excellent in Math, but I managed to get by.
I was selected to complete the American Credit Transfer Programme at the International Education Center (INTEC) at Shah Alam, Selangor. For the one and a half years that I was there, I took several introductory classes in addition to the necessary US college admissions examinations like SAT and TOEFL. Somewhere in September 2007, I applied and was accepted for the Winter 2008 (January) intake at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Three full semesters have passed since I arrived here at this campus town to continue my tertiary education. I am grateful to be given the chance to experience the differences between our British-based education system and the American equivalent. Here, we have the flexibility to pick our classes and arrange our own schedule. It can be liberating yet at the same time confusing.
For example, I take core classes like Financial Mathematics and Life Contingencies for my major, alongside my distribution requirements like Humanities and Natural Sciences.
Since the university has a large number of international students, I do not really feel like an outsider. It is also easy to get involved with campus activities as there are about a thousand student organisations under the university to choose from. I am particularly involved in volunteering activities like the Detroit Partnership Day and the Alternative Spring Break Programme come next Fall.
On the other side of the spectrum, homesickness tops the list of the cons. This comes from being an ocean apart from loved ones and the lack of authentic Asian food around. The weather can also get really cold, sometimes to as low as -15 degree Celsius in the winter. Grading for the exams here are also cumulative, so your performance during midterms will affect your overall grade for that subject.
If you were to do badly in your first midterm, you will have to work a lot more for your second midterm and finals in order to bring your grades up again.
Studying overseas has taught me a lot of things and changed me in many ways. It made me realise how important it is to have my family and friends’ support because without them, I would not have survived the first month here.
It is also important to be able to stand up again no matter how many times you fall. Academic competitions are challenging; you need to be able to hold onto your goals and not get affected by how well others are doing in comparison. I believe this applies to you wherever you are studying, locally or overseas.
As Zig Ziglar puts it:
It is your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude.
Slyvia Tan Moh Sze is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Actuarial Mathematics at the University of Michigan, US, under the PSD scholarship. She enjoys reading, writing, and travelling whenever possible. Her current favorite Ben n Jerry’s ice cream flavour is Phish Food.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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