Tak kenal maka tak cinta. Jom Kenali Universiti Awam (UA) Malaysia.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Art is Fun!

Hi, I’m Tany, I’m 24 and currently studying at Segi College majoring in Video & Animation. Currently I’m staying somewhere in Damansara but I’m originally from Ipoh. I used to be a business student, and also in secretary course, plus I was in Japanese school in KL (Teikyo) taking Japan’s pre-u course before. I love a lot of things, mostly watching horror movies, being on the net 12/7, editing videos and lots more that I can’t possibly list here.

Art is Fun!

by Tany for Writing Contest 2008

Are you creative? Some people believe that in order to express your creativity in art, you need to have the natural talent. What do you think? In my opinion, everyone is creative in their own way and we can express our ideas in so many different ways. And that’s what makes us all unique! I love arts. I love anything that’s pretty. I love expressing my ideas & creativity through arts; so therefore I chose to major in Video & Animation! From my experience, when people hear “Video & Animation”, they get scared. Why? Because they think it’s such a complicated subject. Or they think they’re not creative enough. Or worse, they hate it, especially dealing with technical stuff.

Let me tell you, being an art student is so much fun! I’m enjoying every moment of it. I was a business student before but sorry to say, I hated it. I hated dealing with accounts, numbers, math… I hate CALCULATIONS! I hate studying too. All the things I had to memorize… oh my god. I was in executive secretaryship course too… but there was no difference! Being a video & animation student, I don’t have to deal with numbers or memorizing. I get to express my ideas & creativity through movies that I made, scripts that I wrote and drawings that I painted. Hey, you wanna know what’s the most fun out of all? Getting to watch movies! ;) Be it in class, or even at home and no one can say, “Why are you wasting time watching movies?? Aren’t you supposed to be studying??” It’s because I am studying the movie ;) Techniques that they use, the cinematography, the script, the plot, and things like that. For my project, I get to experience shooting a short movie just like real people in the film industry do. My first group project? A short horror clip! Now, I’d dwell more into my experience of shooting my first short ‘movie’, but it’ll be long. I would however talk more about it if I’m given the chance next time :D

Another thing about it is animation. Who says watching cartoon is just for kids? Now you can get an excuse to watch cartoons! I learned a lot of things about cartoons. Do you know who Tex Avery and Chuck Jones are? I don’t think all of you do. But what if I mention Mickey Mouse, or Bugs Bunny, or Tom & Jerry, or Disney or MGM? Hehe, get the hint yet? Yup, they’re the creators :) And they’re awesome. So if you like this kind of things, go for it. Don’t let other people brainwash you into thinking that you’d get nowhere by majoring in art-related course (oh believe me, I’ve been told that!) or that other subjects are much more useful when applying for a job (I’ve been told that too!). If you have the passion for it, then DO IT! It’s fun :) Only you can decide your future, not others. Unless, of course, you have the passion for art but you want to get stuck with the job you have no passion for… I’ll let you ponder about it…

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in Malaysia's National School

Born as a Malaysian, the author scored herself a lucky Permanent Residency "ticket" to stay in Perth, Australia. Currently, she is doing her last year studies in Murdoch University. The author's age is a secret as age is seen as a woman's secret between her and herself. Apart from that, the author is a perfectly normal human who loves to indulge herself with strawberry flavor ice-cream and be pampered with holiday tours. To stay "hype" with the technology, she plays MapleSEA and watch lots of TVB dramas. When she is doing nothing, she will either be reading or sleeping and when she does sleep, it would be best not to disturb her =)

Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in Malaysia's National School

by AWhite for Writing Contest 2008

The heart principle of multicultural and anti-racist education lies on equality of opportunities in education. Foster (1990) recognized the equality of opportunities as the inherent differences in the talents and abilities of individuals, and achieve a fair and just allocation of social positions and rewards. When equality of opportunities is linked with multicultural education, we then look at educational opportunities; where students succeed despite being are from diverse ethnic, race and linguistic communities with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, it can also be argued that multicultural and anti-racist education can only be successful through eliminating racist practices and restricting the chances of success of a particular racial group.

In terms of education in Malaysia, the national schools are government funded and it caters for a diversity of students. Moreover, national schools follow the Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human (1948-1998) right where it state:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory…

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups..."

In addition to the above, multicultural and anti-racism education was part of process of realisation the "The Way Forward - Vision 2020" proposed by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. The part of the proposal that involves education stated,
- To form a community that has high morale, ethics and religious strength.

- To cultivate a community that is matured and tolerant.

- To cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture.

