By the year 2006, I was in my second semester of the Canadian International Matriculation Programme at Sunway University College and I still did not have a final, definite answer for the question:
What am I going to do in college?
My actual story is much longer, but I will just start from right before I graduated from Sunway. I decided to switch to studying film because it was the only major that comprised everything I was interested in – photography, animation, fashion design, physics, music, and writing. And being the ambitious person that I was, I applied to Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and got admitted.
By the end of my freshman year, however, I was not so sure that I had made the right decision. Music was more my ‘thing’. Sometime in the middle of my sophomore fall semester, I decided that it was time I made another switch. This time, I applied to Berklee College of Music. Again, I was admitted. You know how people say things like, “I wanted to do this but could not because my parents said no,” or “I am not like you, I cannot do this and that because I am poor”?
Well, I believe I ran into the same roadblocks as many others did, but I have no sob stories to tell. My parents are paying my way entirely, but I also did my homework searching for possible funding alternatives. Unfortunately, the relevant authorities were not as helpful as I had hoped.
I mean no ill will, but while I am glad that a lot of youths these days are opting for more artsy majors, I am also sad that many others lack the fighting spirit to push for their dreams until they exhaust every possible means of fulfilling them, even if it means defying your parents – just not to the extent of ending up homeless.
I know the mental exhaustion one gets from majoring in fine arts. You do not wreck your brain trying to solve calculus questions (though you might, over optics, if you are doing film); rather, you drain your soul trying to keep up with all the ‘gung-ho’ youths around you. In Tisch, it felt like everyone had seen every single film there was to see, and if you wanted to fit in, you had to be a huge film buff and talk film 24/7. If you did not, people would give you the cold shoulder. The place was that elitist.
That brings me back to the importance of a strong fighting spirit. Pursuing fine arts does not promise you a stable job or a steady income. The fine arts department is filled with people who have vowed to devote their life to a career that may not even produce enough for them to get by. Doing something you love is, on its own, a very fulfilling thing, but the question I had to ask myself (which you too should ask yourself, should you choose to delve into fine arts) is:
Do I love it enough?
And along the path leading to that dreaded question are a series of little turn-offs, sort of like side quests, that a lot of you might avoid so they do not get in the way of your ‘great dream’.
I say take the turn-off, and follow it to see where it goes. For I would never have enrolled in art school if I did not think I was a gifted artist, but I would never have known that I was a gifted artist if I had not improvised songs that I learnt by ear, or drew random people by basing them off existing cartoon characters.
And I would never have begun trying to play by ear or drawing cartoon characters if I had not watched Sailor Moon and wanted to play the opening theme song on the piano, or draw the Sailor Senshi so I could paste their pictures on my bedroom wall.
Thus, given the endless possibilities, you have nothing to lose, except perhaps a little time. You’ll never know who or what you might find that might inspire or motivate you, or aid you in your career. Go out and explore!
Grace Ong Doen En loves pink on everything but her clothes. After completing SPM at SMK Convent Bukit Nanas, she enrolled in CIMP at Sunway College. Originally a physics devotee, her bad sense of direction led her down a different path to NYU, where she majored in film before trotting off to the Berklee College of Music.
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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