The Blogathon front page has this question now:
What do you most strive for in your life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?
Let me explain this by writing a little bit about how I got involved in alternative education.
School was a mixed bag of experiences for me. On the one hand, there were some good times. On the other hand, those “good times” were vastly overshadowed by the terrible experiences I had – being an ultimate minority, facing racism, being ostracised because this “lain-lain” (“other”; i.e. not Malay, Chinese, or Indian) somehow did better in exams than the rest of the school population. I started being apathetic towards academics – what’s the point in trying to score straight As if you get hated for it? I was scoring them anyway, without even trying.
I love to learn. Even now. I loved reading – I taught myself – I love computers, I love science museums, I love exploring and finding out things and learning things. However, I did not enjoy school’s idea of “learning” – rote, restricted, standardized. Barely room for creativity. Think out of the box and you get told off. No encouragement, only belittlement.
Secondary school was marginally better. There were a few teachers that recognized my potential and encouraged me to go further (I would like to acknowledge one here: Ms Navinder Kaur. Thank you so much for everything. You rock.) and I kept myself busy with various activities – debate, choral speaking, English club, etc etc. Things took a turn for the worse when, in my final year, I was diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. I had panic attacks at random and sometimes had to skip school. The headmistress was symphatetic, but not the other admins; they all thought I was making it up, that it as all “in my head”. No one really cared. All they wanted was grade cattle. I was top of the class, without taking extra tuition (useless, anyway) and I’m told that I’d be so much better if I showed up. Yeah right.
I was in the Humanities class in Form 4 and 5, and seeing how the Humanities students were treated made me even more cynical of the Malaysian school system. We were treated like nothing. Dunderheads. Too stupid for Science. (I was offered a place in the Science Stream but wanted Literature instead; I was told that I was “wasting my As”.) No one cared about us. One other girl was going through hysteria and had to move schools temporarily. ne teacher’s response? “I hope she doesn’t take her exam here, she’ll bring down our perfect score.”
All this over an exam that becomes immediately useless! I took a month off before the SPM exams – I would have taken the exams off too, but my parents insisted that I just get it done and over with. I got 5 As. Top of my class. Any honour? No. I’m not Miss Straight A, I’m not a Science student, who cares? Even my friends in the Science stream stopped talking to us as soon as they got their results. Strange and pathetic.
I knew I wasn’t in top condition to go straight to college – and I didn’t want to. The only reason I ever applied in college to begin with was to appease the parents. I initially got a half-year off; I wasn’t completely happy but what could I do? I took dance lessons and travelled to the US for an American Idol concert: it was there that my dad called, said that due to construction issues it may be better for me to defer to the next year. I wasn’t too happy at him (NOW you tell me) but eventually I was happy with the decision: I have my year! I travelled more, joined a young journalists’ group, did a radio DJ course, and basically relaxed for the first time in 11 years. I even came off medication too.
I entered college but spent a lot of my time and energy outside the classroom. I interviewed the Malaysian PM and the Leader of the Opposition Party, I volunteered with Amnesty International, I got highly involved with the Student Clubs. I was busy, busy, busy!
I also tried my luck at various auditions: Akademi Fantasia (Fame Academy). Malaysian Idol. Neither came to fruition. One audition I was hoping to pass was for Nescafe’s Kickstart, a TV show that provides seed money for your own projects. I wanted to be a travelling writer. I didn’t hear from anyone afterwards. I saw the finalists being filmed in my college. I knew then that I didn’t get in. I also was a semifinalist for a radio DJ competition, and was a strong contender…but was outvoted by the 3rd day.
I was feeling very frustrated. So many opportunities escaped from me (not just TV things). Will I ever pass an audition for once? I knew in my heart that I was looking for something extraordinary. Something out-of-the-box, creative, unusual, interesting, one-of-a-kind. I had long harbored a dream to be a exchange student (I applied to be one but got rejected at 16) and the dream was coming back. I needed to get out there. But I didn’t know where to start.
I asked around online for ideas of programs, activities, things I could look at and try. I was willing to consider anything and everything. One day I got this LJ comment in my mailbox…
I have friends who travelled with Up With People and they had the time of their life! It sounds just like your kind of thing!
So I clicked on the link…and everything changed.
Part 2 of this story is coming next post.