Therefore, in order to achieve these goals, the government began by looking into an education that can uphold cultural values as well as creating an anti-racism system to cultivate a community that is in rich values and supports the different ethnics with mature and increased tolerance of religious and issues. Vision 2020 was further strengthen by the current Prime Ministerr, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi under one of the Ninth Malaysia Plans (2006) where he intends to make Malaysian national schools a school of multicultural education with choices for all ethnic groups.

With the above endorsement from the government, the schools act as an agent to support diverse cultural practices. These practices utilize the students in order to promote the understanding the sensitive aspects and rights of the diverse races and ethnics. However, the purpose of multicultural practices in schools have lost essence in supporting this.

According to opposition government leader, K.S. Lim (1966 – current), in receiving a letter from concerned parents of whose children attend Sekolah Menangah Kebangsaan Bandar Utama 4. The letter expressed that the school principal had been insensitive to the needs of other ethnic groups as she had introduced Islamic practices into the school system. For example, the school banned shorts for Physical Education as according to Islamic belief, it is considered inappropriate to reveal too much "flesh". In addition, she went as far as banning the beating of drums during Chinese New Year lion dance performance with no apparent reason.

If the drums are banned, it has been questioned, "what is the point of having a lion dance?" because a lion dance without drums will not bring the significant meaning in the Chinese New Year tradition. In other words, how could Vision 2020 be constructed with a community of rich values and loving cultural when students are not taught to appreciate and understand other cultures.

Another case of cultural insensitivity occurred at Penang Free School. According to Chee A. a student who studied at Penang Free School, there were two new signage installed at the main entrance of Penang Free School where one was in English language and another one was in Jawi language. The question raised was why was the signage in Jawi language, which is used in Al-Quran instead of Bahasa Malaysia (the Malaysian national language) since Bahasa Malaysia is the medium used for all national schools. Furthermore, Penang Free School is not an Islamic school. It can be accepted the fact that Jawi signage could be one of the ways the school is trying to introduce the Islamic cultural values to non-Islamic students but, why only Jawi signage. If the school is promoting the cultural values to achieve Vision 2020, then the school should also place Chinese and Indian signage. Furthermore, this action has also highlighted the school as being racially insensitive where only a small number of students will be able to understand and read the signage.

The lack of multicultural and anti-racism education practices can further be evaluate in the "Pokkiri" incident that happened at Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech. A concerned parent, Vimaleson sent a letter (please refer this post) to principle of Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech demanding to know why "Pokkiri", a movie with a number of violent and sexual scenes was aired for two consecutive days during school hours to a group of non-Malay students who are just in primary one. However, Vimaleson did not receive any reply.

With the above incident, coming back to Vision 2020 (where it states that government would like to generate a community with high morale), it has been question the type of morales the school trying to achieve by airing the inappropriate movie. As a school that practices multicultural education, the school should be focusing on the cultural values as well as human personalities instead of misleading the students. In addition to that, there was no reasonable reason why the movie was only shown to non-Malay students. Moreover, what was the Malay students doing at that same time? Assuming that the Malay students are studying during that time, the school has failed to provide equal educational opportunities to non-Malay students by segregating them with different curriculum content.

The segregation of differential racial and ethnicities of students can further be seen with an incident that occurred in Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth. According to the opposition government leader, K.S. Lim, non-Malay parents of students from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth expressed their disappointments on "Program Didik Cemerlang Akademik" as it was based on racial omission for non-Malays. These letters mainly state that for the past few years, certain volunteer teachers from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth have been conducting the extra classes out of normal school hours to prepare students who are weak in their studies for the coming Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah. These extra classes are free of charge and all students who are taking the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah examination are encouraged to attend. However, one of the letters continues to states that:
…recently the extra class for Ujian Pernilaian Sekolah Rendah has been politicised and the government started to give payments to all teacher who teach those classes BUT there is a condition. The teacher who is to be paid must be MALAY and the extra classes are open ONLY for the MALAY students.

Moreover, if the non-Malay students decided to go for the extra class, they will need to pay a fee of RM$15.00 (AUD$5.50). This incident has highlighted the inequality of education because it has marginalized the non-Malay students on their education righ-ts by imposing a fee on them while Malays students could attend free. The school and the government has shown Malaysian the extent racism exist in the education scheme because Program Didik Cermelang Academic offer has restricted the chances of success for non-Malay students and they were treated like second class citizens in the school. In addition, this incident has violated the Article of 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human right where it states, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in elementary and fundamental stages...." (1948-1998). However, even after violating the Article 26(1) and receive numerous complain letters, the school and government did not take an appropriate action but instead, they sent away two teachers who supported the complaints.

