‘A’ Is For Attitude

There is so much more to the world out there than just As. Go out and learn. Experience. Have the right attitude. The world is much bigger than that slip of paper with your results on it.

– Me, ‘A’ Is For Attitude, The Star (Malaysia), February 26th 2006

My First Person article has finally been published in today’s Sunday Star. It was originally a Letter to the Editor, but the Education department thought it’d work best as a standalone article with pictures, so after some coordination (and a one-week delay) it’s in the press.

I wrote that article mainly because I was completely ticked off at many of the letters coming in for the past month about As and results. Many were filled with misconceptions, melodrama, and stereotyping of people who do not place grades in such a top priority. Amongst the statements that really bothered me:

The only people who don’t care about As are rich.

Why? Because their families can buy them out of the education system? Because all rich people are inherently lazy? Having a lot of wealth also does not guarantee you of anything; you’ll still need to know how to manage your assets wisely. It’s like the As really; having it isn’t a golden ticket.

Admittedly many of the “cool” experiences do cost quite a substantial amount of money, but there are often scholarships and funding opportunities available, and if you’re willing and determined enough, you could find creative ways to support your dreams. There are alo many, many opportunities out there that aren’t extremely costly; I just returned from AWAM’s Writers for Women’s Rights workshop, 4 days of learning about the media and women’s issues with a group of interesting, lovely, energetic, passionate women – for free.

You need straight As to qualify for scholarships.

I mentioned this in the article: this isn’t necessarily true. Granted, many Malaysian scholarships do have this “grade factor”. However, that isn’t their only criteria. There’s also your own financial needs, your extra-curricular activities, whether you’re bonded to another scholarship (I always found this requirement a bit weird; Malaysia seems to be the only country I’ve seen with scholarships that prohibit you from any other forms of support…), what field you’d like to go in…and some others. In many other countries – USA especially – there is a higher emphasis placed on your personal accomplishments and skills – a mixed-grade student with a variety of experiences can, and does, win out over a straight-A student who does nothing else.

In the article, it sounded like I didn’t qualify for any scholarships because of my five As. That isn’t completely accurate; for me, it won’t have mattered how many As I’d get since I’d be automatically disqualified anyway – I’m merely a Permanent Resident, not a citizen; my parents aren’t in the poverty level; and there was absolutely nothing for arts or the media at the time. My sister was a straight-A student, top of the school (a premier school at that – that’s another argument for another day though), and wanted to go into the Sciences, but even that didn’t help her get Malaysian scholarships due to factors she couldn’t control.

The only people who don’t care about As are underachievers.

This really annoyed and offended me. Way to call me an “underachiever” after all the million things I did! Way to devalue the achievements of many other people in the country who may not have been straight-A scorers! I bet you’d think Albert Einstein was an underachiever too; after all, he didn’t do that well in school…

Look at all the people who get straight As in school – and then disapear into obscurity. The people who can’t get themselves into the school/job/scholarship of their dreams no matter how many As they get. The people who go through expensive college degrees – and can’t get a job. The people who think that because they have a clear transcript or a degree, everything will be presented to them on a golden platter – and then are surprised because, no, life doesn’t actually work that way. Who’s the underachiever here?

If I don’t get straight As, I have failed in life.

If missing out on one A could cause you to consider your life a “failure”, how will you cope with the bigger challenges in life? How would you cope with a retrenchment, a divorce, your house on fire, a loved one’s death? If just the lack of one A can scare you off, how would you fare with the rest of the scary, unknown life?

It’s this mentality that leads many students into mental trauma – or even suicide. So much importance and stress is placed on how many As one can get, and anything less is “undesirable”, a “failing”. Students end up thinking that this is the most important thing in their life, and when it doesn’t go their way, they panic. Absolutely no crisis management skills at all. Priorities are highly misplaced – and can have dangerous consequences.

Even if it doesn’t result in death or ill mental health, this over-emphasis on grades can negatively affect a person’s sense of confidence and resilience. Their entire life’s worth hinges on that elusive grade; not making the cut brings down their confidence level, which ends up in them being frozen and not sure of what else to do with their life. I’m seeing this now with my juniors: SPM results aren’t even out yet, and already they’re doubting themselves – what if I don’t do well? Can I actually pursue my dreams? What are my dreams? If there was a bigger emphasis on making it despite whatever life throws at you, they’d have no reason to doubt themselves; they’d be able to succeed no matter what.

