Scholarships – First of all, what do you want to do?

Since we’re currently in the season of scholarship application, let’s talk about scholarships – especially since some SPM leavers must have already received call-backs from their prospective sponsors by now.

The views that I will share on this article are rooted from my observation as a former scholarship recipient – I graduated 5 years ago though, so my views may not be very current.

First thing first, ask yourself:

What do you want to do?

 

As cliche as this may sound, it’s really important that you know what you want to do. What are you passionate in? What sector do you want to venture into?

With the dwindling number of scholarships year by year, the old adage “beggars can’t be choosers” is becoming even more relevant to many.

For example, an SPM leaver, lured by the possibility of spending a few years overseas, may forgo his dream of becoming an architect and do engineering instead.

“Asalkan dapat biasiswa pergi UK, kan?”

While the seemingly pragmatic decision often makes practical sense, it also tends to end badly.

Tolerating that one subject that you dislike, let’s say Physics, and still score that A+ in SPM, is one thing. It’s just one subject, out of nine. You can still do lots of past year papers, commit yourself to some serious rote learning, and try your best to get the result that you desire – with a high chance of success.

But tolerating 4 years of learning Engineering, which goes deep into the subject matter, often with staggering level of complexity (especially in top universities), is a completely different thing.

When I was in Melbourne some of my unimates had to drop out because they simply couldn’t take it anymore. They found it untenable eventually, committing so much energy and intellectual capacity learning subjects that they simply had no passion in.

These were top students in SPM, mind you. It’s not that they weren’t intelligent. They just hated the course the scholarship that they received made them do.

Fast forward to this year, some main sponsors like MARA and JPA offer scholarships in a very limited number of fields. Engineering is one of them. Architecture isn’t. Arts isn’t.

Many SPM leavers who love Architecture will end up receiving a very tempting offer to further their studies in a course they are not very passionate in overseas.

If you’re one of them, think twice before you accept the offer.

What are your favourite subjects?

 

Random bookshop, Soho

When I received my SPM result 10 years ago, I was quite clueless of what I actually wanted to do with my life. I had a very limited exposure to the career world. My dad, along with most of my uncles and aunts work in the oil and gas sector, and seeing what they do everyday greatly influenced my perspectives at that time. I thought a career in oil and gas was what I wanted (and needed).

Long story short, not knowing what I wanted was a big mistake on my part.

If you’re in the position to choose today, don’t be as clueless as I was 10 years ago. Know what you want, if not clearly, at least have a rough idea of what you would like to do for the next 10-20 years of your life at least,

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Here are some guides, compiled based on my observation and that of people around me in various industries. The fields of study are lumped in based on the subject that you love the most in high school.

Additional Mathematics: Actuarial Science (if you’re really good in Maths, this is a really difficult course), Economics, Finance, Accounting

Physics: Engineering, Geology (if you’re into Geography too)

English/BM: Mass Comms, Literature, Creative Writing, TESL, Law

History: Political Science, Law

Biology: Medicine, Pharmacy, Biomedical Sciences

Chemistry: Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry (if you love Biology too)

Arts/Design: Architecture, Graphic Design, Broadcasting

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Will there be bonds?

 

This is another important question. A lot of SPM leavers look forward to furthering their studies overseas that they tend to overlook that some scholarships come with a package – a long bond.

When I accepted the PETRONAS sponsorship, I effectively agreed that I would be bonded for 10 years.

I was 17 – I didn’t really think of the implications. But after graduation, it dawned on me that the length of my scholarship bond was …quite long (duh).

So, be careful when you sign. There are pros and cons of a scholarship bond.

Pros:

Bonded scholars normally get called for job interviews in the organisation that sponsors them, even before graduation. To those who seek job security in reputable organisations and GLCs, a bond means less headaches and stress.

Job seeking, especially for fresh graduates, can be a fairly daunting process.

Personally, I feel that imposing bond means a fair proposition for the sponsors. They already spent a lot of money to provide you with the degree and plenty of exposure, of course they would want you to come back to contribute back to them. These are corporate-driven entities after all, not strictly charitable bodies.

