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By ONG VIN NIE
My parents decided that I should take up Form Six; having been discouraged by the failure of people we knew to obtain scholarships abroad, they believed that my chances of obtaining a full scholarship would be similarly impossible.
Our family’s total income was too much to qualify for PSD’s guaranteed scholarship, which in my year catered mostly for those with family incomes of RM1,500 and below, but neither could we afford private education. Most parents facing a similar conundrum would have taken a bank loan for their children’s education, but I did not want my parents to fork out their life savings.
I used to think that my poorly informed family did not sufficiently expose me to the opportunities available out there. Why was I the only child who fielded questions at a career talk while my parents went to the adjacent shopping complex? Why was I not sent to a private or top school? Yet in hindsight, my environment helped me become a more independent person. After all, you are what you make of your circumstances.
For all I know, I could have ended up in a top convent school, but at the expense of my ability to speak my mother tongue. Even if my parents were highly informed Ivy League graduates, I could have become too comfortably complacent, spoon-fed the whole way.
The need to be able to stand on my own feet and the independence that I learnt from my upbringing later led me to pursue some activities that would shape my student experience. For one, I received the opportunity to pioneer the Queens Guide Movement in Kuala Lumpur and eventually represent the Malaysian Girl Guides in an international seminar attended by youth leaders from 16 different countries.
Through trial and error, I also learnt to lead the Interact Club in my district, participate in Chinese debates, poem recitation competitions, and youth camps in Taiwan. In the end, what really mattered most in my journey was not where I studied, but how I made use of the opportunities available to me.
When it came time to choosing my after-SPM option, I applied the same principles of industriousness to reaching my goal of later attending a top university. I took initiative in attending various ‘Open Day’ events held by colleges, researched education resource sites such as the now defunct TinKosong.com, Recom.org, and emailed career counsellors as well as students for information. One valuable thing I learnt: when in doubt, never hesitate to ask a stranger who has been through it before.
Besides that, I also applied for numerous post-SPM scholarships and made a list of post-STPM scholarships in case I had to do STPM. Eventually, I won three scholarships, took up the Central Bank’s offer, and was sent to INTEC to pursue their American pre-university program. It turned out that my parents were mistaken. It was possible for me to obtain a full scholarship, and I am glad that I had the guts to find and pursue that chance for myself.
In essence, never leave things to chance, for we are responsible for our own future. Do not be afraid to approach people and enquire politely as you have nothing to lose. Very importantly, never concern yourself with your studies alone to score only a string of A’s. This rings true for most scholarships, as you will not even qualify for the interview round without significant extracurricular achievements.
As such, pick activities you are interested in and could benefit from during your high school years. The experiences, confidence, communication and team-playing skills that you pick up will distinguish you from the rest.
As for typical Chinese-educated students, humility is a virtue. Still, we must know when to ‘market’ ourselves when deemed fit. Opportunities are never conferred, they are created. Hence, as long as we do not give up, we will find our own way to our dreams.
Ong Vin Nie is an enthusiastic Girl Guide who attended SRJK Choong Wen and SMK Sri Sentosa before winning the Sime Darby, Central Bank, and Taylor’s World Class scholarships. She is a sophomore majoring in Economics at Stanford University under the Central Bank scholarship.
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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