College – the time I discarded my school uniform to immerse myself in enriching education, wearing an attire of my choice, that secreted the maximum amount of my brain juice. The time I evolved into an adult and took full responsibility of my educational life. The time I hiked up my pants to my chest, put my shoulder to the wheel and started taking control of my life to walk the path of success. And so began my journal of ‘Things I never did – but would probably have helped me if I did’. I say the word ‘probably’ because although I did not carry out the above, at least not to my fullest potential, I would say that I’m quite satisfied with where I ended up – UCL – not the best but a world of good fun. But my university life is another story, the objective of this article is to share my college experience with you all, with the hope to give budding college-goers an idea of what college can be, only if you’re willing to listen of course.
In retrospect, I began college with an absolutely horrendous attitude. Coming out of a private secondary school and being constantly ranked as one of the top students, I was insufferably stuck-up, incredibly obnoxious, ashamedly sheltered and with a nose held so high I was almost bending backwards. I stepped into college thinking it was going to be a breeze. I mean, sure, the lecturers warned that the difficulty jump from SPM to A-level would be a culture shock but teachers said the exact same thing about the transition from PMR to SPM, didn’t they? Now, just to clarify, by no means am I belittling the Malaysian secondary education system. Instead, I’m putting my honest perception of the difference in difficulty gap and technical knowledge required to succeed in secondary school as compared to A-level. Sure, swallowing textbooks whole and regurgitating them during examinations might help one achieve good grades in A-levels but then again, it might not. Thorough understanding of the course and subjects do, no two ways about it. I do not mean to scare anyone off, I am merely emphasising and underlining the necessity of constant self-study to obtain commendable grades in A-level (at least for me, but of course I do not intend to commit a fallacy and generalise the bright minds that make up the Malaysian student population).
However, I digress, the real point of this article, as mentioned above, is to draw attention to what made my college experience so fulfilling. Besides being fussy and picking only subjects I enjoyed (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Economics) I also immersed myself in extra-curricular activities. No longer was I confined to the typical secondary school societies which were mostly limited to sports and chess. At college, they encourage you to pursue your passion and develop your interests, whatever they may be. Needless to say, I went wild. I signed up for at least 8 different societies, with the intention to excel in every one of them. As naïve as I was idealistic, I soon found out I might as well drop out of college if I were to take all of them on. After much deliberation and consideration of opportunity costs and where my interests really were, I opted to be active in two societies. These two societies were the Animal Huggers Society and Taylor’s Badminton Club. Now, I can hear your sniggers and snickering starting. Badminton was fine but Animal Huggers? Was that a joke? During my tenure, it happened to be the biggest non-sports society in my college. Impressed yet? Well you should be! I always enjoyed telling my peers that I was the Vice President of the society because their disbelief made the work we did that much nobler.
I conducted regular visits to the PAWS Animal Shelter in Subang with my team of committee members and a limited number of volunteers to tend and care for the homeless dogs, cats and rabbits that were constantly brought to the shelter. By ‘tending’, we walked, fed and bathed the animals as well as cleaned their living areas. Now, this experience was so eye-opening because I couldn’t visualize the living standards of the animals before this. Even before entering, I was hit with a stench that made my eyes water. The animals were covered with faeces, cramped together and had skeleton bodies. It was indescribable to see their eyes light up when we arrived, each one of them begging for attention and tenderness. I was hit by a hurricane of emotions as I took all of this in. From the most vicious hound to the puppy cowering in the corner, each animal there had a story. Either dropped off by owners who couldn’t care for them anymore, rescued from abusers thus making them more violent and untrusting towards humans or dumped at the side of the road, the stories were all heartbreaking. Honestly, I was so grateful to have been able to visit the shelter as I was able to get a true glimpse of reality, which ignited a desire to work towards a better world, something I am adamant on achieving.
Onto happier matters, I was the Assistant Organising Chairperson for the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities’ (MAPCU) inaugural badminton tournament. Although this competition was a longtime tradition for this umbrella body of private colleges and universities, I say ‘inaugural’ because it was the first time my college ever took on the challenge of holding this prestigious event. Now, the only events I’ve ever organised were those secondary school occasions where minimal effort was required from students and teachers were the main powerhouses driving and shaping the event. With that said, the MAPCU badminton tournament was heavily student-led by the committee team and was a world of difference as compared to high school. I won’t bore you with the specifics nor the details but what I will do is present to you two major learning outcomes which contributed to my steep learning curve through college. First of all, managing the expectations of different stakeholders and ensuring to never over-promise any single party was a new experience. We were fully accountable for our interactions with the different participating educational institutions and no teachers were standing behind us to mop up our mess if we made one. Next, I became increasingly thick-skinned (for better or for worse). I had to source for sponsors and it was only natural to get shot down by most of the companies you approach. Initially, I was embarrassed, hurt and ashamed every time I was rejected but as time went on, I matured, understood that it was not in the company’s interest to sponsor such an event, and carried on. As cliché as it might sound, this experience truly helped me cope with rejections in different endeavors I undertook following this event. Truly, there were a myriad of other skills I obtained such as how to be a better team player, time management, people management, the list just goes on, but if I had two main takeaways from my role it would be as stated previously.
College life paints a different picture in everyone’s mind. Following my high school education, I was looking forward to a more challenging but also more flexible lifestyle. Now that I’m in university, I see it as a stepping stone to cultivate new skills that, moving forward, will define your university opportunities and experience. Although I had a ball in college, if I could turn back time, I would have done so much more. I would have participated in external events, took advantage of college networks and spearheaded new initiatives for the societies I was a part off. I’m not here to dictate your college experience but to simply give you an insight of what you can expect during your college education and how to make the most out of it. Talk to people, learn from them but always remember to take everything you hear with a pinch of salt. I hope that this article managed to give you a bit of an idea as to what college life is all about. All the best!
Mah Jun Kit is reading Chemical Engineering at University College London, Class of 2018, and is passionate about animal welfare, environmental health and, of course, good food. He enjoys the thrill of outdoor activities and relishes engaging in intellectual discourse. He is loves meeting new people so if you see him on the streets, don’t be a stranger