I’ve had a few responses to this article from fellow bloggers. Phil writes about how the teachers, parents, government, and the media should be held responsible for the A craziness:

A child’s is not suppose to revolve around books, exams, tuitions and more homework – there are so much more out there for the child to experience that can never be fully explained or taught in books. Alas, many parents failed to realise this – to them, playtime is a waste of time which can be put into better use – studying.

Naoko argues that As are important for professional courses and that she’d rather her future child be graded on kindness rather than test papers:

So I made myself promise that if I had kids, I’d rather her/him (yes, I’ll be selfish and admit I want a daughter) I’d make her get A for being a kind person. I’d rather give her a treat for helping an elderly person cross the road than for a perfect test paper (On a side note, I once nearly got a perfect test paper in Std. 4). I would rather my daughter know right from wrong than for her to recite the values to me without understanding.

I disagree that As are super important for professional careers such as accountancy and medicine; they may help you get in, but they don’t guarantee that it would be a job done well – there’s still so much more, such as people skills, empathy, honesty, and others that never get graded and evaluated. However, the approach in rewarding human kindness is a good idea; perhaps one that can be further implemented by current and future parents, or even those who interact with kids very often.

The current system, with its super-emphasis on As in expense of all else, is highly myopic. Getting an A is not necessarily a reflection of intelligence or ingenuiety; rather, it’s more a reflection of memorization, rote learning, and playing by the restrictive rules. The system doesn’t adequately prepare one for real life, for creating your own opportunities, for being resillient and innovative and open to experiences. Insteads, it breeds a culture of entitlement – “oh, I got all As therefore I should get EVERYTHING” – and eventually disables people because they don’t know what else to do with themselves if the As aren’t there. It creates such a bubble, with students thinking that exams are a be-all and end-all of life, without considering what is going on with the rest of the world. (At least they can take an exam! So many people around the world can’t even go to school or get an education! They can’t even live long enough!)

Why so much pressure on As? Why highlight only the top scorers, and not “students with interesting achievements during the past year”? Why the myopia?

The world is so much bigger than just the tree where the paper of the results slip came from.

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The Thrill’s Just Starting

So plenty has happened ever since I thought about that thrill in my toes. It seems that the thrill is just about to begin.

My round of interviews for the World Bank Essay Competiton has started, and I've received some pretty good responses. I even managed to talk to Bob and DeeAnn over Skype (add me, I'm "divabat") and ask them questions. I suppose I could have done it better (DeeAnn was a last-minute addition so I was completely underprepared) but I did get what I wanted – or at least know who to ask from now – and it was 7:30 in the morning outside a McDonalds.

Why am I doing a Skype interview at 7:30 in the morning outside a McDonalds?

The move to Petaling Jaya was a bit frustrating – the apartment wa a bit dilapitated, but worse of all, there was no Internet. There was a LAN line, but it was disconnected. This frustrated me greatly because the only reason I even took this apartment (besides my dad vetoing all my other choices out) was because the previous tenant had said there was a connection. And now I have to pay RM60 a month for at least six months, when I probably won't live here that long. There is a Maxis WiFi connection, which I still have to pay for (RM33 monthly) but it's not very strong on the 15th floor, especially not at odd hours of the day. Hence the early morning interview outdoors, where the signal is clearer. (Even as I'm writing this, the signal is coming and going, and I'm theoritically in the area with the best reception – nearest to the balcony.)

I have indeed started my job with Channel [V] International at their Petaling Jaya office. My job title is "Production Assistant", and despite all the warnings from SoYouWanna.Com and other production websites about how menial the job is, I have yet to make anyone coffee or peel self-bought oranges or book manicures. Instead, in the past three days of work, I've been compiling Oscar trivia to be used by one of our VJs on the Red Carpet, writing scripts for the same VJ on a different TV show, standing in for another VJ for a light/camera test, making one of my colleagues (and new found friend) who sits diagonally across from me in awe of me as I keep coming up with quick and easy Internet solutions for everything he needs, and structuring & designing the first ever Channel [V] Oscars PreShow on the Red Carpet, featuring the trivia list I was working on, to be aired on [V] before the official Red Carpet Preshow.

