This month has been horrible, to say the least.
Twice, I’ve hit my lowest point in school, breaking down pathetically before the gaze of teachers, lnowing all too well my predicament.
My workload has always been excessive, but the amount trebled this month: a toxic admixture of essays, homework, projects, oral examinations and foreign-language assignments burdened upon the “courageous” student, with only one straw needed to break this camel’s back.
This metaphorical straw is the university applications.
Tomorrow is the deadline set by the school for getting all of my applications ready. There was a mad rush by twenty-or-so year-thirteens to get it checked by only one teacher, who is the university advisor in school. It was horrible, just horrible! I tried to get hold of documents without her involvement, as my intention was to reduce the work on her part, as well as making it easier for me to upload onto my non-UK university applications. Nevertheless, it was taken badly and I was heavily reproached by her and other teachers for trying to break so-called “school policies”.
I was very upset with that. I felt that the school was being unreasonable with the deadline, but I had more pressing issues in my mind. My question was: will the school entertain my demands for documents AFTER the deadline, especially if the actual university deadlines are way ahead in February or May? I was extremely worried by this, not to mention stressed to the point that I feared that the school will leave me abandoned with my applications incomplete because they might refuse documents. Thankfully, all was resolved on the same day after talking it through (over a box of tissues) who agreed to assist me with my final steps for application.
Making choices for university is really stressful to begin with, and this deadline is in no way making things any more comforting for me. No matter how much other teachers try to console me, they cannot erase the underlying problem which still looms over my future, which is:
“Will I be able to pay for it?”
My dream is to go to a top university in Europe, more specifically the UK, where I have imagined myself to be since I was 10 years old. This year, I made the choices to study in Durham, Warwick, London, Bristol and Edinburgh. I wanted to study Journalism while I was in primary school, but as my interests evolved over time, today I applied to study Economics and Politics.
I also applied to the Netherlands, a country I have visited just this year last spring. I had a splendid time and plus I felt like it was the place to be. I feel somehow accepted in my pristine surroundings, filled with beautiful canals and bright tulips. After my visit to Rotterdam, I was inspired to apply to the presitgious Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, which has one of the top economics school in the world.
With further research about possible places to study, I also settled on Singapore, Asia’s international trade hub and economic powerhouse, in addition to being Malaysia’s rich neighbour. Their universities: the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, are not only the top in Asia, but the entire world! I know I just had to apply there and take my chances. I know that it WILL be competitive, as many Singaporeans are known to be quite ‘kiasu’, but I wouldn’t know I’ll get it unless I try.
Well all of this positive attitude in making uni choices ignores one crucial fact: my parents can’t afford it.
They reiterated time and time again that they will NOT be prepared for me to study in any of these countries, not unless I can get scholarships. They say they can only afford to send me to a university in Malaysia, and with the fall in the value of Malaysian ringgits, their words can’t be any truer. My education fund can’t support 3 years of tuition fees in England, Scotland, Holland or Singapore, let alone cost of living.
This led me to an unsolvable dilemma for quite some time, especially in the first week of November. What is the point of applying to these unis when you can’t even go there in the end? I searched for existing scholarship programmes. While none of them were prepared to fund my entire tuition, they were reasonable discounts. Unfortunately these were not enough to convince my parents, save for the Singaporean tuition grant programme, which would reduce my international fees at the cost of working in Singapore for three years after graduation as part of the contract.
Preferably I don’t want to be stuck in Singapore after my degree; I came there to study but work? I’m not prepared to make such a big decision yet. Unfortunately it seems like I don’t have a choice, because even to earn a Singaporean scholarship that could cover all of my fees, I would need to take the grant first.
I was very upset that first week of Monday. I saw no way out: I was condemned to studying in Malaysia, which I really did not want. I have a complex relationship with my country, which I will probably elaborate in another post. More importantly, the choice on university: University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, is not really so much to my liking. I don’t really like the campus so much due to my distaste for the lazy architecture and its far distance from Kuala Lumpur, which makes it really difficult for me to pursue my language studies. In addition, the though of living in Malaysia for three years, not as a global citizen, but as a LOCAL, strikes me as condescending and depressing. I am more than just a Malay Malaysian, but most people will never look past my appearance and know my world experiences.
That first week on Monday, I also struggled to write my personal statement for my UK university applications through UCAS. I had a hard time trying to express myself to convince the universities to take me. I also had the dilemma constantly ringing in my mind, making me more upset and almost-depressed. I remembered last year’s Year 13 student whose name was Kim, and he got an exceptional 44 score and got accepted into Princeton in the US. His parents were prepared to make the financial sacrifice, not just for his US application and tuition fees, but also for paying for his SAT exams which he needed to sit beforehand. This is in stark contrast to my family’s attitude. Granted, we’re not rich. In fact, we’re probably one of the poorer families in NCBIS, a school filled with mainly elite to upper middle class households. I was the student with one of the greatest prospects in terms of IB grades, yet I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I will end up in Malaysia anyway. I felt that it would be a waste of my talent and time, having gone through the hellish experience of IB. I could have comfortably done A-Levels and still get into a Malaysian uni.
After all of the above, I memorialised that week of grief and sorrow into a poem. I would like to end this post at this note. I have never written one so long before, but I feel that I need to let it out, to let my readers know about how I feel and why I have been absent for so long. Please, if you like this poem, give your comments below. Until then, see you next month.
A. A. Kamalov
For two years, I endured
A lonesome existence.
From Sunday to Thursday
I barely survive the week.
Almost eternally, like a
Relentless pedalling of wheels
On a stationary gym-bicycle.
Locker to class, class to class,
Class to canteen, canteen to class,
Class to locker, then back home
Shifting around like a drone.
Friendships are superficial.
I trust none. I really couldn’t.
I know them just by name,
But really, they are strangers.
Where they attend, I pretend.
Unsurprisingly, this is why I
Resent such teenage liberties
Those hangouts and parties,
The decadence disgusts me.
Instead I appease the system
With industrial fervour,
I push aside petty anxieties,
Headaches and fevers
To get grades no-one
Else would dare surpass.
I was instantly recognised and
Hailed as the next Kim, while
Deluded by rational fantasies.
Then I realised: no-one wants me.
Not Princeton nor Oxbridge,
Just name any university.
All hard work is fruitless
For I’m a penniless foreigner,
And my world ruled by the dollar.
I’ve no choice but to return to where I
Belong, a tropical trash-town
Fraught with endless miseries.
So it must end this way, it seems.
Waste no more time,
Sing no more praises please.
Let me graduate silently –
No prizes or awards to console
This worker bee; this tradable,
Replaceable commodity. One day
He’ll labour and die without family
And all of the above will be
A long-lost memory.