Work. Save. Plan.: Suzanne Lee & The World Peace Mission

Update: I just got word from Suzanne that the Soft Launch of the World Peace Mission has been postponed, and that newer details are coming soon. I'll post them up when I get them. In the meantime, read on to see what this amazing woman is doing…

I am a big supporter and advocate for the promotion of youth initiatives. There are so many youths out there that are doing amazing things with their time, earning and distributing knowledge in all sorts of ways – and they could use all the exposure they can get. They are the perfect example of what education should be about: learning from various sources and putting that learning into action.

This next person here truly exemplifies the power of youth and initiative; she blows minds in more ways than one.

22-year-old Suzanne Lee has accomplished so much in such a short time. She's a model and an outdoor guide (amongst other things) and has travelled all over the world, but her clearest strength is her photography. With her crisp and crystal-clear shots, she really captures the energy and essence of all that she sees – from the people of the indegenous Penan tribe of Sarawak, East Malaysia, to the natural landscapes of Europe seen through a backpacker's eyes.

What's most amazing about her, though, is her natural drive and passion. Suzanne has had a pretty normal livelihood – she lives with her family in a small flat in Puchong, and went through the usual Malaysian school system. However, she didn't let that limit her or her interests. According to her response in Tony Pua's writeup on her in Education In Malaysia:

I graduated SPM with a grade one but what really kept me sane and individualistic is the extra-curricular activities and other self-searching activities I do after schooling hours. I did 9 types of self-defense art and a whole lot of track and field sports plus singing, dancing, disc jockeying, literature/critical thinking articles/poetry writing and socializing. I read the encyclopedia, the dictionary, many factual books and the newspaper. That was the only way I could’ve satisfied my inquisitions to the vast world ahead at the time.. until now, when I actually get to see, feel, smell and touch the actual places I've read about. It's a dream come true.. a dream I've been trying to make real.

So how did she manage to do all the things she's done? By following her strong "Work. Save. Plan" ethic. She's worked hard at all the jobs she's done – from carrying sacks at a Chinese herbal shop at age 14, to juggling 4 jobs to earn enough money to travel and photograph all that she sees. She's also very smart with her money – while on the road, she lives with host families (saving money and earning new friends), she does part-time or freelance work, and the only bills she has to worry about are for insurance and the telephone. She's put her degree in marine biology on indefinite hiatus to focus on her true passion. Her philosophy:

The world is my home and my legs are my transportation.

She will soon explore that world even further, and bring peace along the way. Through the World Peace Mission, she and a pilot will be flying solo across the world to 150 countries (including the Poles!) bringing along a petition for world leaders to sign for peace. They aim to set a few world records in aviation and travel, and they have the support of the United Nations, UNICEF, the Malaysian Government, and various NGOs to make this project happen.

If you're interested in learning more about the project, do come by for their Soft Launch at:

  • Date: Tuesday, 9th May 2006 Update: Postponed
  • Venue: Eastin Hotel, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
  • Time: 10 am – 12 pm

You can find more information about the launch on PhotoKaki's thread, or contact Suzanne at djzanne@yahoo.com. Do also read The Sun's article on her to find out more about her, as well as get some nifty backpacking tips.

From personal contact with her, as well as reading up about her, Suzanne truly strikes me as someone that is intelligent, fiercely independent, and so full of passion and life. She is truly someone that will go so far in life no matter her circumstances. She has taught herself what she needs to know and is now teaching the world about the power of initiative.

This is what alternative education is all about.

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10 Responses

  1. hello,

    ive been readin your blog quite a bit and i get the idea that ur tryin to promote alternative education or learning through life experiences. but i have to disagree with you on certain things. well, it is a very good idea to have a more holistic learning experience aside from books and studying. but i think u might be giving out the wrong message to young kids; that education through books is not important. this reminds me of the hippie movement way back in the 70s where they lobbied for peace and led a very subtle life. but thats the problem, they’re not helping anyone in terms of economy/work but themselves.

    at the beginning, i thought this was a great blog to educate students/teens that they should also focus on other things in life. but as i continue, i feel you’re harping the wrong message. you’re making it sound as if it’s okay if your don’t do well. this is a very dangerous advise to young kids.

    just my 2c

  2. Hello Worried,

    I hear and appreciate your concern. But the concern’s misplaced.

    My point about alternative education is that it doesn’t have to only come from school. People in this country think the only way to learn is to go to school – that’s not true. You can learn from anywhere and anything – books, travels, people.

    There is a quote that goes “If you want an education, go to a library.” And often you can learn much more from books. I taught myself how to read, before I entered kindergarden. I love books. So obviously I fully support learning from them.

    But we also need to take into consideration the types of books out there. School textbooks right now – at least in Malaysia – are blocky and boring, and in some cases outdated. (My Commerce textbook had giant mobile phones as the newest technological advancement!) So much more information and knowledge can be gained from other books, not just what the schools want you to read.

    you’re making it sound as if it’s okay if your don’t do well

    What is “doing well”? Whose standards are we going by? Exam grades? Money? Assets?

    I’ve had people write to me nearly killing themselves due to a lost scholarship or grade (check out this entry). When I was at school, I and so many of my peers were told that we were failures if we do not get straight As. So many of my peers, seniors, and juniors went through mental trauma and stress, just for an A in the SPM.

    Yet in reality, things are different. Grades aren’t the sole marker for success – they’re not even a marker for success, even. You can do well despite or in spite of your examinations. All that really matters is what you do with your life.

    What’s deadlier: students going through stress and suicides just for an elusive illusionary A, or students more relaxed and assured of themselves because they know that whatever they get this time round doesn’t bind them or doom them to anything, and that they still have the freedom to live their own life?

  3. yes, i totally agree with you that there’s more to it than just grades. but you’re emphasising that grades don’t matter at all. which is totally wrong. for exp, teens will misconstrue your message that it’s okay to put aside education and studies for other things in life – travel, socialising, etc.

    the general understanding of “doing well” for students is … in terms of grades and exams. there’s no two ways about it. they have to study hard, and if able to, pursue other things in life too such as the many things one can do as u mentioned.

    regarding students contemplating suicide cause of exam grades. those are a very minute minority. it should never be used as justification not do well in studies.

    somehow, i just feel that, though your intentions are honest, you’re actually sendin out the wrong message to students. if every kid were to grow up taking your advise, we won’t have doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. all of which requires a strong educational bg, not for an extensive travel experience or a large network of friends.

    at the end of it, yes, an A is not everything, but neither is it nothing. you’re opinions are tipped towards it being nothing and that exams are worthless. though as u mentioned, an A is not a sole marker of ones success, it is generally relative to it. those who are successful other ways (e.g. musicians, artists, etc.) are minorities.

    all this reminds me of donald trump and his apprentice series. and i think he’s advise is best – that education, a good college degree, is very important and trasured by him. but however, street smart skills are also equally important to apply those knowledge.

  4. Worried,

    I wrote a long comment, and then WordPress ate it, so I’ll try again.

    but you’re emphasising that grades don’t matter at all. which is totally wrong. for exp, teens will misconstrue your message that it’s okay to put aside education and studies for other things in life – travel, socialising, etc.

    That is NOT my point. My point is that there is more to life than grades. Education and schooling are two different things. You can go to school and not learn anything worth learning, and you can get a good education from elsewhere, not just school.

    You can get an education from travel – many people do. You can get an education from socialising. You can get an education from so many means…why just limit it to school?

    Take a look at the homeschoolers and unschoolers. They decide their own education; what they want to learn, how they learn it, when they learn it. Many of them go off to continued success elsewhere.

    the general understanding of “doing well” for students is … in terms of grades and exams. there’s no two ways about it.

    This is a wrong and dangerous statement. It’s holding youths up to only one marker in life, telling them that it’s “do or die” when it comes to exams. That is absolutely false.

    There are “two ways” about it – more than two, even. It takes ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, being able to bounce back from any situation. One way doesn’t work? OK, try another way. There are always ways.

    If we only used grades and exams as a marker for success, we’d lose Einstein and Newton – they were considered dunces at school. We’d lose out on people who were marked down because their creativity was not part of the marking schema. (As happened to me; I used to lose out in Art because I had a different notion of Art than the teacher did.) We’d lose out on people who are extremely bright at other areas that aren’t covered by exams. We’d lose out on people who learn things differently, who would have understood what was going on if taken from a different approach.

    Exams and grades only measure memorization and your ability to take tests. The fact that we have “How To Take The SPM” seminars, but nothing about “Life After SPM”, speaks a lot. If we truly learnt and understood the material, why do we need those seminars? Why do we need exam tips? Shouldn’t we be able to tackle any question that comes our way?

    regarding students contemplating suicide cause of exam grades. those are a very minute minority. it should never be used as justification not do well in studies.

    They are a lot more common than it seems. And it’s not just suicides; panic attacks, depression, hysteria – all on the rise, mainly from exam-related stress. Sleepless nights, poor diets, lack of proper exercise, no rest – all of these are affecting the health and well-being of the students in negative ways.

    What’s the point of stressing over exams if you can’t relax and focus on the actual exam day? What’s the point of getting straight As if you’re too frazzled to do anything else?

    Which is more important, health or grades?

    if every kid were to grow up taking your advise, we won’t have doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. all of which requires a strong educational bg, not for an extensive travel experience or a large network of friends.

    I have a friend who’s doing medicine – she didn’t get straight As. There are many top doctors/engineers/lawyers who didn’t do quite as well the first time round and managed to bounce back from adversity. Some just had a career change.

    We have too many people going in medicine or engineering or law without any actual passion or interest for the job. This greatly affects the quality of their work. There are so many other skills you need to acquire – people skills, organizing, critical thinking, lateral thinking – not all that you will get in a school context.

    Also, why focus on just those three? There are so many career paths out there. Media, nonprofit, business, arts, social sciences, sports, politics. telecommunications, pure sciences…the list goes on and on. And not all of them place such a high marker on grades.

    I once applied for a job with a global education nonprofit, where their main emphasis is on experiential learning. None of the job descriptions required grades of any kind. What they valued were experience, skills, personality, and passion. Their staff is top-notch, they’re excellent at what they do, and they work together very well. Yet never has the topic of grades or exams come up. (They’re from all sorts of different countries, so it’s not like they have a common educational base to compare from.)

    at the end of it, yes, an A is not everything, but neither is it nothing. you’re opinions are tipped towards it being nothing and that exams are worthless. though as u mentioned, an A is not a sole marker of ones success, it is generally relative to it. those who are successful other ways (e.g. musicians, artists, etc.) are minorities.

    Our examination system really need an overhaul. Even IQ tests aren’t a reliable marker of intelligence anymore. What more our exams, which only measure how much you can regurgitate. How much of what you crammed for the SPM do you still remember, let alone understand and appreciate?

    An “A” is nowhere near a “relative marker for success”. It’s mainly arbitary. Whose standards are we measuring that A by?

    Does having a less-than-stellar grade slip doom you to failure? No. Does having a perfect scoresheet guarantee success? No.

    Take a look at all the Top Scorers of recent years. Where are they now? What are they doing? What is their contribution to the world, to the country, to the community? They got all those As; so what?

    Look at the people who work in the restaurants you visit – managers, chefs, everyone else. Look at the people who own the businesses in your neighbourhood. Look at the people who produce your TV, radio, newspapers, magazines. Look at the people who make sure your telephones and Internet connection work. Look at the people representing you and your country in Parliament. Do you ever ask them how many As did they get in their SPM? Does it even matter? What matters is the work they do, their communication and people skills, their integrity and honesty. Not the results of some far-flung exam that doesn’t even matter anymore.

    Donald Trump’s advice is well and good, but notice he says “college degree”, not “high school results”. We’re not taught street smarts in school, even – so as it is, we’re off balance.

    Also, we need to look at how we define success. Is it money? Status? Networks?

    How about satisfaction? Happiness? Peace?

    Does peace require straight As?

    My point of this blog, and of promoting alternative education, is this:

    There is more to life than just grades or exams. There is more to education than just school.

  5. tiara,

    u fail to realise the importance of grades and how significant it does play in ones life. for some professions, grades don’t matter. but for many others, it is the only method to gauge a students ability. it’s not the best method, but it works.

    the only problem i’ll have to admit is the education system here in malaysia is flawed. rote learning and memorising is definitely not the way to go. but the gov is realising this, and hopefully changes the current system.

    no doubt, there is more to life than just grades or exams. and there is definitely more to education than just school. BUT what you’re advocating is heavily tipped to mean that education is NOT important. that your version of “education” can be achieved aside from studying and books. i’m not denying that one can achieve so much more in life aside from formal education, but u cannot disregard its importance either.

    it’s evident in your many posts and your consistent pressing that there’s more to education than exams. this is why i say that you’re sending out the wrong message to young kids. they will grow up thinking that exams are not important and that they should not do well academically. which is very wrong. good grades whether at SPM level or degree level still matters regardless.

    there is no perfect system as evident by your many examples. but what we have works, up to a certain degree.

  6. Worried,

    If you still insist on thinking that I said that education is unimportant – which is untrue – then I’m afraid we’re not on the same page, and this discussion can’t really continue any further.

    I will disagree with you that what we have works. As evident by the continued stress school students are facing, the high unemployment rate of fresh graduates, and the fact that people like Suzanne are few and far between – this system is highly flawed.

  7. Hello,Worried.
    Been following this discussion for a while, and, sad to say, I see a few clear fallacies in your argument.

    “u fail to realise the importance of grades and how significant it does play in ones life. for some professions, grades don’t matter. but for many others, it is the only method to gauge a students ability. it’s not the best method, but it works.”

    How do grades work? How are they an accurate judge of a person’s ability. I believe in your first comment here, you mentioned law as being one such job requiring grades. While I will not dispute that grades are a consideration, more law firms these days, especially in England, not only look at the transcripts of prospective employees, but also put them through aptitude tests, and recruit based not only on how they’ve performed academically, but also how they think.
    Tiara is not blindly saying that grades and/or a grading system is wrong, she’s merely providing alternatives for people to consider. What they do with these alternatives is up to them.

    “the only problem i’ll have to admit is the education system here in malaysia is flawed. rote learning and memorising is definitely not the way to go. but the gov is realising this, and hopefully changes the current system.”

    Yes, I will agree that the rote system is a problem. However, it is not the only problem. An overemphasis on grades is, and Tiara’s attempting to make alternatives possible to compensate for this.

    “no doubt, there is more to life than just grades or exams. and there is definitely more to education than just school. BUT what you’re advocating is heavily tipped to mean that education is NOT important. that your version of “education” can be achieved aside from studying and books. i’m not denying that one can achieve so much more in life aside from formal education, but u cannot disregard its importance either.”

    She’s providing alternatives, this site being an information centre for those interested or curious. She’s just fulfilling the purpose of EducateDeviate.

    And yes. Education is more than studies and books. It’s experience.

    “it’s evident in your many posts and your consistent pressing that there’s more to education than exams. this is why i say that you’re sending out the wrong message to young kids. they will grow up thinking that exams are not important and that they should not do well academically. which is very wrong. good grades whether at SPM level or degree level still matters regardless.”

    She’s already stressed that this is not what she’s up to, or what this site aims to do. The intent of EducateDeviate is to provide options for consideration. Not everyone fits in the mainstream, or is happy with the way things are.

    “there is no perfect system as evident by your many examples. but what we have works, up to a certain degree. ”

    I beg to differ. Youth suicides, hothouse parenting, kiasuism being imposed on children way too young, due largely to grades, grades being a tangible marker that can be compared, as opposed to personal accomplishments and experiences.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  8. This quote popped into my head, re EducateDeviate, and the current debate going on. Hope it’s not too out of place, dear friends.

    “I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. I’m going to show them a world without rules or controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

    Neo, from The Matrix.

  9. I think Tiara’s idea is great. The reason why she calls it ‘alternative education’ is because it is an alternative to academic education. She’s not just saying that if you fail, you can do something else, she’s also giving you people other methods outside of school to learn things on top of the education they’re receiving already.

    I don’t approve of your attitude to say that the impression that Tiara’s giving is influential in a negative manner to say that young people will get bad ideas about education. From a young person’s perspective, Malaysian leaders and adults panic about everything being bad influences towards young people which means that all our alternatives get slashed and banned. Malaysian youths need as many alternatives as they can get. Tiara’s giving hope to those who can’t excel in class, at least. You said it yourself, the Malaysian edu system is flawed so why let young people only be influenced by a flawed education?

    Again, I repeat: Malaysian youths need as much alternatives as we can get. Only an ignorant person (not all young Malaysians are ignorant, if you might assume so) would think that Tiara’s trying to get everyone to drop out of school. As a young person I don’t get the impression from her that school’s a waste of time. Does anyone else?

  10. […] for awareness about the disease; Suzanne Lee, intrepid explorer and photographer whom I’ve featured here before as a local example of youth initiative; and IDP Education Malaysia, which helps prospective […]

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