I'm pretty surprised that they assigned me the Preshow-Preshow on only my third day, especially since I don't have any actual television experience. As it is, they've never had the chance to do this sort of show before (this is the first time they've had access to something like this) so there isn't a set sample structure, and I'm prety much working on this alone. I would have expected at least a team effort. I wonder if they have loads of confidence in me to trust me to such a major job (too much confidence, maybe?) or if this is really something really easy and I'm just too inexperienced to know better. In any case, I'd better work on pulling this off, because then it'll give me leverage to apply for leave come April.

Yes, I've been confirmed to perform in the Premire of Up With People's new Show and Program. I've been accepted into the PreStaging. The thing that would have given me my biggest thrill. And I've got it.

It's working out really well actually. Right about now Malaysia Airlines is holding a promotional Travel Fair, and I'm entitled to save up to RM400 on tickets (this is including taxes and fees and all – it would be a LOT cheaper if it wasn't for the USD320 add-on taxes). I've been in touch with my ex-host family and they've agreed to host me again. I already have a US visa, so that isn't a problem for me. All that's standing in the way is the application for leave, which I can do at the latest by mid-March – besides, the boss already knows of my plan. Obviously, though, they would be more supportive of giving me time off if I've worked hard enough to deserve it, rather than if I've just been slacking off so far.

Which, to be honest, I have been. I should be working on the essay or the show structure but instead I've spent the whole day going online, catching up on my Bloglines subscriptions, and stalking my friends on Friendster to see if there's anyone I know that I haven't added in yet.

Technically, that's a lie. I have been doing other things besides being glued to the computer. This morning I went to take the IELTS exam for use for entry into Malaysia (because claiming English as your first language, even if it really is your first language, doesn't really cut it if your native language is Malay and your mother tongue is Bengali. Long story.) It's not nearly as mindless as my sister made it out to be – for goodness sake, how am I to come up with off-the-cuff remarks about whether or not it's a good idea to restrict air travel due to pollution if I don't have time to do proper research?! – but it wasn't too bad. It was interesting that my topic for the Speaking section was adult education…it was too bad that there was a time limit, I could have gone on further.

Tomorrow there should be a meeting with some of the other people in the Brick In The Wall project, a project to promote alternative education in Malaysia. If you're reading this in Malaysia and you're interested, join the YahooGroup or come by on Sunday 19th February 2006 at 2:30 PM at McDonalds Sec 14, next to Jaya Shopping Centre. We'll be talking about how to simplify our plans and actually realize them – as well as drafting mini-proposals for projects like a youth group in Thailand that's giving grant money for this sort of thing. Maybe we'll get something worked out.

Tomorrow there was meant to be an article from me in The Star's Education section – originally a letter written in response to all the letters sent in the past couple of weeks about getting As in exams. I was basically fed up with people who wrote in saying "if I miss a single A I am a failure" and "the only people who don't care about As are underachievers or rich" and so on, so I wrote back detailing all the various experiences I had that had nothing to do with my exam results. The editor called me up the next day and asked if they could publish it as a feature, with accompanying photos. I agreed, and sent in some photos (and a slightly polished up version of the letter; I wrote the original close to midnight and was quite sleepy) – though unfortunately I heard soon after that my article would be postponed to the following Sunday due to space issues. Oh well! Keep an eye out on the Sunday Star and try to look for one of my articles. I'll post it here with comments when it's published.

When I was at the IDP Centre to take the IELTS test, I noticed a sign for their upcoming roadshows – "Aussie Fairs". Their KL roadshow would be held on Saurday the 4th of March, at Pan Pacific Hotel. One day after my IELTS test results are released, on a weekend, and hopefully I'll have time to get my certificates released from college too. Then I can show up at the roadshow with all my materials, and start applying – good thing the application fees are waived too. I could also probably see what sort of courses are out there that fit my new-found perspective and interests.

That, though, is a post for another day. For now, let's just mull over the different opportunities that have arisen, marvel at the gifts of the Universe, and feel that thrill in our toes again.

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International Education Conference, Cambodian Blogger Wants A Meetup, and One Life Live UK

Some events happening within the next few weeks that are worthy of mention:

1. Monash University will be holding a conference on International Education, A Matter of Heart at the following:

Dates: 13-16 February 2006 (pre-conference seminar on the 13th, conference proper from 14th-16th)
Venue: Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Prices: AUS$750 – AUS$950 (RM2060 – RM2610)

Keynote speakers include Professor Richard Larkins, Vice-Chancellor and President of Monash University Australia; Professor Merilyn Liddell, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia; and many others. The conference is divided into four streams, with various international speakers and topics:

  • Imports and Exports: The ‘Business’ of Education
  • Transnational Flows of People and Knowledge
  • Transnational Experiences: The Heart of the Matter
  • Higher Education in Developing Nations

Visit their website for more information and registration, or download the PDF file of the conference topics.

