Having grown up in a very stable environment with great friends, I had my life planned out for me. I did well in my SPM, took Form Six and got into the University of Malaya (UM) to do a Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) programme. I was very focused on my ambition to be a teacher, so the route I took seemed to be the only logical step for me. Only public universities offered a Degree in Education and I could only enter the aforementioned public universities with Form Six results.
Into the second year of my university life, I began to question myself. Did I make the right choice? I began to envy my friends who had taken the less travelled route. Many obtained scholarships to study overseas, which I did not apply for because I was convinced I had to do my course within Malaysia.
I told myself I did not need it, and though there was some satisfaction in saying that I left the scholarships to more deserving individuals, it began to hurt. My false perception of reality was finally shattered when I discovered that I could have pursued the same course overseas with scholarships from the government.
I was so blinded and contented with my dream of getting into UM that I did not bother finding out about other options to pursue education as a career. I soon realised that I was hankering after the glamour of studying overseas, of being able to proudly say that I studied in the US, the UK, or other seemingly ‘more established’ education hubs. It took me a while to understand that although I was stuck in Malaysia until I graduate, I could still go overseas in the future. It was not the end of the road for me; in fact, it was only the beginning.
I found that being in a public university was not all that bad. Unlike those who condemn the quality of education in Malaysia and do not give it a second thought, I can attest from first-hand experience that there are positives in completing studies locally. Being a family-oriented individual, I was closer to home, and it truly helped me to progress from a carefree teenager to an independent young adult; I was so blessed to be able to call my mum when I needed to talk.
In addition, studying locally was also very kind on my parents’ piggy bank. I can say with some degree of certainty that my lecturers were not all that bad, for I was lucky to have the opportunity to learn from some experienced lecturers.
In my third year of university, I learnt the most valuable lesson of all. Incidentally, that lesson was not taught in a classroom. I discovered that I could still have my ‘international’ experience while studying locally. I was one of four undergraduates chosen to represent Malaysia in the 8th Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative (HYLI). Participants of the one week-programme, themed ‘Empowering Asia: An Increased Role and a Common Voice as a Responsible Player’, had to discuss and come up with solutions for regional problems.
Discussions were intellectual, occasionally heated, but always professional. The organisers also gave us opportunities to experience the local Vietnamese culture. One of my fondest memories is shopping for an ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese dress, in the streets of Hanoi and all 28 of us having a crazy karaoke session until three in the morning.
That one week in contact with other amazing undergraduates from all over Asia was an eye-opener, and I was truly inspired. Before HYLI, my world consisted of my home, my university, and my church. After HYLI, the walls of The Grass this Side? Just as Green my world were blown wide open; I stepped into a whole new paradigm where I learnt that every individual, myself included, can lead and produce change.
If I had this mindset when I began my higher education, I would have been able to branch out and explore more, to seek and seize opportunities, and not just wait for them to come my way. Fuelled with the realisation that I did not have to be stuck in Malaysia, I sought out opportunities that would allow me to experience different cultures. Participating in international programmes and making friends with foreigners who came here to study in those four years of education expanded my worldview, and it happened right here in Malaysia.
Even if you do not procure prestigious scholarships or admittance into renowned universities overseas, it is not the end of the world. The testing ground to prove yourself begins after your education, and thanks to the great education I received locally, I am confident that I stand a great chance at succeeding in the future.
Grace Lim Jia Wei 26, is still young at heart and is pursuing her first love, a Masters in Arts (English Literature). Winner of the Subject Prize for her programme, she graduated top of her class and is currently lecturing in Methodist College, Kuala Lumpur with her sight set on a PhD.
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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