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During my national-type primary and secondary education in Malaysia, I remember writing several essays about travelling, and how teachers said it was important because it enabled one to meluaskan pengetahuan, or broaden one’s knowledge. In hindsight, I think I never really knew what that term meant.
To me, the concept of how travel could actually meluaskan pengetahuan was as foreign a concept as how Malaysia would benefit from globalisation or transparency, both of which were popular topics for factual essays.
Fast-forward five and a half years after SPM, and here I am in the Merino Benitez airport in Santiago, Chile, having just visited a Chilean friend whom I had met while volunteering during a study abroad programme in Barcelona about two years ago. The funny thing is that these experiences in Spain and Argentina came about only because I am studying abroad at a university in Northeast US.
In fact, the past five years have been an incredible eye-opening journey as I travelled through 20 countries, lived in five countries across four continents, and met people from over 100 different countries.
One might think that I come from a super-wealthy family. The reality is that I grew up in a household where both my parents were government servants for many years, and would not have been able to send any of their three children to foreign universities for higher education. I also rarely ranked within the top ten in my class, although I did eventually manage to obtain excellent SPM results and achievements in extracurricular activities.
After SPM, I applied for several scholarships and was fortunate enough to be awarded a 75% scholarship to study at the United World College-USA (UWC-USA).
UWC-USA is one of 12 international boarding schools around the world that focuses on promoting international understanding by bringing students from dozens of countries to live and study together. Although I was offered a full scholarship by the Public Service Department (PSD) to study in Germany, I chose the UWC because I felt it would provide a more enriching learning environment.
That gamble certainly paid off. In UWC-USA, I had an incredible learning experience living together with students from different countries. I also found out that financial aid for international students is widely available there, and every year, many Malaysians manage to secure necessary fundings for tertiary education in the United States. It is the only country in the world where financial aid and scholarships are made available to a large number of international students, something that many Malaysians are still unaware of.
After UWC-USA, I gained admission into one of the Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth College, with a generous financial aid package that required me to spend even less than what someone in a Malaysian public university would pay. From food and lodging to health insurance and pocket money for study abroad programmes, Dartmouth handed me everything on a silver platter.
The first reaction people usually have when I relate my experience to them is to tell me that I am really lucky. However, I strongly believe that this road is not at all impossible, and that opportunities are abundant if you know where to look. I have met many Malaysians studying in the United States who have had similar opportunities to pursue their dreams to their hearts’ desire, even if they were originally from poor families.
All you need is a little bit of luck and intelligence, coupled with lots of hard work, passion, and initiative, which includes cultivating the habit of searching for information online instead of waiting for scholarships to come to you. That way, you can achieve such great experiences too!
In Argentina, I studied their political history and learnt how they and other Latin American countries also had huge immigration waves in the late 1800s and early 1900s like Malaysia. Yet, they have moved past constantly seeing things through ethnic lenses in order to form their own national identity from these immigrant cultures. And after being exposed to so many different cultures over the past five years, I think I am finally beginning to understand what this abstract concept of meluaskan pengetahuan means.
Ng Eng Han has studied in the Northeast and Southwest regions in the US as well as Barcelona, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina within the past 5 years. He obtained a scholarship to attend United World College-USA for his pre-university studies and is now a rising senior in Dartmouth College, US on a very generous financial aid package.
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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