20 Hours Away From Home




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Photo credit : Tim RT | Flickr

Do you know that sort of moment when you feel like you really need to take a certain path because it feels right? At that time, your rationality fails you, and the wise words of your parents or relatives would just flow through the passages of your mind as nothing more than empty sounds. My parents told me to opt for a more professional field for a better future, but I insisted on doing what I wanted to do.

But how did I arrive at INTI University College in Nilai just three weeks after SPM? The truth is, I went there because my crush was there, but that is a story for another day. I did not blindly follow him there though; I did my own research and found out that INTI is actually well-known for its American University Programme.

I had earlier decided to go against my parents’ wishes to pursue my heart’s desire: a degree in the field of Journalism and Mass Communication. I also felt that I needed to see and know more of the world, and yearned to experience a different culture, a different way of life. Thus, after completing my core subjects in INTI, off I went to Iowa!

“Why did you come to Iowa?” is a question I often get. After taking a lot of factors into consideration, including financial support from my parents, I would say Iowa State University (ISU) was one of my top choices to pursue my degree. I learnt from USnews.com that ISU, which is a Tier 1 school, ranks within the top 100 of all National Universities in America. Also, the Iowa State Daily (ISD), which is the in-house student publication, was named the nation’s best student newspaper by The Society of Professional Journalists last year.

In Spring 2008, ISD earned a Gold Crown award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (owned by Columbia University). Among the staff at the Greenlee School of Journalism is Pulitzer Prize winner Dennis Chamberlin, an assistant professor who instructs students on visual communication and photojournalism. I have yet to meet Mr. Chamberlin, but I am glad I made it to the ISD team as a photographer.

I have learnt so much more about photography since I joined the staff, as photographing events and people for a publication is vastly different from taking photographs for fun. Checking my work e-mail every morning and before I sleep is a must, as is logging on to the university’s event calendar everyday.

I usually get a call from the photo editor a day or two before an event to determine whether I could cover it. Sometimes I get calls one hour before the event starts, but it comes with the job. I met a semi-professional photographer who said that when working for a newspaper, one must have a flexible time schedule.

After two months on the team, I am now allowed to go on assignments on my own. It takes a lot of time and patience to produce a good photo. After I am done with a shoot, I need to go back to the newsroom for the post shooting process, which comprises tweaking the brightness and contrast of the photos, as well as cropping out unwanted parts.

This process is extremely time consuming, for I am also responsible for captioning the photos. Another thing that I enjoy immensely about being the paper’s photographer is the opportunity to meet new people every day. Among the interesting characters I have met is a balloon artist who spent five hours reating a 10-foot tall SpongeBob balloon sculpture!

As much as I enjoy what I am doing, there are downs to accompany life’s ups. I had some weird moments communicating with my colleagues and housemates due to cultural differences. They seemed cautious not to offend me, which lead to awkward moments. Our different backgrounds resulted in us not knowing how to react to one another.

Also, one of the main obstacles I face as a photographer is adapting to different styles of photography. My friends commented that my photos were too formally styled, too “Malaysian”, while those of my colleagues were more candid and natural. Live and learn, I suppose.

And here I am today in ISU enduring the cold weather and writing this story of self belief, in the hopes that it will encourage you and change your life in some meaningful way. Throughout my journey, I have learnt to believe in my dreams and myself; even though I am uncertain of the future, I am very satisfied with where I am today. Thus, when the path ahead is rough with obstacles, I push harder, knowing that the dream I dreamt awaits me.

Karuna Ang has a name that never fails to draw attention due to its Indian origins and her Chinese heritage. She believes that her dreams are all that matter, and is interested in photography and architecture. Though the culture shock hit her hard when she first arrived in the United States, she forges on in her pursuit of Journalism and Mass Communication, with a focus on Public Relations, at Iowa State University.

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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