Friday, April 17, 2009

How to Make Full Use of Universities' Life

17th April 2009 already, so it is 2.5 weeks since the U.S. admission decision was out. Some of you were thrilled, some of you were happy, some of you were ok with it, some of you were sad, some of you were depressed.

I hope that you have come back to reality. To those of you who have gotten in to your dream schools, I would say Congratulations and do make full use of the opportunities. To those of you who got into your safeties, I would still say Congratulations and do make full use of the opportunities. To those of you who has not yet gotten into any university or any of your dream university, I would say that you should never give up, and also not forget to make full use of the opportunities that you are going to have.

Frankly speaking, getting in is just the first step. Some might still be on cloud nine. Yes, you deserve to be so, but I hope that come August, when you hop into the plane, you can be back to be level-headed and focus on your mission, vision and dream.

My this blog post would share on my thoughts to all of you on how to make full use of university life. I have to admit that I fail to make use of my university life. I was pretty much not well exposed when I made the journey. I was struggling initially, and in fact, for quite a long time. I didn't manage to really live up to what I should be doing there. Nevertheless, I would say that I have learned a lot throughout my 4 years there. It was a whole world of change.

Before the journey on the morning of 20th August 2001 from KLIA, I had never taken a plane before. I had never really spent time with an American before. My English command was horrendous. I don't have world view. I was still stuck with my world of knowing stuff that was carried in The Star, and nothing else. That was my world. My first non-textbook English book was "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, a required reading by my alma mater. It was horrible trying to read a thick English book. I can't recall how many times I fell asleep on the bed trying to read it. To be frank, the words might have been read, but literally I don't understand it.

Okie, lets look forward, and not backward. But what I am trying to do here, is to share what I know, especially to those of you who might come from same background as I. Each of us has different background. While some might be very well exposed, not everyone is as fortunate. I know that some of you who got into very prestigious universities are still in the state of daze. I was too. I never expected myself to get into Cornell. My SAT was one of the weakest among those who applied. I had no national or international credentials. I was never a straight As students.

So, to those of you in those background, don't give up. It will be a struggle, but I hope you can prepare from now, and you will be better off in 4 months' time, when you make your journey over. Don't compare with others who start from different starting line. Main thing is you need to breakthrough yourself. There might be frustrating moment, there might be stressful moment, there might be time that you would be crying, there might be time that you would want to give up. All these not meant to scare you, but to tell you that the journey that you might have to go through. It is not an easy journey, but everything starts from your first step. Make the step ahead. You have gotten the opportunities, wherever you are going to study. To those of you who are staying back for another year, don't give up. Learn as much as you can. There are still a lot of resources online. Do keep up the learning.

While during the application processes, I might have stressed that you should try your best to get into best possible universities, but at this stage, what I will stress is that irrespective of where you are going to head to, make full use of it. What matters is your utilization of the opportunities. You could be at world's best institution and never make use of the opportunities.

Some of the ways that you can utilize during your university time include (in no particular order):-
a) Have fun! Try to enjoy your campus life. If you don't, then there is no meaning in life. So, main thing is explore on stuff that you like to do, or want to do and do it!

b) Before you set out for the journey, try to list down maybe 10 or 20 of stuff that you really hope to do in your life, and during your university days, do go and get those done. You will be able to achieve some of those, no matter how large is the dream. Be willing to dream big. Dream big is one of the most important elements of life. Tony Fernandes gave me 3 words "Dare to Dream", Idris Jala gave me 3 words too "Dream the Impossible". Both the sharings has the word "Dream".

c) Plan your time, at least for each semester or each week/day. Structure your life, so that you can optimize it. Of course, not meant to be fully rigid. Be flexible, but plan it, and mark down the stuff that you want to do.

d) Never procrastinate (Tara's favourite word... hahaha). If there is an interesting opportunity/event etc that you hope to participate, do join it from year 1. Don't wait till the last year, or you might never have the chance to do it.

e) If you have passion in research or plan to go for Master's/PhD, then do start doing research from year 1. Read up about the professor's research, go and meet them during office hour, and start from there!

f) Do attend the office hours of professors/teaching assistants. Those are great time for you to learn from them. Discuss not just about homework/exam, but learn from them in general.

g) Time Management is very crucial. If you can't manage your time well, you will have a hell of time in your university life. Especially if you are taking heavy workload and busy juggling with a lot of other activities.

h) Load yourself with enough load. As most universities give you a free hand in choosing how heavy your workload, do choose appropriately. Measure based on how much workload you think you can take, while not jeopardizing your other stuff. Make full use of those.