Therefore, it is clear that multicultural and anti-racism education policy was not modeled or carried out correctly but has also been seen as having a stopgap solution to keep the concerned silent. In fact, such solution has caused the many unhappy parents to lose their democractic voice. Since the unhappy parents cannot voice on their dissatisfaction, how can Vision 2020 (which is to cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture) be accomplished? These students will one day be parents themselves and with racial omission in their education may leave an implication to them. They will certainly find it hard to be racial tolerant, especially with racial disadvantages that they received.

With the racial segregation and the lack of encouragement in multicultural education, the government's commitment itself is questionable on its validity and reliability. A further example to illustrates why there are doubts as of the government's allegiance. Minister Ong Ka Ting from Malaysia Chinese Association held a press conference and announced that there will be a list of several new primary schools that will be built at Cheras Sungai Long to solve the school's capacity issues within the large growing population. However, according to Liu R. (1988-current) from Malaysia's opposition party, Democratic Action Party, this conference was confined only to Chinese language media and not a single English or Malay media agency were invited. Therefore, questions were raised on why non-Chinese language based media were not invited. Liu believes that by doing so, there would be no record that Ong has pledges on building new primary schools. It was argued that this was one of Ong's political campaigns to allow the opportunity for him to say whatever he wishes to say to Cheras Sungai Long communities as a process to garner votes. If this is true, Ong has indirectly uses the educational prospective without having to be responsible on his promises. If a political figure like Ong could misuse his political power to mislead the communities, program from the educational aspect (that were proposed by the government under the Ninth Malaysia Plans) could also be part of the political campaign.

Consequently, with the current organisation of "education aparthied", it cannot be clearly seen how Malaysia could achieve multicultural and anti-racism education practices. The government may recommend a grand educational project that could cost billions of dollars but without an attentive effort, schools and children will continue to solitude under totalitarianism. However, there are many who hope that the government will one day abolish the racial preferences and desegregate education at all levels. Children must be taught that education is not there to serve to a particular racial group and that education itself is basic for early social interaction between races and ethnics, particularly in the early stages. By this, it is believed that if the best resources were brought forward, interests into creating a perfectionist multicultural and anti-racism education could easily achieve Vision 2020.

School is a place where ethical values and cultures can be learnt alongside with the education curriculum. Its valuable heritage should be shared and appreciated by children and their children. Let the school be a place where children should be given a guidance on how Malaysia can achieve Vision 2020.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Asian (Malaysian) Students

I would only like to be known only as 23, it keeps things interesting I believe. I aspire to be an advertiser and is currently looking for freelance jobs that will help me earn a buck or two cuz' my family needs it. This is no sympathy story, I just want to be honest. I am 19 going on 20 coming August and currently studying my diploma in communication. I grew up in a small town in Perak but I believe, like Superman, I'm heading for greater things in life. Well, I love to write, to speak as I so fit and to say words that are thought provoking. There are so little that are doing so and we need more I guess.

Asian (Malaysian) Students

by 23 for Writing Contest 2008

Malaysia has been moving ahead globally and economically in these past few years and we are heading to the era where we can be proud of our achievements. But I have a question, a question that has crossed my mind so many times as I sit in the lecture hall, as I observe my surroundings. Well, without further a due, the question is: *drum roll* Have our students move forward? You might ask what do I mean, well; I mean have our students, Asian students, to be more specific, Malaysian students changed? Are we still what we are the day we ended high school? Have our students grown out of the Asian mindset?

Well, to explain more, this is my thoughts. I realize that the first thing that Asian students are: they are passive, and at times, too passive. The lecturer can go on for a 3hour lecture and no questions are asked, at all. Can our brain really understand fully what is taught or are we just too shy or nervous to ask a question, afraid that people will look down on us if we don’t understand? I, firsthand experience these situations. My friends that don’t understand will not raise their hand to ask, as if it is a crime. I believe this is happening because it is, and always have been, embedded in Malaysian students mind that asking is wrong, or shows weakness. Some even tremble when asked to answer. Whatever happened to just trying? Suddenly it is wrong to make mistakes or to ask.

I have been asked once why Malaysian students or better yet, Asian students are so afraid to speak out or to raise a thought or question in class. It may even seem that the lecturer may not want us to do so, afraid that they might not be able to answer or that the student may seem more superior. I have to say that this type of thinking is the fact that is causing Malaysian students to be behind other students from different countries.

