Hey 16-Year-Olds (And Women) – Oprah Wants You!

I don’t usually make more than one post in a day, but this was just too interesting to pass up.

Top talk show host Oprah Winfrey is looking for 16-year-old youths around the world to profile in an upcoming episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. From their website:

Are you a 16-year-old girl living outside the United States? Where do you live(city and country)? The Oprah show is doing a program comparing the lives of 16-year-old girls living in different countries all over the world. Tell us what life is like in your home country. Tell us about your family- what makes them unique? Are you extremely wealthy or poor? What are your interests? Favorite activities? What is shopping and fashion like? Do teenagers diet, exercise, get plastic surgery? What do you do for fun with your friends? What is your current dating situation? Do you work? If so, where? Do you volunteer? What do you do that is extraordinary? What are your goals? What are your fears? We are interested in your story. Please be prepared to share your views on camera.

If you or another 16-year-old in your life fits the bill, fill up the form here. Who knows, you might just be interviewed by Oprah herself! Pass the word on too.

In the meantime, check our her list of The 50 Young People Oprah Wants You To Meet, the winners of her National High School Essay Writing Competition. Some very inspirational people in there.

EDIT: If you’re over 16, don’t fret – Oprah’s also looking for women around the world, regardless of age. You just have to be from outside the USA.

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Levi’s 501 Day & Youth Festivals

I’ll like to say hello to everyone who came in here from Levi’s 501 Day Stay True event. I hope you had a good time at the event, and with our booth in particular. A personal account of the day can be found at my friend Patricia’s blog (she helped me the whole day) and photos can be found at Dustyhawk’s website.

Being at the 501 Day was interesting, to say the least. There were plenty of youths there with their own passions and interests – an upcoming singer/songwriter (his booth was next to ours and he’s the most sincere person I’ve ever seen), illustrators, a young fashion designer who stopped school just before the SPM to start his own line (his booth was a work of art), and extreme sports enthusiasts – even the Juventus fan club. There were also plenty of local bands and some displays of local fashion designers.

The reception to The Educated Deviants were mainly neutral – our booth wasn’t quite as flashy, mainly due to a lack of decorative elements (I had transported all our materials from Johor and didn’t have a large budget or a lot of space, so we didn’t put up things like signs and displays which would have helped a lot) and admittedly we also didn’t have a lot of focus, seeing as our booth was on a more abstract topic.

Patricia’s brother Phillip came up with the genius idea to put all our “Being Educated Deviants” booklets in the goodybags, which made me wish I had printed more (there were 501 bags and only 200 booklets) and our idea of letting people draw on the jeans – an idea discovered by accident while sewing on patches the night before – was a hit. Patricia was also an excellent salesperson, and she managed to market the concept very well.

Some people from TV3 and SISTERS magazine came to our booth, and gave us some good ideas and tips; TV3 seemed interested to feature us on their new TV show “Flow”, which is all about getting youths to think outside the box. Thank you to the both of you, and hopefully something works out very well!

It did feel a bit odd to be there. Our booth wasn’t “cool” by comparsion, and I almost got the feeling that we were somewhat unwanted. Even before the event, while in the application stages, the event company had told us that Levi’s might have felt that our concept was “boring”. It didn’t help that there were glitches during the day that majorly affected us – the audio on the DVD players went out, so I ended up having to talk over the DVD (and basically babble like a fool), there by losing the whole point of the DVD.

We were also passed over for an interview by Adam (8TV, Hitz.TV) during the second session due to a “lack of time”. This seemed very unprofessional, as during the first session there were plenty of glitches that delayed Emir – a young upcoming MC who is also a dear friend of mine – from interviewing all the booths, but he managed to get all the booths in and still have an hour to spare.

Overall this was definitely a learning experience, and I did manage to meet very interesting and passionate people and also get a few ideas. The Stay True event seemed a bit like a great idea that slightly lacked in execution, though, and it got me thinking about how youth festivals like these could have been better managed and executed.

1. A wider variety of exhibitors – save for The Educated Deviants, the booths at the Stay True event were all about arts or sports. It’s great that these initiatives were encouraged, but it was also very telling that there weren’t more NGOs, student projects, awareness & charity projects, technical & scientific projects, or other types of youth involvement projects featured on 501 Day.

Having a greater mix of exhibitors – type, size, and so on – would make the event more interesting and increase chances of networking and collaboration across exhibitors – for instance, a comics group could produce a comic book about science for a group of young scientists.

2. Better promotion and outreach – I was lucky to have heard of this opportunity from receiving an email at work in Channel [V]. Many of the other participants had known the people in the event company one way or another. (I wonder how many people heard about it through here!) The opportunity to participate in the event wasn’t as widely publicised as it could have been.