i) Take courses that you like. While you might be majoring in a field, do try to explore to take courses that you hope to learn something from, or something that you hope to pick up a skill or two that will be helpful in your life. Be proactive in planning and don't forgo the opportuniites to take a course, because you are afraid that you can't do well in it. Don't think in that manner.

j) Mingle with others. I am not saying that you shouldn't mingle with Malaysians, but you should mingle with others too. Try to go beyond your comfort zone and mingle. The Malaysians or Asians could be your supportive group, and there is nothing wrong in mingling with them. Actually, you shouldn't fully alienate this group too. But strike a balance, maybe spend 2 nights a week having dinner with the Malaysians, but not all 7 nights.

k) Explore new experience. Don't just get involved with only those stuff that you have done before. Nothing wrong exploring further on those of your passion, but takes the chance to do something new. It could be a new sport, a new discipline, a new type of activity etc.

l) Attend public lectures. This is my favourite. I attended 200+ of those during my free time in my university days. These sharings by those who have been there and done that, would help you to prepare for your future. You name it, those Nobel Prize Winners, Presidents/Prime Ministers, CEOs, academicians, NGOs, activists etc will be there to speak. Choose those that you want to listen and learn from.

m) University is the time to take risk and try out. No harm in trying out things and fail. It is a platform for you to learn and grow.

n) Share what you know with others, and learn from others. University environment provides a lot of networking opportunities with fellow students and others. And everyone there is a potential source of your learning. While you are waiting for bus, while you are hanging out at your dorm's lounge, strike a conversation with others. You might create awareness in others or learn from others.

o) Campus is not your limit. The sky is. Go and explore opportunities beyond your campus, be it for international conferences, international research, study abroad, research programs, outreach program, internships, externships, shadowing etc. Some of those international conferences could include Business Today International Conference, Harvard Project for Asian & International Relations (HPAIR) Business/Academic Conference, International Youth Leadership Conference, DOHA International Conference, South East Asia Youth Leadership Service Network (SEALNet), Wharton Global Conoference, China Synergy Programme for Outstanding Youth, World Youth Congress etc.

p) Traveling. During holidays, do go out and travel. Save up during semester and travel. It will broaden your horizon. Don't just go to those mega cities, but walk into civilizations, go into nature, go into new areas that you have never explored, and try to interact with the community there. Observe the people there. It is a lot of learning.

q) Try out the food from around the world. There are just so much new and interesting food around. Do try it. Yes, today, this effect is not as huge, as a lot of food chains are now here. But no harm trying a good meal. Do try to mingle with people during meal time too. Like during lunch/dinner, just sit down with strangers in dining hall and strike a conversation! :)

r) Fraternities/Sororities, while not everyone would want to be part of it, or not everyone will get used to those kind of life, do explore it as well. Maybe could be attend occasional parties there, visit your friends there etc. The network is something to learn and build too.

s) Give back to community there. Get involved in charity/community stuff there. It is a good way to know more about the people that live there. Interaction there will give you learning, while the people there will learn too.

t) Learn from the world, be it internet, libraries etc. Don't stop learning and don't just learn because it is going to be tested in exams. Education is way beyond it. It is about wholesome education and really learn how to learn.

u) Alumni network is crucial. Build up the ties, where it will become a community of learning together. Support one another, and this network will be applicable throughout your life.

v) While you need to put in the hours to get all the homework done, rush all the projects, and be ready for exams, don't let this be the only thing in your educational experience. Those are an integral part, but not let this affects your other parts of life.

w) Sports is a big part of university education, be it participate in it or attending those sports events. I definitely have a lot of memorable time in Lynah Rink, cheering for the Big Red ice hockey team.

x) Do internship. It will prepare you for the career world, especially if you are looking to go into career world after that. If you can't get a good internship in the summer of year 1, no harm getting it back home, but do explore different internships, and it could be ticket to your permanent job offer.

y) Whenever you need help, do ask for it. Whenever you need support, do ask for it. Don't be alone to go through it. The same if others need your help/support, do provide for them too.

z) And the most important thing is share with others what you know. Help others to reach their dream. While you might not realize it, what little effort that you have done, could mean a lot to some people. Lets make this world a better place and lets help others to reach their dream too!

I've finished all 26 alphabets. Guess I should stop. Before I end, I should say that attitude/character is very crucial. Start your university life with the right mentality. Go there with some self-confidence, but don't forget to stay humble. It is a platform for you to learn and grow and do go for it.