Have you ever entered a class and there are writings on the whiteboard and everyone immediately copies everything down not knowing what is it for? Well, I have and I had to question this. This is another flaw that we, Malaysian students, follow or let ourselves follow. No one ask what is it for or whether it’s important but we are like copy machines that just jots everything down but has no clue what it’s for. If we are so prone to copying everything and not asking or thinking before doing something, then we will not move ahead, will we?

My advice is to just collect all your guts and nerve and just ask if you don’t know, speak if you have something on your mind and everything else will fall into place. This has always worked for me and I believe it will work for Malaysian students. There can never be enough of questions ask, I believe. Do or study something you love and know will excel, DO NOT follow what parents or society thinks is best for you or has set for you, only you know what you like. Fight for what you want!

Students, for example, American students are always encouraged to think out of the box, to be different, to be a trendsetter not a follower and always ask questions that nobody dares ask, and this is why their country is in the 1st world category and ours isn’t. I was on a trip to Malacca and there was a school trip all the way from England that came here to learn our culture, and these students were no more than 12 years old. The thing that intrigued me is that the questions they ask are so much higher than our students will ever ask. They wanted to know so much of things and they were like bees asking questions. Why can’t our students learn from these young ones? Or is it pride that blinds us? Being shy perhaps?

If people want to argue that Malaysians are too shy and passive because it is our culture, I agree but till when will we be shy? How long till those that are brave enough to stand out outshine us? We are consumers of products created by other countries, when will we be those that create and others consume?

I, on my part, do my best to be different, ask questions that no one dares to ask. I want to make a difference, don’t you? If we stay on like this, we will not move anywhere. I end this with a quote, “Only the brave shall survive and the passive perish.”

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Introduction to Translation and Interpretation

Posted by c.h.tay

This is the only translating and interpreting major course offered in the world at the basic degree level, mostly translating course is offered as masters or Ph. D programs in overseas, according to my lecturers. In Malaysia, only Universiti Sains Malaysia offers translating as majors degrees. UM and UPM offers as minor or diploma courses.

Basically one of the aims of this course is to cultivate reliable and trustworthy translator and interpreter in our country. The differences between translating and interpreting is translating is more a process of changing a source language (written text) to a target language text. Interpreting is more to a verbal process of changing the source language to target language.

The first semester of the course introduced the basic theories of translation, ways to editing, English grammar, Bahasa Melayu Komunikasi, basic English (everyone must take in order to graduate from university). The theories part is a bit tricky, although translating process is the same, but different theories lead to different approaches and focus on different aspects of languages, e.g. some focus on translating the exact meaning, thus focus on singular/plural and tenses; some focus on bringing out the meaning that is easy to understand by the 'audience' (reader).

Translating is an interesting process, same theory can also lead to different translation, thus there is no exact same translation in the world for a same source sentence.

Most Malaysians think that they are capable of doing translation of their own, as most of them have learn at least two to three languages since primary schools. But to make translating trustworthy is a long way to go, and mostly translation works which done by layman will be have inconsistency and misinterpret is also a common mistake. Moreover, not everyone of us has perfect grammar in our work, so translator/interpreter is here to make your presentation right.

Those who love languages are encourage to apply for this course, this is a platform to show out your talent. You can also take foreign languages, such as Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, Arabic etc. as minor course to get 'a new hand' and outshine your resume or CV.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

My Ups and Downs as a YES Scholar

Age: 17
Location: Currently in Miami, Oklahoma, USA, but going back to Petaling Jaya, Selangor in July
Education: Well I sat for SPM in 2007, from Chong Hwa Independent High School, now in USA under the YES scholarship. Will be starting A levels in Sunway University College for the July intake and intend to do Medicine for further studies.
Interests: music(piano), reading, writing, politics, sports, maths, history, philosophy, blogging, web surfing, computer programming etc.

My Ups and Downs as a YES Scholar

by Oh Coyin for Writing Contest 2008

As some of you might have probably known, YES (Youth Exchange & Study) program is a students exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State after the 9/11 incident in 2001 to help in building bridges between citizens of the U.S. and countries around the world, particularly those with large Muslim populations. Each year, Malaysia sends about 30 to 40 students to USA from January to July under the YES Scholarship.

I was offered the scholarship around October 07. Unlike most of the scholars, due to some sort of technical error, I only received the details of my host family two days before I depart. After three days of orientation in Washington D.C., I arrived at the airport in Kansas City, MO, thinking my coordinator is my host family. There, I was met by my coordinator and her daughter, greeted with:" I'm your local coordinator!", in which I replied politely despite the huge confusion in my mind. To make things worse, all the information I had was not up-to-date, in fact, actually it was about ten years ago, with her daughter being 28 instead of 19, and her being retired long time ago. Then I was told that she hadn't received any of my documents yet, which is why she couldn't find me a host family.