While there is definitely something to be said for word-of-mouth, the organizers should have taken advantage of the media, youth groups, educational facilities, and other means to get a greater pool of potential exhibitors and performers. The needed variety could have happened if more people knew that this opportunity was available.

3. Better financial support – the only thing us exhibitors received from Levi’s were a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. (We didn’t even get goody bags, unlike the visitors.) The event company said that we should have expected this, seeing as normally we’d need to pay for space; I see their point, but it struck me (and some others) as being very off.

Up With People, who are really in need of money, gave each of us in the Denver “Cast P” Premiere US$20 as a “thank-you” and to help cover for local transportation costs (buses, trains, etc); AWAM gave free hotel accomodation, meals, and other amenities – including a transportation stipend – to all participants of their Writer’s for Women’s Rights workshops without demanding payment from anyone. If these two non-profits – who are not exactly the richest people ever – could give so much, surely Levi’s with their high profits and bigger bank accounts could afford to give more; instead, we had to buy our own meals (Zouk had told us that food would be served on premises; this was false) and use our own money for supplies and transportation.

Even a stipend (perhaps RM200-RM500 per booth) for materials and basic necessities would have helped so much, both ways – the exhibitors would be able to supply their booth with more and really display their passion, while Levi’s would get more motivated people (and perhaps even a greater pool of applicants). After all, all of us were just youths with a dream; we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough.

4. Better management of permits – the morning of the event, we heard about the earthquakes in Indonesia and wanted to collect donations; however, we were told that we couldn’t do that since Levi’s needed a permit for the exchange of money. (This also stopped all of us from selling anything.)

This may not necessarily be the organizers’ fault, but it is pretty unfortunate, since it severely limits the exhibitors and their activities. For instance, Yvoone Foong won’t have been able to sell her T-shirts for neurofibramatosis even though it would have been an amazing opportunity for her to raise much-needed funds, what with the traffic and the audience. Allowing some exchange of money – even if it’s just on a donation basis – would attract attention and help out a lot of people., directly or indirectly.

5. Greater professionalism – The event management company really dropped the ball through the multiple technical glitches that happened throughout the event. The mics (cordless and corded) went mute and sound didn’t return till about 20 minutes later; a “power trip” conked out the audio on my DVD.

I’ve been in events with far lower budgets – and manpower – which was more on the ball with technicalities; spare batteries were always available, power was closely monitored, and any glitches were quickly repaired. This needed major improvement.

6. Better respect for the exhibitors – There was a stark difference between Emir, who handled the booth interviews for the first session, and Adam, who did the interviews for the second session: Emir made an effort to get to know all the booths (he talked to all the exhibitors prior to the start of the event) and asked them relevant questions related to their passions and interests, while Adam seemed to be just going through the motions and didn’t really show an interest in any of us (he sometimes kept asking the most obvious of things). Despite Emir’s time being cut short and rearranged (due to the tech problems) he fought for every booth to be featured, and he won; Adam skipped a booth (ours) and didn’t even bother to notify us – Emir had to find out on our behalf.

Emir was the “amateur” (this is his first professional gig) while Adam was supposedly the “professional” celebrity, but in this case they might as well have swapped. The booths in general didn’t get as much respect as they could have; more attention was given to the stage, and although we were told that we were the heart of the event, we felt a bit like an incidental appearance.

7. Actually be about the passion, not just about the cool factor – The aim of the Stay True event was to “stay true to yourself”, but it seemed to me that there was a certain description of “staying true”, as though the organizers only wanted to promote a certain brand of “true”. It was also a bit odd that the band with the biggest reception at the event was essentially a Fall Out Boy covers band (they were highly enthusiatic, but not really original) while bands with original works didn’t get quite the same response.

The email response to our application (about Levi’s thinking education may be boring), and us being skipped over (even though some booths had already left, which should have given us more time), as well as the general lack of variety, also spoke volumes.

If you’re going to promote youth passions, then promote youth passions, no matter where they lie – don’t just limit yourself to a certain type of “passion”.

It is a step in the right direction – especially since there seems to be a current trend in Malaysia of decrying youth passions and denouncing youth as useless at best and troublemakers at worst – but there is more to a journey than a single step. I envision something like One Life Live UK (a major exhibition in the UK about ways to restart your life), with a greater supply of exhibitors and activities, better support and management, and a greater feeling of purpose and passion.

Hopefully this is a learning experience for all, and let’s take the lessons here as preparation for future events – and let’s HAVE future events! We could definitely use more youth festivals like these.

(on another note: I’ll like to say hello to everyone at Wassup.com.my, who is publishing EducateDeviate’s RSS feed on their front page, and TotalFark.Com – I don’t know what link is leading you here, since TotalFark is a pay site and I can’t check, but I hope you like what you see!)

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Get Googled: Internships, Jobs, Scholarships, and More

Well-known search behemoth Google has always highly innovative in their implementation of technology.

As an example, they’ve collected some of their services – GMail, Google Talk, Google SMS, Blogger, Google Desktop Search, Google Scholar (to look through academic journals), and Picasa (for pictures) – and combined them all to a service called College Life, which allows you to access all the services from one page. It seems to be in the beginning stages; hopefully it’ll become more robust and useful, perhaps as a portal for all relevant services (including those not on College Life yet, such as Book Search, which I’m surprised isn’t there yet) or as a way to provide college-specific information.

There is more to Google than just their web tools though. Google is known for being very supportive of education, with a variety of opportunities available to students around the world (yes, Malaysia too!). Here are some things found in the Students section of Google Jobs:

Google has plenty of full-time jobs and internships geared towards students in computer science and software engineering. You can apply to gain work experience in the US, Australia, Brazil, Japan, India, and some other places. The benefits are great too – free food, freedom of dress code, laundry and dry-cleaning, swimming pools, and so much more! There are plenty of positions available, so take a look.

To help you along the way, they have come up with some resume & interview tips to get you prepared. Some of the information is Google-specific – their interviews will be technical, they’ll ask you to write code, etc – but there are also tips that can be applied to any job situation, such as how much information should you put in a resume.

One very interesting program they have is the Google Pizza Program – which is basically what the name is about. Computer Science students are picked to be Pizza Ambassadors and deliver pizzas to their peers and classmates during crunch time (such as exams or assignment due dates). They will also get some cool Google gear and represent Google on campus. It looks to be US-specific at the moment, but it’s a cute model that can be adopted by other companies too (for example, The Star, which has teamed up with Pizza Hut to provide pizza parties to winners of the Newspaper-in-Education contests).

There is an amazing opportunity for students outside the US though – and yes, that includes all you Malaysians. Google has plenty of scholarships on offer – including the 2006 Google Global Community Scholarship for the Grace Hopper Conference. A group of female students from outside the USA will be sponsored by Google to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in San Diego, USA from October 4th – 7th, 2006.

To qualify, you will need to be:

  • Enrolled full-time in their undergraduate or graduate study in a university outside of the United States
  • In Computer Science, Computer Engineering, or related technical field major
  • Maintaining a strong academic background with demonstrated leadership ability

From the website:

How To Apply

Visit the link below to complete the online application:
https://ssl.linklings.net/conferences/ghc2006/


Please mention that you are applying for the Google Global Community Scholarship in the first sentence of the essay portion of your application.

Required materials for online submission will include:

  • Name & Email
  • Summer contact information
  • Current and permanent address & phone number
  • University name, faculty member contact information
  • Estimated travel costs for the conference
  • Answers to a few short answer questions and one essay question

You can contact them at gracehopper@google.com for more questions or to send in resumes & transcripts to support your application. Applications close June 1st 2006 and results will be announced in August.

Being involved with Google is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will definitely boost your career and your life in general. If you get the chance, take it! And good luck.

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6-Month Exchange in the USA – With Scholarships!

The Star’s Youth2 has just reported on an amazing opportunity for Malaysian youths wishing to experience American culture one-on-one.

AFS Malaysia and the US State Department have come together to give Malaysian students aged 15-18 (and disabled Malaysian students 15-17) the opportunity to take part in a six-month intercultural exchange to the United States. You’ll get to stay with American families and experience the culture first-hand.

Best of all, there is a full scholarship!

I’ve lived with American host families before (through Up With People and they are amazing people. So friendly, so warm, and often a brilliant learning experience. They weren’t hung up about what culture you are or where you’re from; they were willing to teach and learn. Indeed, they become family to you! I have no doubt that anyone who participates in this program will have a great time.

If you want to apply, download the application form from their website, or contact them at +603 77224866/77254966 or info-mas@afs.org.

The closing date is 31st May 2006 so hurry!

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Fairs, Wilderness Experiences, and Camps – Oh My!

Firstly I’ll like to thank Education In Malaysia for helping to pass the word on some things (including my Levi’s 501 appearance). I shall return the favour by passing the word on some things they – together with TinKosong – have pointed out:

1. Experiences ’06 Kuala Lumpur is an education fair with a difference – it’s run by the students. Malaysian students and alumni from US universities have banded together to present their schools and the American higher education system – including well-known names like Harvard, Yale, and so on.

(Too bad none of the more off-beat unis like Hampshire College and College of the Atlantic are in the list. Not enough Malaysian alumni? There’s always a next time…)

If you’re curious about the American education system, do check them out at:

  • Date: July 16th 2006 (Sunday)
  • Time: 10.00 AM – 6.00 PM
  • Venue: Sunway Pyramid Convention Center, Kuala Lumpur

2. If you’re interested in environmental issues, take a look at the Cathay Pacific International Wilderness Experience. Chosen participants from South Africa and the Pacific Rim will be sponsored by Cathay Pacific to travel to South Africa from 22nd – 30th August 2006 to participate in cultural and environmental activities – performance, discussions and debates, even mock weddings!

If you are:

  • 16-18
  • Proficient in English
  • Experienced in community activities

then feel free to apply! Malaysian students can find the information here; there are also links to location-specific information on the international page. Applications close 31st May 2006 so hurry!

3. If you’re more science-minded, than the Youth Science Camp, organized by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, is for you.

About 100 aspiring scientists from premier schools in Southern Peninsular Malaysia (Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan) will get various experience in the sciences – lectures, hands-on experiments, recreational activities, and so on. They will also get to interact with academics, researchers, and many other interesting and intriguing people.

You can read a review by former participant Lim Yang Li, and get a hold of the application form here (PDF file). You really need to hurry though, because applications close on the 26th of May 2006.

There’s plenty going on education-wise in Malaysia, in the region, and around the world; if you have any other updates or news on relevant and related programs and events, do let me know!

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EducateDeviate at Levi’s 501 Day

I will be setting up a booth for EducateDeviate at Levi's 501 Day Stay True event:

  • The Educated Deviants: Learning Differently
  • Date: Sunday 28th May 2006
  • Time: 2 pm – 12 am
  • Venue: Zouk KL, Malaysia (walking distance from KLCC)
  • Free entry for all ages

I'll have booklets and brochures available, and will probably put up interesting information about alternative education as well. Please come by and give your support!

I also need people to help set up & run the booth. If you're available from 9 am Sunday – 1 am Monday (or around those times), or if you live near KLCC and can spare me some sleeping space from Saturday till Monday, please email me ASAP!

If you have any other ideas for what I can do with my booth, please let me know!

Thank you and hope to see you soon!

Scholarships Woes: Here We Go Again

So here we go again.

Exam results are out, results for the government scholarships are out…and also out are the newspaper reports of a random "straight A" student who felt cheated out of a scholarship.

Among the many remarks and excuses heard during this time:

  • "I worked so hard for these As! I woke up at 2:45 in the morning every day to study!"
  • "I know someone who got less As than me but got a scholarship. Not fair!"
  • "I must study medicine! And I can only do it with a scholarship!"

Ever notice how it's always medicine? Or at least a scientific subject? You rarely hear about someone failing to get a government scholarship to study creative industries or sociology or humanities. Oh, wait…there aren't any.

How many of these doctor-wannabes really want to be doctors anyway? To serve the community by providing healthcare and guidance and support? How many of them are only pursuing medicine because it's what they "should" do? Because it's what their parents want them to do? Because it's expected of them?

Half the scholarship problems would probably be solved if the students would actually apply for what they're interested in in the first place.

Another thing these reports bring out about our students and the education system is our massive entitlement complex. People, getting straight As DOES NOT ENTITLE you to ANYTHING! There is more to a person than their grades, and it looks like the scholarships committees are taking that into account. You can't even say that you must have the straight As anyway, or else you lose out – obviously there are people with less-than-perfect grade slips that are getting assistance.

If they think this is shocking, they've got another thing coming when it comes to international scholarships. See, Malaysian scholarships (public or private) tend to be limited in the following ways:

  • They are very often for a science-related subject (with the rare business subject, and the so-rare-it's-endangered Arts & Mass Communications subjects assisted by ASTRO)
  • They usually come attached with bonds to companies lasting up to five years – other scholarships aren't that restrictive
  • They don't let you take other scholarships – at least in the USA this is allowable (Benjamin Kaplan was so successful at this that he wrote a book about it and showed up on Oprah for it)
  • They do not have diverse criteria – it's either grades, or need. That's it.

This only causes more problems than it solves:

  • There isn't enough diversity in educational choice; students who want to explore unusual or unorthodox courses are not given any help, assistance, or support
  • Too many students take up subjects for the wrong reasons – forced into it, expected to do it, so on – without accounting for interest, passion, and sincerity; the really interested ones end up losing out
  • Students put themselves at high health and sanity risks just for grades or scholarships (some even nearly kill themselves) – priorities are misplaced
  • Students who think scholarships are the be-all of their existence are lost when they don't get what they want; they then are unable to make the best of their situation, instead opting to mope and complain
  • Students spend too much energy on some things and too little energy on others (rest, other interests, etc) – they end up being totally unprepared for international scholarships, or other experiences in life
  • Thanks to the bonds, students don't even get the freedom to explore possible career choices. They may have changed their minds in college, or have an opportunity to explore a different company in the same industry, but can't act on it
  • Getting one scholarship might not be enough, since higher education costs are high – but the "no other scholarships" rule makes it difficult to fund higher education
  • Interesting personalities and efforts are not recognized; already we have people saying that "the only ones who say As don't matter are under achievers". Way to insult and downgrade the efforts of people like Suzanne Lee or myself.

There needs to be some major changes done towards the scholarships system in Malaysia, to make it truly fair for everyone and not run into the same problems year in year out. Amongst them are:

  1. Encourage diversity of educational paths. This needs to start at the school level – stop making arts/humanities students "lower class people". People have different abilities and interests, and this should be encouraged – through better classes, more courses (perhaps a Drama paper in the SPM?), and more extra-curricular opportunities
  2. Allow flexibility in scholarships. Let students gain more than one scholarship, if it helps them pursue their educational goals. Don't restrict them to long bonds; allow them flexibility to explore their career path and the industry. Heck, loosen up the "citizens only" deal; at least open it to permanent residents too, since more often then not they contribute a lot of time and energy to the country.
  3. Remind students that straight As are NOT a guarantee, and teach them how to make the best of situations. Once students get rid of the "straight A" entitlement complex, they'll be better able to handle disappointment or change, and they may even be open to other options. Those who may not get straight As would also be able to stay calm (instead of panicking and thinking the world is over), as they are able to work with their options too.
  4. Recognize other abilities, efforts, and personalities. Don't make this either a grades thing or a money thing. Take note of the interesting things students do – volunteer work, educational travel, creative work, so on. This encourages students to be more well-rounded, and also helps greatly students who don't fit the traditional educational mold.
  5. Support alternative learning efforts. I couldn't get any financial support for my Up With People trip (save for RM300 prize money from Hitz.FM – thanks guys!) because no one knew what it was and no one wanted to know what it was. It wasn't a university program, so no dice. One of my crewmates from Singapore managed to get funding from his university. Not everyone is cut out for university, or even WANTS to go to university straight away, or just wants to explore something else for a while; support their efforts to find education through other means.

Tony Pua of Education Malaysia has written quite a bit on the subject (1, 2, 3, 4). One of his suggestions was to stop giving scholarships to SPM students (O-Levels) and give them to STPM students (A-Levels) instead. I disagree with this, for two reasons:

  • The STPM doesn't suit everyone. You're still in school, so there isn't enough freedom; also, there aren't a lot of subjects offered in the STPM (especially anything arts/humanities related)
  • Some people can't even afford to take the next step after SPM. Without those scholarships, where would they go?

His posts and the comments are rather interesting though, so I suggest taking a look.

In the meantime – what do you do if you don't get a scholarship?

  1. Keep looking. The JPA doesn't hold a monopoly on scholarships. There are so many out there that may be better suited for you.
  2. Reevaluate your choices. Why did you apply for that particular scholarship? Because you want to? Because you have to? Because it's a "proper" subject, even if you have no interest in it?
  3. Explore other means of funding. Loans, work-study, part-time work, selling stuff, competitions – money comes from many sources. Who knows, you might even have a fairy godmother who's willing to help you out. (hey, it sometimes happens.)
  4. Ask the university. I'm not entirely sure how receptive local universities are to this, but many universities around the world would be able to give you ideas and suggestions about funding your study. Contact their Finance Department and ask them questions.
  5. Take time off. You don't have to go to university now. If you can't go now, so be it. The university won't run away. Use this gift of time to empower yourself – get a job, go travelling, do volunteer work, learn a course in something else; something to enrich your life and give your brain a break from all the studying too. You'll learn quite a bit about yourself – and you might even realize what you actually want to study. (And hey, you can use this time to earn some money for yourself!)
  6. Relax! It's not the end of the world if you don't get a scholarship, or don't graduate, or don't go to college. What really matters is what you make out of the situation. When life hands you lemons…what do you do with them?

Good luck to all looking for scholarships, congratulations to those that have them, and if you haven't – don't worry. There's always a way, if you're sincere and committed enough.

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