I wish you all the best and hope that you could share more ways to make full use of univesities life here too! (I know you're gonna say Facebook! Yes, it is true, Facebook, Gmail, Gchat, MSN is important too to keep in touch with others and make your work more efficient!


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25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written!

Those 4 years are as formative as the years in primary. A world of opportunities and a treasure of experiences.


To all the US-goers this year good luck and god bless!

Chen Chow said...

Thanks!

Mark Lee, a MIT alum also shared the following:-

"Don't know whether this is applicable at the undergraduate level, but they should look into cross-registration opportunities. For example, as an MIT graduate student, I took classes at Harvard Business School & Harvard Law School. Unfortunately, my dept head declined my request to study at Kennedy School of Government 'cos I was already way above the normal class load. Oh darn ...

Semester/year abroad. I'm sure most of the schools allow their students (undergraduates too) to spend sometime abroad at a partner institution. For example, I know MIT has a exchange student program with Cambridge U.

Two resources worth looking into:

A manga interpretation of Daniel Pink's book: The adventures of Johnny Bunko
http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2008/04/test-test.html

Instrumental vs. fundamental reasons for choosing a career
Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html "

Michael Chow said...

Thanks for the all advice (and networking as well).

Gabrielle said...

Thank you grandpa!

Ee Vonn said...

Wow Chen Chow! It's such a great post! Really good! :)

James Chin Sze Yih said...

Thanks for the advices, it gave me a lot of ideals of how to make my University life become more meaningful and remember back why I wanted to get in University.

Azri said...

a) Have fun! Try to enjoy your campus life. If you don't, then there is no meaning in life. So, main thing is explore on stuff that you like to do, or want to do and do it!
- i agree with this. universities in the US and in Malaysia are WWAAAYYY different. appreciate, enjoy and use every seconds of it.

e) If you have passion in research or plan to go for Master's/PhD, then do start doing research from year 1. Read up about the professor's research, go and meet them during office hour, and start from there!
- make friends with them, your advisor, your teaching assistant, or the seniors. they are very helpful

f) Do attend the office hours of professors/teaching assistants. Those are great time for you to learn from them. Discuss not just about homework/exam, but learn from them in general.
- i'm in Penn State, all the lecturers or TAs over here are very reliable. sometimes, i don't have to meet them during office hours, because they always there to help

i) Take courses that you like. While you might be majoring in a field, do try to explore to take courses that you hope to learn something from, or something that you hope to pick up a skill or two that will be helpful in your life. Be proactive in planning and don't forgo the opportuniites to take a course, because you are afraid that you can't do well in it. Don't think in that manner.
- agree. do what you like, not what others like.

j) Mingle with others. I am not saying that you shouldn't mingle with Malaysians, but you should mingle with others too. Try to go beyond your comfort zone and mingle. The Malaysians or Asians could be your supportive group, and there is nothing wrong in mingling with them. Actually, you shouldn't fully alienate this group too. But strike a balance, maybe spend 2 nights a week having dinner with the Malaysians, but not all 7 nights.
- agree. make friends with both Malaysians and International students.

m) University is the time to take risk and try out. No harm in trying out things and fail. It is a platform for you to learn and grow.
- 101% agree. this is the biggest opportunity to do whatever you aren't able to do in Malaysia.

n) Share what you know with others, and learn from others. University environment provides a lot of networking opportunities with fellow students and others. And everyone there is a potential source of your learning. While you are waiting for bus, while you are hanging out at your dorm's lounge, strike a conversation with others. You might create awareness in others or learn from others.
- Americans are SSOOOOO FRIENDLY!!!!. Even smiling or saying hi to them will be fine.

p) Traveling. During holidays, do go out and travel. Save up during semester and travel. It will broaden your horizon. Don't just go to those mega cities, but walk into civilizations, go into nature, go into new areas that you have never explored, and try to interact with the community there. Observe the people there. It is a lot of learning.
- There's too many places to travel in the US. Make friends with other people from other University. You might be able to stay at their place for free :P

r) Fraternities/Sororities, while not everyone would want to be part of it, or not everyone will get used to those kind of life, do explore it as well. Maybe could be attend occasional parties there, visit your friends there etc. The network is something to learn and build too.
- Frats or Sororities is not about drinking or partying every weekend (like what you see on TV or what you heard from other people.) There are Frats and Sororities offer leadership program, or something like that.