"Uh, this is just great. Maybe I am just not supposed to be getting this scholarship to come here." I muttered in my heart, thinking what I was doing here in a totally strange and freezing cold place, 9000 miles away from my home sweet home which is 85 degrees everyday.

Somehow I settled down, attended school, until 12 days later, my coordinator told me, in a panic tone, that I need to see if I have any friends in my school that are willing to host me or else I would have to move to another town because my stay with her is only limited to two weeks. Great.

Find a host family?
It can't be that hard, can it?

The very next day in choir class, I walked up to the board and left a message saying," Does anybody want to have a sister (I mean me) for 6 months or know anybody who would like to do that? Please let me know, thanks!"

Soon, a girl, whom I have talked to a few times before, walked towards me saying that she will have to ask her parents but she was quite sure it would be okay. Wow. Isn't things amazing? The bell rang and my teacher started telling the class about my situation. A split second later, and I meant it literally, there was this one girl whom I didn't even know that she existed before, raised her hand, shouting," Mrs. Richards, I would like to! Not because of anything, but, uhm, I just thought it would be cool! And I never have a sister before!" Oh great. I wanted to tell her instantly, never think that having a sister is cool, I have a sister at home, and trust me, she is a brat! Don't get your hopes up, although I will try my best to be a good sister, but I really don't want to make you disappointed.

After all the family visits and paperwork were done, my coordinator and I had a long talk about choosing between these two, in which she thought both of them would be very good families. In the end, I chose the latter, which we decided that it would be more convenient for all of us.

Well so the host family problem was finally solved at the end of January.

One big thing about participating in a student exchange program is actually your school life. During our orientation in Washington D.C., a lot of us expressed our concern about school. Interacting with our host family is not a problem. Things will turn out well easily if you remain friendly and open-minded. School... Now that is the real problem. How are we going to make friends? The other exchange students we met in Washington D.C. told us that school life would be really hard at first. During your first week, everybody may be friendly and wave to you, but after that, they will act like you do not exist. Just be active and go out to talk to people. Don't be afraid to ask when you have problems, or ask even if you have already known the answer, at least you have something to talk about. (Trust me, this actually works A LOT BETTER compared to other methods.)

My school is actually very small, with only about 270 students in the whole high school. I guess the advantage of this is that everybody knows everybody, and you get noticed easily(a German exchange student told us that nobody noticed him at all in his school which has more than 4000 kids.). The principal and teachers were very nice and helpful. Thanks to the small number of students, people will try their best to accept you and usually high-five with you in the hallway or "what's up?" to make you feel welcome. However, there is a well-known saying," In America, everyone is friendly, but it's really hard to make friends."

Although everybody is quite friendly with you, it doesn't mean that they include you into their circle of friends. Lunch time is the hardest of all. Since my school only has two exchange students including me, unlike other exchange students in my local chapter who have ten of them in the same school, there is no group of friends that I can readily join in. Going out asking," Excuse me, can I sit here?" wasn't hard at all. Nobody will say no, unless, well, you have been really annoying. Reaching out is not the hard task, getting people to include you is. The friends you made in class may not reach the cafeteria the same time as you are, so by the time you start eating, they might have already finished, or vice versa. Unlike the school canteens in Malaysia where we usually hang out at until the bell rings, here people leave as soon as they finish eating so as to provide space for the other students.

During the first two months, there were numerous times when I ended up eating alone or wandering in the hallway trying to decide which group of students to join. The mornings before classes start are not easy either. I used to walk around or sometimes just stand in a group of kids without actually joining in because it takes time for me to understand their conversations and give my own opinion. Of course, my host sister was very kind and often invited me to join her friends during lunch, which I sometimes do so, but hey man, you are here to learn how to adapt, how to stand out and get yourself being included into a new circle. Not to be dependent, but independent, and only through accepting challenges can then you really grow up.

Some may argue, you can be by yourself. I am perfectly fine with it, and sometimes I actually tend to do so. Yet I reminded myself, you are not here as a student, but an exchange student. You are here to experience the American way of life and interact with them so that a cultural understanding of both sides can be achieved. You are not here just to experience a change in your life, but also to bring changes to their lives.

