When my application for the 2007 ASEAN Scholarship was rejected, the Singapore Ministry of Education offered me a Merit Award instead, which had two concessions: firstly, it would exempt its recipients from the Singapore Education Fund; secondly, payment of school fees would be based on local students’ rate and this could give foreign students up to approximately 90 per cent reduction.
However, the Merit Award would not secure me a place in any of the Singapore Junior Colleges. In other words, I had to apply for a place in the Junior Colleges on my own.
The extremely competitive admission into the Singapore national education system meant that admission was difficult even for a Merit Award recipient. The junior colleges would not only have to admit their very own bright students, but also ASEAN scholars and returning Singaporeans.
Nevertheless, when Temasek Junior College called me in for a selection test, I went for it. Weeks later, I was told that my application had been rejected, but I did not attempt applying to another junior college. The Merit Award was then left aside and the deadline passed.
Three weeks after SPM, I enrolled into Sunway University College for A-levels. I was perhaps the most reluctant student, probably because I refused to believe that I would end up in a ‘popular’ college just 20 minutes from home, rather than a ‘stellar’ college in a foreign land. However, the 18 months in Sunway College turned out to be fulfilling and meaningful.
I came to know Ms. Chong Soo Sin, my Biology lecturer and one of the persons whom I hold in highest regard. She is a petite lady with a fierce passion for Biology. She gave me the freedom to explore as much as I wanted, never hesitating to give her best answers to my endless questioning. She was always patiently waiting for me to finish up my work in the laboratories, even late into the evenings.
Most importantly, she showed me that the journey in science is one of constant research and learning, and acknowledging this fact does require a great deal of humility, courage, and passion. It was also there that I met a group of friends, a diverse group in terms of personality, with whom I shared the most laughter and tears.
After that, I applied to read medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) as I have always dreamt of doing my medical degree there. Two weeks later, I was notified for an interview scheduled on April 1, 2008.
With the mock final examinations just around the corner, I had to secure an air ticket to Hong Kong quickly. It was a period of intense pressure and uncertainty, brought on not only by the upcoming examinations, but also the fear of not being able to get to Hong Kong and the anxiety for the interview.
You must also be wondering, was the whole journey worth it? Realistically, only one foreign student would be admitted into the medical faculty annually. But I could not care less. HKU had been my dream university for years. At the very least, even if my chances were one in hundreds, I wanted an opportunity to make my best attempt. At least, despite the eventual rejection, I can now tell myself to move on without any regrets.
There is one main theme that I am trying to convey by sharing my story with you; life is a series of bends and you will never know what is around the corner. I once thought I would head to Singapore right after SPM, but I ended up staying in Malaysia.
I was a reluctant student in Sunway College, but I completed 18 months of A-levels with a strongly reinforced passion for Biology and a network of wonderful friends. I dreamt of entering HKU even before I finished SPM, but I ended up in Monash, enjoying my daily learning as a medical student.
I do not want to see my failures as dead ends to my dreams. I want to see them as bends along my journey. Around the bends, I will be discovering whole new paths that will ultimately lead me to where I want to be.
I hope you will come to realise and appreciate this in the years to come. Keep your mind open, your heart focused, and you will achieve your dreams because opportunities abound, not only after SPM, but also throughout our lives. The miracle of achievement is not how you do it, but how much you enjoy doing it. Keep faith, never lose courage, and you will realise your dreams.
Tang Mei San is pursuing Medicine at Monash University Malaysia. When she gets tired of her medical books, she turns to her blog and babbles about everything from Malaysian politics to Hong Kong movies. She enjoys discourse, especially with people who do not agree with her.
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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