Cons:

A scholarship bond may also prove a disadvantage for those who wish to:

  1. Continue their masters – while a lot of companies allow their staff to take unpaid leave to do masters, normally you have to serve them for a few years first before this is possible
  2. Migrate overseas – you may only think of this after 10 years, so you can forget about staying back after your graduation
  3. Have freedom in choosing career field – a lot of graduates decide to work a job that does not strictly follow their field of studies in university (eg Engineering graduate working in a corporate consulting firm like McKinsey). This is not possible for bonded scholars after their graduation. They have to wait for…10 years before they can switch firms or fields
  4. Be adventurous and do whatever hell they want – this is not possible. You have to follow the career path that the organisation has to offer you, and stay there

Different people have different goals and priorities in life, so whatever yours are, please put them into consideration before accepting a scholarship that has strings attached.

Bonds are not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Choose wisely.

How about studying locally?

 

If no overseas scholarship covers the course that you want to do, or if there is a mismatch, you may still enrol in local Pre-University foundation centres. Universiti Malaya has a reputable foundation programme, upon the completion of which you may further your studies in a THES Top 200 university locally – not shabby at all.

After graduating from a local university, you may still further your studies overseas for masters. I personally know of friends and acquaintances who are currently doing their masters overseas, and they did their degrees locally. Many of them are there on sponsorships.

The door will always be open for you, if you really want to study overseas. If not now, later. You don’t have to rush. What’s important is to know what you want, and to do what you want. Locally or overseas.

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Overseas education is definitely not overrated – it provides people who are privileged enough to go abroad with a good exposure and plenty of opportunities to broaden their perspectives. It builds character.

But it’s also not everything. It’s not something that one must have to succeed.

Follow your interest, trust you instincts, grow upon your passions. You will thank yourself in the future.

 

p.s. This post is written by a guy who did Geology in uni. He currently does PR (Content Development & Digital Strategy) for a living – and is quite happy where he is. Life works in mysterious ways.
Speak soon,
FH

Kenapa Nak Speaking BI? Why Do Some Malays Prefer to Interact In English?

A person’s identity is defined by a multitude of elements, linguistics being one of them. Judging from the incessant conversations & arguments on the social media over the use of various languages, it’s clear that many Malaysians are, indeed, still experiencing a sort of identity crisis. While the common perception around the world is that one should be allowed to speak or write in any language he feels most comfortable using, in Malaysia, many stigmas & preconceived notions are still associated with the mere choice of which language to use in public.

This leads to a common dilemma faced by many Malaysians, especially Malays, when expressing themselves in public. “Should I introduce myself in English?” “Should I tweet in English?” “Will I appear conceited if I keep using English on social media?” “Should I use Malay to fit into a certain crowd?”; these are among the most common questions the Malays have to ask themselves from time to time. Tired of being bogged down by these questions, many Malays choose to use Manglish or bahasa rojak in order to achieve a semblance of balance between using English while maintaining some street cred among their friends (apparently, using too much English can be social suicide too).

My answer would be, yes, you can use any language that you want, as long as you get your points across. What’s important is to ensure that you can eloquently express your points using the language of your choice.

After all, language is a means of self-expression, so to hell with labels, no?

Moving forward, let’s dissect the common arguments given by those who are against the practice of Malays using English in their daily interactions:

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Frequent Point #1: “Kenapa nak guna English kalau bercakap sesama Melayu?”

There are many reasons why some Malays use English when conversing with fellow Malays. First of all, it’s important to debunk the myth involving the Malay’s use of Bahasa Melayu (Malay) at home. While most of the Malays exclusively use Malay at home, there exist pockets within the Malay community itself where this convention doesn’t apply. Many middle class families have inter-generational exposure to the British culture and language, so naturally, they speak English at home. This is a reality; I know of some guys who speak no Malay at all, in spite of them being of full Malay-Indonesian ancestry. They also went to international schools and received their tertiary education overseas, so they were never exposed to learning Malay in school. Malaysia is also a heterogenous society, and many people of our generation are essentially products of mixed marriage. In many mixed families, to ensure balanced dynamics between the parents who came from different racial backgrounds and upbringings, English is often used as the primary language at home. It’s a neutral arrangement, and enables middle-of-the-road solution to the language & cultural dilemmas faced by these families.