I tried joining clubs because everybody said that it is the easiest way to make friends. However, since my school is too small, there are not much clubs available and you have to take the class in order to join. My classes have already been arranged, so I did not participate in any clubs. I guess that is the biggest flaw in my American school life.

My classes were choir, English III, American Government, Anatomy & Physiology, Jazz Band, Physics, and Athletics – Track. Academic-wise, school is as easy as ABC. Exam questions were given one or two days before the actual exams so all you have to do is to pay attention when the teacher is discussing the questions.

Well, as you see, although I did not join any clubs, I did join choir, jazz band, and track, which are not normal weighted classes, but the perfect places to make friends. In choir, I was the accompanist for both the choir and the soloists, and through representing the school for various vocal competitions, we had some really awesome and enjoyable moments together. To join choir, you don't have to know how to sing. All you have to do is to know how to try to sing.

As for track, it sucks, literally. I threw up on my first day of practice. Our daily practice includes running two to three kilometers outdoors where it is less than 10 degree Celsius. I was never an athletic person, but I really love sports. I decided to join track because I want to experience an athlete's school life (I have never joined sports in school before except PE), and also, to lose weight (Oh yea, trust me, exchange students can get REALLY FAT!). I thought of quitting everyday but finally, I still managed to stay till the end. Well, so if you are healthy enough, do join sports! Any kind you want, even off-season is fun! Listening to gossips in the locker room is actually the quickest way to understand how the student body in the school works. Going out with the team for competitions or track meets will be the best time you have ever had with your friends!

Among all my seven classes (our classes are the same everyday), jazz band is the best of all! Jazz band is not a normal band, but a band that plays jazz pieces(duh.) and only formed by selected students. Actually the class I had at first is Family & Consumer Science (which in other words, a Cooking class), but what we did everyday for the first two weeks were only stuff like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, watching movies that nobody understand and eat(oh yeah, the teacher is a wonderful cook!). It was stress-free all right, but I lost my patience to wait for our chance to cook (Come on, I am not going to be in school only to do these!) and told my principal that I wanted to change class. She gave me some options and from those, I chose World Geography.

Now this class was not bad, the teacher was okay (although he read from the book directly when teaching and I find it really difficult to refrain myself from dozing off), but guess what? He gave homework! Now, other teachers assign homework too, but only once a week. In this class, a lot of the assignments were summaries and essay questions, and being a former SPM student who is used to writing 300-500 words per essay question, I usually end up writing a short paragraph for each question while my fellow classmates answered everything in one sentence because if you write an answer, you will get your points automatically. Thus I ended up having to bring homework back home. It was not bad at all if compared to the amount we used to do in Malaysia (I'm from Chong Hwa Independent High School so some of you might hear that the academic curriculum is really insane!), but I really do not want to waste my time here doing homework.

This time, I asked a copy of teachers' timetable from my school's secretary (exchange students are treated better and have certain privileges such as getting away from minor stuff =P) and figured out what other classes I could take for that hour besides the options given previously. I went to talk to the jazz band teacher for permission to join and together, we consulted the principal. So there it was, finally, a class that suited me the most!

I know I sounded picky, but my point here is that you have to speak up if you want things to be changed. Never be afraid to ask for things because you never know what the results are. Jazz band turned out to be my best school moments I've ever had and because of it, I met the group of friends I really love, and since it is the class right before lunch, I never had the timing problem again! =) Yeah so my advice here is: join a band! Who cares if you have never played a musical instrument before, everything starts from scratch. Give it a try, it will be the best class of all!

Now about religious restrictions, I am a Buddhist who is not allowed to consume beef. It is not that hard to follow your religious beliefs, but not that easy either. There may be times where accidents happen and you accidentally consume something you are not supposed to (unless you are extremely careful) and since you are in a country where the majority are Christians who have no dietary restrictions, be open-minded. It is okay if you smelt the odor, it is okay to help preparing the meat, it is okay if people are offering you the meat you are restricted to or saying how delicious it is in front of you. Your host family is acknowledged earlier so they will respect you and help you in choosing your food. If you accidentally consumed it, do not think that you are supposed to die or may not go to heaven or some other thing else. Think from a more mature point of view while maintaining your decent religious beliefs.

Also, never hesitate to ask for help if you need any. Due to my dietary restriction, I talked to my school lunch lady, get the menus for breakfast and lunch from her every month, and ask her to cross out the things that contain beef. Of course, you can also choose to break the rules while you are here. My other friends who are exchange students from other countries considered the exception rules while they are over here.