2. One of the speakers in the conference, John Weeks @ Jinja from Cambodia, would like to organize a meet-up with Malaysian bloggers. He will be presenting “Blogs in Higher Education” in the conference. He is staying at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel on the 13th, and planning to move to somewhere cheaper later, but is unfamiliar with KL.

If you would like to meet up with him (he plans to meet up on the 12th, 13th, or 14th) or know where to stay/where to meet up, do contact him. I’m thinking of meeting up with him too and it’ll be good to have a group meet.

3. For those of you in the United Kingdom, One Life Live, together with The One Account and British newspaper The Independent is holding their lifestyle exhibition at:

Dates: 3-5 March 2006
Venue: Olympia Grand, London, England, UK
Prices: £10 in advance; £13 on the door

From their website:

Do you dream of giving up your job for something more fulfilling – perhaps taking a career break to travel the world, moving overseas, retraining for a new career, starting your own business or just improving the life you’re living right now.

… One Life Live is the most innovative lifestyle event of 2006. Appealing to a generation who dream of breaking free from the daily grind to pursue a new professional or personal goal, One Life Live brings together all the options in one place – giving you both the inspiration to make a change, along with very real solutions to ensure you can achieve your dream.

The exhibition aims to showcase various options for those who need a break from their careers or lives, or even wish to start all over. They’ve divided themselves into four zones:

  • Take A Break, providing opportunities for short-term travel, adventures, or volunteering – exhibitors include Raleigh International and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
  • Living The Dream, with resources on acheiving life-long dreams through migration – exhibitors include government agencies for Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, and Bulgaria, as well as companies specializing in migration
  • Starting Afresh, for those who want to restart their careers and acquire new skills – exhibitors include various business and educational institutions, from government bodies BusinessLink and Companies House to The Metropolitan Police Service and The Academy of Hypnotic Arts
  • In The Meantime, for those who can’t afford to make a major life change but still want to make their life more fulfilling – exhibitors include the The International Federation of Aromatherapists; TimeBank, a national charity dedicated to volunteering; and Whatever Next?, a company that bills itself as offering “not quite coaching, not quite consultancy, not quite organisational development, not quite counselling…but a unique and stunningly simple combination containing elements of all four!”

This is such a great and brilliant idea for an exhibition; resources on rebuilding your life or even just refreshing it. It sure makes a deep contrast from the rat-race, “finish school-go to college-graduate-get job-get married-have kids” mentality. We have loads of exhibitions in Malaysia on higher education, on furnishings, on beauty and health, on books, on cars, on properties, on weddings…but never about living your life to the fullest and growing from it the best you can.

Imagine an exhibition just like this in Malaysia – perhaps extended not just to “career breaks” but to “school breaks” too. Exhibitors can come from travel companies, study abroad programs, Rakan Muda-related programs, immigration and migration departments of various countries, tourism departments, companies like Cloudbreak or The Actors Studio that already provide some sort of alternative educational opportunity in Malaysia, music schools, art schools, dance schools, media (The Star’s BRATs or Hitz.FM Radio DJ Workshops)…it could go on and on.

To the Malaysians reading this blog: what would be good for an alternative education/life exhibition?

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CloudBreak Open Forum & The Experientual Learning Cycle

The Cloudbreak Creative Skills Centre is holding a free open talk/forum on Unlocking Your Child’s Creative Potential at the following:

Cloudbreak Creative Skills Centre
P2-2 Plaza Damas
Sri Hartamas
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Date: Saturday 18th February 2006
Time: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Their UK trainer, Brian Jones, will introduce their Cycle of Experiential Learning, marketed by Cloudbreak as

…an essential programme pioneered by Cloudbreak to balance the academic focus of Malaysia’s present learning system and ensure a better future for your children.

The Experiential Learning Cycle is actually a concept developed by many educational theorists, with works and research on learning styles going as far back as the 1920s. The CEDPA Training Trainers Manual defines experiential learning as:

Learning by reflecting and then drawing conclusions from your own experience in order to apply them to similar situations in the future.