Aforementioned cases aside, many Malays speak English among themselves as it’s the only way they get to practice using the language. Languages, unlike subjects like Mathematics or Science, cannot be mastered by the mere virtue of attending classes and lectures. You need to practice using the language often if you want to be proficient in which. Many Malays, especially those who grew up outside the urban middle-class environment, struggle to find a nurturing environment to practice their English, and who else do they have apart from their good friends to practice using the language with? After all, speaking English with their friends is much more fun than talking to themselves or to the mirror, no?

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Frequent Point #2: “Japan & Korea are highly developed nations and the people don’t even speak English!”

Yes, English isn’t as widely used in these two countries as it is in Malaysia. But it’s important to not discount the fact that Japanese & Korean languages are widely used in academic journals & publications as well, especially in comparison with Bahasa Melayu-Indonesia. I’ve been to South Korea, and while the people don’t speak much English, they have wide access to all kinds of reading material in their native language. The bookstores are filled with any Western title you can think of, but translated into Korean, for local consumption. Compare this with our situation here in Malaysia. It’s not common to see Western titles being available in Bahasa Melayu. Have you seen any work by Franz Kafka, or Orhan Pamuk, translated into Malay? The Malay sections in bookstores are often filled with religious books, cookbooks, some children’s books, and that’s all there is to it. Some of the bestselling books like the Harry Potter series & Twilight have been translated into Malay, but apart from these examples, options are very limited. There have been efforts to translate more books into Malay, but with the environment of tight scrutiny against any books published in, or translated into Malay, (remember when an Irshad Manji’s book was only banned after it was translated into Malay?) the status quo of treating English as the foremost language in knowledge seeking is not going to change anytime soon.

To seek knowledge beyond what our local textbooks entail, Malaysians have no choice but to be proficient in English.

While the Koreans are currently doing well speaking Korean and little to no English, there’s a growing awareness among the Koreans on the importance of being fluent in English, which explains the influx of expatriates working as English teachers into the country nowadays.

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Frequent Point #3: “Orang cakap BI ni semua poyo lah eh?”

Language is a powerful means of communication, and humans are programmed to speak the language they are most comfortable using, especially in everyday, casual situations. Many Malays speak English for a number of reasons, but it’s not likely that these Malays do so to impress anyone. They just want to communicate their points. After all, it’s the eloquence, wit, and the wisdom behind one’s speech that matters the most, not one’s choice of language. Language only allows you to communicate, but if your points are irrelevant, even the most sophisticated use of a language won’t be able to salvage your arguments.

No language is more posh than another. Using English doesn’t mean that someone is trying to be pompous.

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Frequent Point #4: “Kalau orang Melayu tak memperkasakan Bahasa Melayu, siapa lagi?”

Using English in your daily interaction doesn’t mean that you completely disregard the Malay language. Malay is a beautiful language that reflects the Malay community’s long oratory traditions. It’s gracious and polite. Most of the Malays, including those who speak English most of the time, still feel sentimental attachment to their native language. After all, it represents their identity and heritage.

Malaysian communities residing overseas speak English most of the time, but during their gatherings (which I got to experience from time to time during my 3-year stint in Melbourne), they still use Malay. Most of these overseas Malays can still speak perfect, mint Malay, and I don’t think this will change anytime soon.

Now, contrast this with the bastardisation of the Malay language done under the guise of “colloquialism” perpetrated by those who claim to uphold the Malay traditions in the country. Look at how many of the Malay speaking youths spell “aku” as “aq”, for instance. The dilution of Malay’s linguistic purity is also made worst by the blatant transfer of English words into mainstream Malay. Nowadays, people use advertensi in place of iklan, and bajet, instead of belanjawan.

Now, pray tell, who’s at fault?

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These are the four points I can think of at the moment; there are more, of course. Let me know, by dropping a comment or two, if you have more to add to these. Cheers.

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Speak soon,

Faizal Hamssin

 

Of SPM Results and Our Degree of Self-Worth

The trouble with rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)

Let’s go back to roughly the same date as today, five years ago. I, who already started my IB studies at Sri KDU in January that year went back to Bintulu to check my SPM result. I walked my way to SMK Kidurong and went straight to catch a peek at the announcement board, where the results were displayed. A few seconds later I couldn’t feel better. Needless to say I did well, very well, indeed. I felt a sense of pride, bordering on that kind of ‘schmaltzy’, emotional pride. Continue reading “Of SPM Results and Our Degree of Self-Worth”