About host family, no worries. At least, it has never been a problem for me. Again, just ask if you need help. Sometimes it is really hard to understand their accent and slang and you may feel like giving up after a while and choose not to participate in their conversations, yet remind yourself that it is just as hard for them to understand you too. Give and take. If they are willing to try for you, do not take things for granted.

Well, another important thing will probably be culture shock. Culture shock is not just a feeling, but actually something that will cause various kinds of symptoms such as depression, insomnia, loss of appetite and so on. For me, I did not experience any serious culture shock during my first three months because my American life went just like what I have expected, as if I am living in books and TV shows (although a lot of people denied that the real American life is same as what is showed on TV). However, after three months, when I really felt that I have fit into their life and learnt about every detail, that was when the problem came. There was a time that lasted about five days when I was quite stressed and unhappy.

You know the news and rumors we often heard through the mass media about Hollywood? They don't just happen there, but in fact, in the daily lives of Americans.

My school itself has quite a large number of homosexuals and bisexuals, although I have always felt certain that I am able to accept them with no doubts, it is still something different for me. This added a little to my stress but out of the expectations of many people, they are usually very friendly and have good personalities, and I even become very good friends with some of them! Now the real stress-causing thing is high school drama. I was incredibly fed up with how friends around me smoke, do drugs, get drunk every weekend, talk bad things behind people's backs yet pretend to be friends with them, curse their parents just because of simple things, have sex, cheat on their partners, and even some girls who sleep around with other guys only to get attention. These were the real culture shock.

I tried to get over it by expressing my frustration through writing back to my friends in Malaysia(Thanks to them for willing to spend a few dollars to mail me letters!). This helped and after a while, my life went back to normal. America, this is the place to be open-minded. I couldn't say that they are wrong, as this is how they grew up and how they were raised. Being open-minded does not mean accepting new cultures entirely and admitting our culture is inferior to them. Being open-minded means embracing both cultures by analyzing and understanding that there is no definite right or wrong, everything is just different.

Now as for homesick, to be frank, it did not happen to me. I did not miss home at all(come on, it's only six months!), I am not sure why - it's not that I am the kind that has a bad relationship with my family - but occasionally I do miss my friends in Malaysia, so does that count? I couldn't quite explain homesickness as I did not actually experience it myself.

The only drawback of this program is that we do not stand any chance for JPA Scholarships (which is a big thing for a lot of post-SPM students) because we are not able to attend the interview. In fact, I emailed them to ask for an alternative interview arrangement and they gave me three days (which include a weekend) to fly to the Malaysian Embassy in Washington D.C. to attend the interview. Naturally, I couldn't finish the paperwork in time so everything ended like that. However, I did managed to obtain both IB (International Baccalaureate) scholarships offers by Sri KDU and ISKL, though I later turned down both of them after considering the curriculum that may not be very suitable as I intend to pursue Medicine. I had an early interview with Sri KDU in the afternoon before I depart. ISKL interview was conducted by a long-distance phone call.

A student exchange program does not waste your time, it actually helps you to value your life and put your time in better use! The experience really helps you to stand out among other applicants because you do not just learn about the culture of the country you are in, but also different countries around the world. In your local chapter, you will meet exchange students from other countries and interact with them. It will give you the inspiration about changes you can make in Malaysia, identify the strengths and weaknesses of Malaysia so that you can play a part in changing it in the future. It is also a life time experience that helps you discover who you truly are and realize how much you have learnt when you were educated in Malaysia. For me, I am now able to strongly feel my path of life ten years from now. Malaysia is the place where I grew my wings, and America is the place where I learnt to fly.

I have always thought that I am quite a patriotic person. I watch Merdeka celebration, I join countdowns, I read newspaper everyday to understand what is happening throughout my country, I am concerned about public issues and governmental policies etc. How much more patriotic could I be? After I came here, I truly understand the pride of being a Malaysian. It is not something you feel and talk about, but being proud of your country is something you have the ability to believe and prove it in front of others that do not understand.

The biggest duty as an exchange student, I would say, is to understand the new cultures, learn about them so that you can help people in your country to benefit from it. Meanwhile, you have to be true and strong about your beliefs, let the others learn from your own culture as well. This is what exchange programs teach us to, to be a leader, to be compassionate, to influence others for good and change ourselves towards the better. Do not feel shame for your own traditional customs because people will learn to respect it only when you stand up and be confident about it.

Join a student exchange program, I assure you, no regrets!

► Read more on My Ups and Downs as a YES Scholar

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Marks Aren't Everything!

Hello there. I’m a twenty year old girl, fresh out of MARA College Banting (MCB) doing my International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Being the daughter of an army officer, I cannot really tell my exact location. People use to say I lead a nomadic life though currently staying in Kota Kinabalu. So right now, I’m waiting for my result and if all went well, further my studies in Ireland this September. Hope you’ll find my article worth reading.

Marks Aren't Everything!

by Afiqah Syamimi binti Masrani for Writing Contest 2008

Life as a student… is hectic! Your world as a student revolves around the school. Teachers, classes, libraries, extracurricular activities and the centre of this endless, spinning wheel are you books. Studies. Exams. You practically burn the midnight oil to go through today’s biology notes. Passed on an invitation to the cinema just so that you can finish all the additional maths exercises in your work books. Hovering from shelf to shelf in the library to look up last minute tips on how to answer in the examinations. Stop! Stop and think again. What happened to your life? Are scores so important than a little socializing? Are you a knowledge-absorbing machine that you neglect your social needs? Shockingly (for some), the answer is ‘no’. No, grades and socializing are equally important and no, you are not a machine. Though it is traditionally believed that grades determine your course in life, let me disclose a little secret… marks aren’t everything!

True, upon entering primary school, you are drilled with the importance of education and passing the exams with flying colours. However, this concept lacks a vital element – the social element. You meet people in your class. Some become friends, some become enemies or rivals while others were just plainly ignored. Even your teachers, the canteen lady and the gardener are people that you have to interact with. These people will, in a way, shape your characters and attitudes later on. Though academic is important, the informal education you gain from the people around you will help you more in understanding life’s concept and how to deal with it. It is the same concept applied in scientific subjects where in class, you are given the theory and in the lab, you are given hands-on situations to practice the theories. Just remember that are tons of people out there with a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient). However, the one factor that makes a person different and more favourable than the other is their EQ (Emotional Quotient). Hence, to gain the human contacts needed to cultivate a well received person is a vital part of being a student too. So neglect them not.

“I am so depressed. I failed my additional mathematics paper again and I’m going nuts!”

Does this seem familiar to you? Statistics show that lots of students suffer from anxiety due to the examination pressures. The more chronic ones may even turn suicidal. Hey, do you know that Bill Gates was among the lowest in his class in school? Now, he is the proud owner of Microsoft and creates a major impact to the world. As I said before, marks aren’t everything! It is not about failing but it is about falling and getting up again. It signifies a new beginning. The examinations not only test your IQ but also your attitude. How to cope with low marks and how to handle praises given for high marks. The grades do not determine whether you are a good student or a bad student. Rather, it is just like a piece of paper that shouts the words “Trust yourself, not me!” So why do you have to go all out in punishing yourself and being stressed out for the whole month for getting a ‘D’? Say “I’m going to get you next time,” and go on with your stride.

Another secret about exams is that they it will not portray the real you. There are some people who are known as the ‘late-bloomers’. These types of people have less consciousness than the average people of where their interest lies. You learn Chinese and you sit for a French paper. I can imagine how alienated you will be – terrifying! Different people have different interests. This leads to varying focus on the subject at hand. Examinations test you on one skill but not another. Thus, restricting your potential to that written on the paper only. It is as if you are required to draw a beautiful painting on an already restricted canvas. Your painting will not then reflect the real you. Moreover, if you splashed paint on the frame, people say that you are an unpromising artist, which you knew is definitely not true. Just like the painting, your grades also do not define your true ability. By understanding this concept, I do think that examinations will give lesser fear towards students and make them aware of where their capabilities really lie.

With all the reasons why grades are not your entire world, I hope that you students will feel more at ease with your marks. These are some advices for younger students on how to make the most of your time at school:

1. Share
Two heads are better than one, so share your ideas and discuss them. This is a tried and tested way to combine both studying and socializing to maximize their effectiveness.

2. Chatter
Let your hair down once in a while and chatter about anything and everything with your friends. The little perks you gain from non-academic material will also make you aware of the world beyond your school.

3. Join extracurricular activities
These activities were not invented purely to burden your life. It is actually helping you to realize where your talents are and to provide a platform to release pent up stress. Join as many as you want and get to know yourself better. Not only will the school be happy with such a responsive student as you, you yourself will also find it rejuvenating.

Time cannot be reversed no matter how you try to build a time machine. Your life as a student will, one day, be the most memorable part of your life. So while you are freshly treading the path of school life, make it worthwhile. Create memories that you can smile about in the future as you go through your album. Live no regrets behind. Finally, when you are on the threshold of adulthood like me and look back, maybe then, you fully understand that marks are seriously not everything.

► Read more on Marks Aren't Everything!

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