I am writing this essay during my exchange programme at the University of Mississippi. With less than two weeks remaining, I am trying my best to experience and cherish every minute possible. It is also a good time for me to refresh the memories of my whole journey in the States. However, my train of thought wanders further back in time to the moment where I reached a turning point – the time after SPM.
It was the morning of March 8, 2005, when I went back to my alma mater – Jit Sin High School – to receive my SPM examination results. I was aiming for straight A1’s as that might give me a glimmer of hope to obtain a PSD scholarship and further my studies abroad. As I did not have the funds to go overseas, getting the best grades to secure a scholarship was the only way I could realise this childhood dream of mine. When I glanced at the two A2’s on my results slip, I saw my dream shatter into a million pieces.
Within the next two weeks, I applied for various scholarships like the Petronas and Bank Negara Malaysia Scholarships, but to no avail. My only successful application was to the local Matriculation programme. I was in a deep dilemma, torn between the options of STPM or Matriculation. The former is said to be incredibly tough, with STPM graduates calling it a hellish experience.
Going for the one-year Matriculation programme was always at the very bottom of my list as that would effectively kill off my dream to study “Even if you graduate locally, you still have the chance to go overseas for your Masters or PhD.” After weighing my options over several sleepless nights, I finally reached a decision – Matriculation, here I come!
My days at Kedah Matriculation College flew by and those were some of the happiest times in my life. Living on my own for the first time, building new friendships, and experiencing campus life gave me enriching insights and prepared me for university. I would like to thank one of my teachers in Jit Sin, Mr. Tan Sui Eng, for encouraging me to apply for the matriculation programme.
To me, achieving four-flat results seemed to be the golden ticket into my dream field at the university of my choice – Actuarial Science in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). However, I only managed to get my second choice, Statistics, and I was heartbroken.
Life went on, somehow. During my first week at college, I got to know other Actuarial Science freshmen. It affected me badly; I was so near, yet so far from my dream. I always hoped to switch my major, but my seniors said it was near impossible. I remembered breaking down in tears after being rejected following several appeals.
However, I then applied online for the Bank Negara Malaysia scholarship in KMK around March 2006. During the interview process, I wrote two essays – one in English and one in Bahasa Melayu – underwent one formal interview, carried out an individual presentation, and another group discussion/ presentation, all in one day!
My luck turned around, much like landing on Chance in Monopoly, when I received a scholarship acceptance letter from Bank Negara Malaysia into the Actuarial Science major. With that trump card in hand, I achieved the impossible.
After two years of studying Actuarial Science in UKM, I stumbled upon the rarest of opportunities – the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme. I needed to fill up forms, obtain letters of recommendation from three teachers/ professors, write a personal essay, and provide my TOEFL results. A brief telephone interview followed. My joy was indescribable when I was one of the seven Malaysians selected for the programme.
The past nine months have been full of wonderful experiences learning about the American culture and travelling to new places. It has also been a journey of self-discovery as I realised that I really love outdoor activities! One of the coolest things I have done was hand-gliding at a height of 2000 feet.
Flying high in the sky overlooking seven different states in all directions was something incredible! Celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter gave me an extra taste of America. Dressing up as ‘Kiong Xi’ during Halloween was something new to the Americans; they could not help laughing when I told them that Chinese vampires actually hop.
My dream finally came true. Some people thought that I was on a lucky streak, some felt that these incidents were all coincidences, others felt that it was my destiny. I think that God has His way of making things happen and will provide us with the best in life. I, for one, am humbled by all the blessings I have received.
My friends, walk on with hope in your heart, keep your dreams alive, have faith, and you will surely succeed one day!
Tang Khai Sheng finally realised his dream of studying abroad in 2008 when he participated in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme at the University of Mississippi, US sponsored by the US Department of State. He is also a Bank Negara Malaysia scholar pursuing Actuarial Science in Universiti Kebangsaan 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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