While the models differ from theorist to theorist, it is generally agreed that the cycle consists of four elements:

Experiential Learning Cycle
  • Experiencing – taking in an experience through all the senses
  • Reflecting – reacting to the experience intuitively, emphasizing on feelings, emotions, and past experience (What just happened to me?)
  • Generalizing – analysing the experience logically, generating concepts and ideas and constructing meanings (So what?)
  • Applying – using the concepts and ideas gained from the experience and applying it to different situations and experiences (Now what?)

This cycle is also often seen as a spiral and not just a circle, signifying growth and evolution as new concepts are applied to new situations and new knowledge is gained.

Much of alternative education is based on experiental learning – learning through active involvement rather than just passive study. Indeed, many organizations involved in alternative education use this cycle in their curriculum (most notably study abroad programs, such as Up With People, whose entire program is based on this cycle), not just Cloudbreak.

It is still quite a new concept in Malaysia though – a country whose education system is largely based on rote memorization, conformity, and strict intepretations – and it’s heartening to see organizations like Cloudbreak introduce and promote this system of learning to the Malaysian masses. Their March school holiday programs look promising, with youth workshops on creative writing, theater, and cooking (or, as they’ve described it, “kitchen theatre”) – definitely a change from endless tuition classes on the same old subjects!

To get more information about the workshops and the school holiday programs, contact Cloudbreak’s office at +603 6201 7701 or email them at mycloudbreak@gmail.com.

(Thank you to MyWordUp for the heads-up and the Applied Education Team from Up With People for the information on the Experiential Learning Cycle. Chart and information garnered from Amazon.Com: Processing the Experience by John L. Lucknet and Reldan S. Nadler)

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Cross That Bridge: A Journey With Semester At Sea

Sitting in on my last Global Studies class today, a voice whispered to me…
One day you finally knew what you had to do and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting,
though the whole house trembled,
though the wind pried it’s stiff fingers around your very foundation,
though the melancholy was terrible.
Little by little you left their voices behind
and the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice which you recognised as your own.
As you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do the only thing you could do-
determined to save the only life you could save.

Long live this journey!

– Sony Stark, Pregnant With Poetry

Sony Stark, New York-based videographer, has just returned from a 3-month trip shooting a documentary on Semester At Sea, an international education program best described as “university on a ship”. Through her trip, she posted articles about Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Mauritius Island, South Africa, Brazil, and Venezuela for GoNomad, a website promoting alternative ways of travelling. Besides those cities, she has also travelled to Hong Kong, China, Japan, Hawaii, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, NYC, and Quebec City. She is also currently working together with GoNomad to create a 13-episode series on adventure travel and volunteer work.

Her blog, which chronicles her trip as well as the rest of her travelling life, is at crossthatbridge, so if you’re curious about Semester at Sea, multi-country educational programs, or alternative travel in general, do pay her a visit.

It would be interesting to see the TV show once it airs; it sounds like Globe Trekker or Lonely Planet Six Degrees but with an altruistic, educational twist. Perhaps this will bring alternative travel-based education programs some much needed attention, awareness, and publicity.

Thank you to BlogHer for the tip!

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Thrill To Your Toes

A while ago one of my horoscopes (I'm a Libra if you're interested in knowing) told me that I will – or should – be doing something that "thrills [me] to [my] toes". That got me thinking about what exactly does thrill me to that extent; that feeling of knowing you're doing what you're supposed to be doing in your life, that you're on the right path.

Right now, after much musing and thinking, I've decided on what I'm going to do, at least for the beginning of this year. I have taken up the job offer with Channel [V] International; I'll be working with them as a Production Assistant for at least three months, with a possible web facilitation job on the way. This involves relocating to Petaling Jaya, which also allows me to be more involved in arts and activism, since such activities are based around that area. I have been accepted into AWAM's (All Women's Action Society) Writers For Women's Rights workshop later this month; if I can finagle two days of leave, I'll most likely go. I haven't heard anything yet regarding the Up With People PreStaging, though it did look positive at the beginning; I've already made it clear with my contact – and future boss! – at [V] that if I get the opportunity, I'll take it, even if it means taking 2 weeks off and replacing that when I return. In what seems like an act of serendipity, on the first day of work, the Women's Aid Organization's Creative Changers group is holding a meeting later that evening; I've been a member from the beginning but this will be the first time I'll actually get to take part in person.

As for the rest of the year? Well, Up With People's Employment page hasn't been updated yet; it won't be until April. As a fall-back plan, I'm applying to a bunch of Australian universities (including one to satisfy my dad's request), with a choice in degrees ranging from Arts to Media to International Relations. So if I'm not travelling across the US, Japan, and Europe in the latter half of 2006, at least I'd be travelling to Australia.

The funny thing about all this, though, is that I haven't felt that "thrills to my toes" feeling yet with any of those choices. Sure, working with Channel [V] had been a dream for quite a while, and I am in a far better situation than most fresh grads would be (for starters, I have higher pay than usual). In the media and television field, this is a golden tickets; it's as entry-level as it gets, but it's a lot more necessary and useful than a degree would be in many cases, as it provides exposure – it exposes you to the people in the world of television, and the world of television is truly exposed to you. The Malaysian arts, entertainment, and activism scene is so small anyway; know one person, be connected to just about everyone else. Australia is a country that I love dearly, and their undergraduate degree choices are a lot more flexible and interesting than what I've experienced so far: interdisplinary, a wide variety of things to learn, opportunities to study abroad in yet another country or two. It's not like I'll be completely losing out.

And yet, the most I'm feeling is a little sense of pre-job jitters. Anticipation for the new opportunities, yes, but also a sense that things could have been a lot more interesting. What am I doing in a field that doesn't hold much priority for me now? What am I doing pandering to other people's requests anyway? What am I doing with a fall-back plan – am I only guaranteeing myself a "fall-back"? Where's the thrill?

I've had a few moments in my life that really thrilled me through my whole body and soul – a strong feeling that this was where I was meant to be and this was what I was meant to be doing.

  • Winning tickets to see Savage Garden in showcase in KL in 2000, and then actually seeing them live in person
  • Making a fansite for Channel [V]'s By Demand and letting them know about it
  • Signing up for BRATs
  • Being in the audience at an American Idol concert in Washington, DC in 2003 and feeling the crowd's energy
  • Doing a radio show as part of Power 98 FM Singapore's Radio Workshop
  • Being on stage during Orientation Week in college basically mocking and imitating our MC, which led to popularity, opportunities, and a close friendship with my mock target
  • Being involved in activism through Amnesty International and a few other things
  • Participating in Hitz.FM's Radio Icon on a whim, getting good reviews from the DJs themselves
  • Everything from the moment I looked at the Up With People website (WorldSmart then), to the application form, to the interview, to the anticipation, to the YahooGroup, to the actual trip, to now

Many times these moments led to other thrill-like moments; opportunities that were fun and enjoyable and quite the learning process. Almost all of them were preceded (or accompanied) by a deep feeling within my heart, the feeling of excitement and anticipation and near-anxiety and pure thrill. And I yearn to feel that thrill again, as strongly as before, perhaps even more so.

I did feel a slight thrill when I sent off the email to my now-future-boss in [V] directly asking for a job – and the surprise when I found out that, not only did they want to give me a job, they also had a far better job in mind for me, and they were willing to pay what I asked for – which was higher than the market price. (Mainly I felt very surprised that I had the audacity to do it in the first place.) I felt quite a thrill when I sent off the application for the PreStaging, and got back a pretty encouraging email thanking me for my interest and passion. The thought of going to university isn't necessarily off-putting; at the very least, it's a change of scenery.

But I know there is a bigger thrill out there.

Given the choice or chance, I'd continue travelling around the world, helping people along the way. Ideally, I'd be Road Staff with Up With People, doing development and bridging work; I'd research the needs, wants, challenges, and opportunities of the crew members, the host communities, and the organization, and develop strategies to help them along – helping a student with their plan after the program, facilitating a Special Project, keeping tabs on the progress of a previous Community Impact project, introducing the crew to the families that will host them.

If not – or rather, then after – I'd just take part in lots more educational travel opportunities – classes with Semester at Sea, a voyage as student or staff on the Peace Boat, joining the Friends World Program and learning about cultures and religions. Heck, I could go in a spiritual retreat for a while. I'd meet up with all my friends and loved ones everywhere and anywhere, and together we'd travel and learn about the world around us. I'd look for opportunities to let other people explore and experience the vast opportunities out there – and do it. I'd start a revolution and get people moving. I'd get things written, things typed up, things uploaded, things downloaded, things thought, things done. And, best of all, I'd get a degree eventually…a honourary one, for I have learnt through experience and taught through experience and have gained and shared enough experience in the University of Life. (or, at the very least, I could get credit for everything I've done and get an interdisplinary degree from a place like Goddard or Empire State, which apparently lets you do such a thing.)

Then again, a lot of the thrills in my life have been complete surprises. Up With People was a complete surprise. Radio Icon and BRATs were done on a whim. No one could have forseen the reaction I got from making that fansite for Channel [V] – heck, it only came about because I got rejected from AFS Malaysia and wrote in to By Demand to console myself. Who knows what the next surprise will be – it wouldn't be a surprise if I really knew.

I'm lucky, in the sense that I am aware of myself enough to know what thrills me, and to actually go ahead with it. Most people in my situation – young, Malaysian, somewhere in the schooling age – have become rather desensitized to that feeling of passion, of the thrill. Schools do not spend a lot of time on following your dreams or your passion. There are a thousand seminars on "how to score all As in your exams" but none on "how to find your passion in life". Personality and interest didn't matter anymore; only the ability to be top grade cattle.

When I was in school, I suggested to my teachers a seminar on "what to do with your life after school". Things such as how to be independent, how to manage your own life, how to survive without the safety net of school. I got laughed at. Last year I went back to my old secondary school and talked to my juniors about the various possibilities they had after school, beyond "go to university before your SPM results are announced". Study abroad, gap years, volunteering, creative ventures, alternative education. I received massive response from the students; they had never heard anything like this before from anyone, and it sparked a lot of ideas and inspiration. The teachers, however, didn't seem to be as pleased – mainly because I kept going on about how it's not worth stressing over As when what really matters is what you do with whatever life throws at you. About how, in the long run, those As don't matter; your will and tenacity does.

Yet this seems to be a common theme. In the past few weeks there's been a run of letters in The Star's Education Section about not getting all As. One letter made me sad; the writer talked about how losing out on one A could mean complete loss of confidence, that they'd never be sucessful.

Oh, at least you can learn! At least you can write! At least you can read! Many people would crave to be in your situation, dear people who fret over one non-A! At least you know what an A is! And besides, exams (Malaysian ones anyway) aren't as much a measure of intellegence and creativity as they are a measure of regurgitation and rote learning. If losing out on one subject could lead to such a drop in confidence, how will you fare when bigger, more important, challenges in life come by – the death of a loved one, the loss of a golden opportunity, sheer survival? Why base your self-worth on an arbitary grading of arbitary knowledge?

A new ezine named Vision Monthly has recently launched, with various inspirational articles from the blogging world. One such article is from Kirsten Johnson of dream big, who asks:

what makes you come alive?

It's worth reading (it's a free PDF file) and it may help you find that thing that gives your passion, no matter how many A1s or B3s or whatever you get in your SPM or STPM. The thing that truly thrills you to your toes.

Actually, I may have already figured out what I need to do to get that thrill back in my toes. I have an idea for the World Bank 2006 Essay Competition (as posted previously) and it's sparked a lot of possibility. That idea, combined with the PreStaging and a possible job for the July 2006 semester of Up With People, highly motivated me, and I felt that buzz of passion deep in my heart again. That feeling of excitement and anticipation and near-anxiety and pure thrill. The thrill to my toes.

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World Bank 2006 Essay Competition – Wanted: Your Practical Ideas!

The World Bank has launched their annual Essay Competition for youths 18-25. This year’s topic is Wanted: Your Practical Ideas!

Today is your world! You’re making a difference. You’re working to solve community problems, such as lack of access to education or jobs, the spread of HIV/AIDS or conflict. Yet, the impact of your work does not always receive enough exposure and recognition. Participate now and have your voice heard! The World Bank and its partners invite you to participate in the International Essay Competition 2006 to share your experience and ideas on community work and participation in public life.

To participate, one has to write an essay of no more than 10 pages (4000 words), including a one-page abstract, on one of the two topics:

  • How do you contribute to solving community problems?
  • How do you influence decision making?

Essays should be based either on personal experience, or on ideas. Essays will be graded on originality, clarity, and the use of concrete examples and proposals. The jury consists of people from various world-class universities and development councils, including the University of Texas – San Antonio, Cairo University Egypt, AIESEC International, and much more.

Winners will get between $1000 – $5000 in cash prizes, publication of their essays, as well as participation in the Annual Bank Conference of Development Economics in Tokyo, Japan, on May 29-30 2006.

The deadline for essays is midnight (Central Eastern Time) April 2 2006.

For more information on the topics, submission details, and the competition, visit the official competition site.

Thank you to BlogHer for the tip!

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