In Malaysia we like to think we have freedom of education. I mean to say, we have a lot of choice, right? Regardless of who we are, we can decide to enrol in a Sekolah Kebangsaan, a Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJK) (Cina), SJK (Tamil), Independent Chinese Schools, Sekolah Rendah Agama and many more. Whatever our religious, social or racial convictions, for all intents and purposes, we have a choice. Or so we would like to think.
Yet by the time we are considering a university education we come to realize that that our perceived sense of having an innumerate amount of choices dwindles down to a choice between (generally) four geographic locations – Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia – and choices for “acceptable” program are equally limited. Any young Malaysian will tell you that there are five to six university programs they can pursue without their parents having a heart attack: Accounting, Law, Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry and Architecture.
But there is a path not taken. For financial reasons, I took that path – and accepted a place at an American institution.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t choose an American education because of an elitist conception that it was “better”. The choice was primarily financial, as no other university (including two local institutions) gave me an offer of financial assistance as good as my current university. And I’m not alone. Many of the Malaysian students that were there are on some form of institutional aid (from universities to companies).
Yet for all its affordability and for a country that avidly promotes all-star universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the awareness that most Malaysian students have about education in the United States is still limited. While our overemphasis on the UK and Australian education may stem from colonial history, in the age of Google and Facebook, there is no excuse for not broadening our horizons. Instead, it is our reluctance to change convention that is holding us back. Try to get information on opportunities that defy the status quo and you’ll find yourself faced with a lack of information, misinformation and sometimes outright discouragement.
Ultimately, this isn’t about rebellion. It’s about the freedom to choose. I was lucky enough to have people around me who encouraged me to consider different places. Realizing the importance of having that choice, my wish is for ALL young Malaysians to be able to have the freedom and information to make that choice. We may be a nation of only 30 million, but Malaysians come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of ideas and personalities. Why let those personalities be boxed into an education that exists of four countries and six programs?
To rectify misunderstandings about American education, an intrepid group of young Malaysians have banded together to form USAPPS, a completely volunteer-run organization that hosts workshops during the year to promote United States education. Since 2009, the organisers have brought U.S. education to students in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Kuching.
The workshops have touched the lives of thousands of young Malaysians and the momentum can only grow. This year, after two successful workshops – one in Penang and another in the Klang Valley – USAPPS is launching its final workshop of the season, a two-day workshop at Taylor’s University College Lakeside Campus. The two-day workshop is unique in that it provides a personalized approach to the U.S. applications process. The workshop will cover the basics of the application process, finances and even how to improve an application essay. However, what may prove most valuable to students is the access to current students, alumni and interviewers from Yale, MIT, Smith and other American universities.
The organising team is made-up entirely of current undergraduates. They do this every summer for no pay and no compensation. They don’t exclusively promote Ivy Leagues nor do they offer for-profit educational services. How often do we see such energy and commitment coming from young Malaysians?
From my experience speaking with them, this team of volunteers are determined to share their fortune of receiving the education of their dreams. And I’ve seen for myself how their efforts have managed to change the lives of young Malaysians. The result of the workshop is not just an understanding of U.S. education; students have left feeling far more inspired about education than ever before in their lives. And for the famously apathetic Malaysian youth, that’s saying something.
This is by no means an attempt to convince anybody that a U.S. tertiary education is ideal. Every education system and pedagogy has its merits and pitfalls, and the American education system is no different. However, young Malaysians are faced with a distinct lack of choice and information that will allow them to find where they truly belong. Not everyone is suited to attend Harvard, just as not everyone is suited to attend University Sains Malaysia. We each have out own fit. And USAPPS is just a step towards finding out if an American education is a plausible option for you.
USAPPS Klang Valley 2-day Workshops
Taylor’s Lakeside Campus
28 – 29 July 2012
Note: USAPPS is an independent organisation and not affiliated with the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE).