Jorene Ooi: A Scholar's Life

“Congratulations. You have been offered a scholarship to study in the United States of America. Your foundation studies will be conducted in Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), Putrajaya.”

I remember staring at the computer screen stupidly, partly in shock because I’m going to the States, and partly because I have completely no idea what, nor where, UNITEN is.

In the weeks to come, I would eventually find out that UNITEN was located somewhere between Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and the middle-of-nowhere. I would learn that its campus was rather large (which made walking to class in the sweltering 40°C heat almost impossible), and that the buses provided to ferry students came late with an amazing regularity. Also, I would discover that my apartment was ridiculously dusty, which was bad news to my hypersensitive nose.

Orientation programs took up the majority of my first week here. I woke up at 5.30 in the morning, and didn’t go to sleep till midnight. To make matters worse, I contracted a bad case of food poisoning and spent two days in bed throwing up every other meal and generally feeling very sorry for myself.

In short, I got off to a rather miserable start in UNITEN. I wanted out. But the lure of having a childhood dream realized (I’ve always wanted to study in America) was too tempting to pass up.

So I stayed. Little did I know that over the course of one year, my perspectives of this place would drastically change. I wouldn’t quite say that I love the place just yet, but now that I’m a bit closer to leaving, I’ve found that it’s rather difficult to simply walk away.

Naturally, I’ve made many memories here. Just to show a few:

Ladies Night.

Last-minute party for Minako’s birthday.

Class outing to Mines.

When you ask me what I remember most of my time here, the answer wouldn’t be the long nights of studying for the finals. Neither would it be the 8am classes (I’m not a morning person), nor would it be that time when I got reprimanded for showing my shoulders.

No, dear sire. What I will remember most are the memories I’ve created with the people here, and the life lessons they’ve taught me. Granted, this college has served its main academic purpose of educating me, but I believe that the things I’ve learned here are far more than those from textbooks.

 Won’t be seeing these again!

I’ve learned that nothing comes easy. Talent Night was a shaky and emotional affair for all of us at Section03PPOU. Quarrels, clash of opinions, egos hurt – you name it, we’ve got it. Yet we got over it, and came together to win third place. If you ask me, that’s pretty good, considered the internal strife that went on!

I’ve learned that there are things that you can change. Throughout the year, I’ve watched my classmates and friends alike evolve into the people they are now. Wong is less of that awkward, nerdy Chinese guy than he was during orientation (although he still talks a lot on esoteric topics). Sanjeevi is actually speaking his mind a lot in class and having dinner with us (I’m still working on his pessimism). As for myself…. I’m more confident of myself, and I can solve my own problems now (no more mummy doing my dishes for me!). All this from a year of studying and hanging out with a diverse, intellectual and multi-talented bunch of scholars!

Wong no longer looks like this.

I’ve learned that things happen for a reason. When I got rejected by Columbia, I was devastated. But it gave me a push to actively pursue my passions. I remember telling them that I was interested in writing and human rights, but what did I do that could testify for that passion? Naught. So, in a way, that thin envelope gave me a wake-up call: don’t be those “all talk and no action” people.

Wake up!

Most of all, I’ve learned that when you give people enough time, their best will ultimately show. Time and time again, I’ve been amazed by the resilience and talents that my fellow students have exhibited. From organizing events (Sukan IKAL and Karnival SAAY1M just to name a few), to overcoming obstacles (getting into Brown and Cornell and whatnot), to making something out of nothing (hello, people who are starting this blog), my fellow scholars have demonstrated that there’s nothing you cannot accomplish once you put your mind to it.

So, yes, the buses still come late, the courses are still challenging, and the routine is still rigorous. But you know what? Somehow it was all worth it. My childhood dream is coming true, and I’m learning lessons that I will remember forever, and I’ve made lifelong friends. This life is pretty awesome after all.

                                                       An incredible and talented community.

Jorene Ooi | Northwestern University(Class of 2015) She described herself as the musings of a self-confessed part-time student, full-time slacker.

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