v) While you need to put in the hours to get all the homework done, rush all the projects, and be ready for exams, don't let this be the only thing in your educational experience. Those are an integral part, but not let this affects your other parts of life.

w) Sports is a big part of university education, be it participate in it or attending those sports events. I definitely have a lot of memorable time in Lynah Rink, cheering for the Big Red ice hockey team.
- I've never tried American Football in my life before. I thought it was a boring game just throwing the ball and that's it. Turn out it's a game about strategy and tactics. Give it a try games that can't be played in Malaysia, such as American Football, Ice Hockey, or baseball.

y) Whenever you need help, do ask for it. Whenever you need support, do ask for it. Don't be alone to go through it. The same if others need your help/support, do provide for them too.
- As I said before, these people are SOOOOO friendly. Don't afraid to ask questions.


Azri Azhar,
Pennsylvania State University,
2008-2012,
Engineering.

Anonymous said...

The same speaks true for almost every aspects of life and it begins at home, from Day 1 on the day you are born.

We can live our whole life and not know who we really are until we see ourselves through the eyes of others.

May the force be with you always.

Chen Chow said...

Thanks for all your sharings! All the best!

isha said...

i remember reading this when you first posted it, but i couldn't relate to it. USA seemed like a dream and i wasn't really into all these yet. everything you mentioned here seemed so alien to me. but now, i can relate to every single word you said and this post is really helpful. i come from the same background, and it's inspiring to see how you've gone through this and succeeded. thanks for this post :)

Chen Chow said...

Iswari, am sure those idea would make more sense when you step into Ithaca campus! :)

Really hope that you will be able to do much more than me. When you are there, take it a step at a time. Don't give yourself too much pressure. Do the stuff that you like to do, and explore. Keep an open mind!

Chen Chow said...

I miss out one tips. Make sure all of you have enough sleep and rest! :)

Yik Lun said...

ahhhh Iswari, i'm in the same situation as you!
perhaps more clueless than you.
there are so much opportunities i just can't figure out where to start.
thanks Chen Chow for this greatly written post!
will keep this and read it over & over again in the future =)

Chen Chow said...

Yik Lun, you all would know a lot more about US, compared to during my time.

When I went to Cornell, the only internet that I knew how to use was:-
a) Check my hotmail
b) Go to thestar.com.my to read news

I didn't know about Google, I didn't know about MSN/ICQ, Wikipedia/Facebook wasn't available then etc.

I hadn't even been on Cornell.edu ,before I stepped into the campus. What I know about the campus was from the brochure they sent to INTEC and also the ones that they sent to me.

Take it a step at a time, and slowly explore. One step at a time. Hope it would be useful!

isha said...

haha yik lun, this is gonna be my first flight you know. so you can see how clueless i am. hope i'll reach ithaca safely, lol. really clueless about changing flights and all that. and i need to change 4 flights =.= but it's gonna be an amazing learning experience :)

Chen Chow said...

Iswari, maybe you would want to take a test flight these couple of months. Go to Air Asia website and find a cheap flight and just take it to somewhere nearby.

Have you known your route already?

isha said...

maybe i can do that once i finish the foundation. i'm gonna book the same flight as tzer han, only thing is i'll go from klia while he goes from penang. his route is penang-spore-chicago-laguardia-ithaca.

i'm gonna book tomorrow. hoping to get the same flight. but don't know if sime will want to book something else. if they do, then i'll cancel this one.

Khye Theng said...

Very very well written chen chow! I can still use this article as my guiding point :)

Chen Chow said...

Iswari, from Chicago, you should fly Chicago-Detroit-Ithaca. It is much nearer than Chicago-La Guardia-Ithaca.

Total flight time (not counting the transit) would be 3 hours if via Detroit, and 4 hours if via La Guardia.

Might want to see transit time and cost to decide.

Do get Sime green light too.

joannez said...

i ::like:: this post so much !!

bryan chong said...

Aiyo chenchow I've already got 161 things to do, tambah another 26.

Wen Jun said...

haha bryan. anyway iswari, have you considered taking a flight straight to new york city? seems like you're making a lot of stops using your route.

iswari said...

hey wen jun, what's the easiest/best way to get to ithaca airport?

Wen Jun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wen Jun said...

hmmm i've only done that once and that was the first time i came here. i flew kl-stockholm-nyc-ithaca. there isn't the kl-stockholm-nyc route anymore as mas cancelled it and stockholm was just a 2-hour stopover. i guess u could check out airlines like cathay. those have only 1 stopover so u only need to change planes once in nyc.