Photo credit : Kris Krüg | Flickr
Out of the eight course choices that I had listed in my IPTA application, I was lucky enough to get my first choice – Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Malaya (UM). But to tell you the truth, the fact that I was accepted into UM made me happier than getting my course of choice; UM was a mere 30 minutes drive away from home, not to mention only 15 minutes away from the Midvalley and One Utama shopping malls. I was thoroughly overjoyed and thought to myself:
I am going to be a university student soon!
The day came when I set foot into the lecture hall of Malaysia’s top public university (or so it claimed). The first thing that struck me was, “Wow, all 91 of the youths taking this course are going to be my coursemates for the next (fingers crossed) four years.”
As the days went by, I started to realise how different university life was compared to secondary school days. Back then, my friends comprised of youths of various races and religions who were conversant in English. But now, only a handful of my coursemates had a decent grasp of English. I wondered how they managed to get into university in the first place. To top it all, there is polarisation. No, I am not referring to the colourful polarisation effects that we produce during science experiments, but rather, racial polarisation.
In lecture halls, you could see students sitting with their own cliques, each one easily distinguishable by skin colour, language, and the like. It saddened me to see self-segregation occurring in a country that is so culturally diverse. Do we merely live with other races, or do we live together as many races? Do we accept other races as we would with our own, or do we merely acknowledge their existence as we carry on with our daily lives?
I soon became resentful of the many aspects of local public university education. I hated that our public institutions are cultivating racial polarisation. How do great minds and intellectual freedom develop in a polarised society?
I hated that students were too engrossed in their studies, leaving their social and soft skills undeveloped. I hated that public university students were not able to speak proper English. I searched high and low in hopes of finding something that would redeem all the flaws of this institution, and one day, I finally stumbled upon AIESEC.
To me, AIESEC seemed to be the organisation in university that accepted you for who you are, and not because of your race or some other superficial quality. It was where I wanted to be. AIESEC is widely reputed to the world’s largest international youth organisation, and is acknowledged by the United Nations for upholding what it envisions, which is peace and fulfillment of human potential. It achieves this by providing youths with three main things: international internship programs, a global learning environment, and leadership opportunities.
The longer I stayed in AIESEC, the more the organisation opened my eyes to the world yonder; a world where people are equal but still unique in their own ways. Now, I am in my third year as an AIESEC member, and am currently leading a multiracial team of wonderful individuals. Together, we are managing an AIESEC Local Chapter in UM with 32 students under us, s lives through our Exchange Programme, one day at a time. Next semester, I will be in the national committee, working closely with 10 other individuals from various universities.
Together, we will lead an organisation comprising more than 500 members. My experiences in AIESEC taught me how to be a leader and exposed me to a skill that even most adults have yet to master: the skill of managing people, each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.
I have come to love this organisation for the simple fact that it does not discriminate. Regardless whether you are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Punjabi, Kadazan or Iban, etc., you will be appreciated for who you are. I have remained a member for so long because it has provided youths like you and I a platform to speak our minds and do great things. I believe I have rediscovered my purpose in life through AIESEC. I found a place that accepts me, or anyone for that matter. So long as learning is the reason you join AIESEC, then learning you shall get.
Mohamad Alif hails from Cheras and is a proud member of AIESEC. He completed both his primary and secondary school education in Methodist Boys’ School. Currently pursuing his Mechanical Engineering degree at Universiti Malaya, he wishes for a cleaner, greener, and happier Malaysia.
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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