Posted in Education, Scholarship interview, Scholarships

The One That Nearly Got Away

No, whatever you’re thinking, this is not about my boyfriend. Don’t have one, not looking for one.

I was thinking about karma and stuff  – and I remembered the flurry of scholarship applications I went through. I applied for approximately ten scholarshipsand I recalled how the countless blogs about scholarship applications helped me along the way. So I’m returning the favor. Here, however, I shall only talk of the Yayasan Tenaga Nasional scholarship application process. If I do include information for the other scholarships, I’ll be sitting here till Jon Snow comes back to life.

First thing’s first – the application typically comes out right after the SPM results. Google it! Try all the variations, and when you finally arrive at the website, there’ll be a term stating that you require a certain number of A+’s to be eligible.

Rule #1 of scholarship applications: JUST APPLY. Screw the terms. You never know.

Now, concerning the interview – it’s different each year. Before me, they organized a three-day camp packed full of tests and interviews. During my year, they called the applicants to attend an interview session at the UNITEN hotel. It was only for a day, thank Zeus.

It went like this: registration was at 8 a.m. or so, then all the applicants were called to sit in a hall for a short talk introducing YTN and the scholarship terms. The group interview session began after a short tea break. We were separated into rooms based on the field we applied for. I was an applicant for civil engineering and there were five other applicants with me. During the group session we only had two interviewers. We were asked to sit at a table and answer the question sheet given to us. One of the questions was ‘What make you special?’ or something like that. I told them I was ambidextrous, does that count? I must have drank too much coffee that day… Next we applicants were further divided into two groups, three people in each. We were handed colored marker pens, a piece of mahjong paper and a question something along the lines of ‘Pollution and the Solutions’. Here’s a piece of advice: don’t be too domineering. Be a team player. Open your mind and consider all opinions. Work with your teammates, give good ideas, and lead where you can. The interviewers can see right through your act if you put one on. I was fortunate enough to have team members that I worked well with, and our presentation later on was quite a success, I must say.

After that nerve-wracking event we had a very welcome and delicious lunch, courtesy of the UNITEN hotel. And then it was time for my neurons to begin firing again.

I was interviewed by a panel of four TNB representatives for my individual interview. I can’t remember what they asked me because I was just so darn scared my hands were freezing and I had to use the toilet after the whole ordeal. I do, however, remember that they asked me if I cooked curry. I told them that yes, I did in fact cook curry. I gave them my grandmother’s recipe for chicken curry complete with all the spices needed. The interviewer in the middle, a very nice lady that I got to know later on, smiled at me from the beginning and I just zoned in on her to keep my confidence. The two other interviewers at the side just stared and stared and stared at me and shot pointed questions at me. I made one of them laugh in the end, and it was a good thing I guess.

I thought I wasn’t going to get this scholarship. I thought I was done for. I waited for the allotted three months and still no news. So I went to Form 6. But then, miracles do happen. I got the call one evening when I thought my chances of getting a scholarship was nearly zero. Yay!

I don’t think I’m qualified to give any professional advice on how to ace a scholarship interview, but there is one thing I want to point out: many scholars would advise you to be yourself during the interview. My opinion? Be the best you. If your true self (the no-holds-barred self) likes to sleep in their underwear and fangirl about fictional characters …well…maybe try to tone it down? Don’t put on a show, don’t give them jacked-up sob stories, especially if you don’t have sob stories. Most of all, don’t try to be someone you are not. They can smell it, I’m sure of it. BE THE BEST YOU. Also, it’s okay to be nervous, it’s okay to have cold hands. It doesn’t matter. What matters the most is how you present yourself: no pretentiousness, pure originality. I believe that’s what the interviewers want. Someone who’s comfortable enough in their own skin that they don’t need anything else to glam themselves up with. Oh, yes – preparation is everything. Read up on the scholarship you’re applying for and the company offering for the scholarship. During those few weeks, Google will be your best friend, your soul mate, the toilet seat to your toilet bowl. Inseparable. And THE INTERVIEWER IS NOW YOUR BEST FRIEND. Go for it. Talk, laugh, joke, whatever works.

Last of all, I want to mention that sometimes you will feel undeserving of the scholarship. You will feel inadequate and small. You’re gonna see many other applicants who’ve achieved more than you’ve ever dreamed of. But it’s okay. You’re gonna have to take some time, think about it a bit, maybe if you want to coddle yourself then you can moan about it (I did that) – but sooner or later you need to move on. You cannot let that affect you. I know because I get that every single day at a college full of scholarship holders.

There’s a long journey ahead. May the Father judge you fairly and the Crone guide your way.

Peace out.

Posted in Uncategorized

Of Chicken Curry and Kawad Kaki

It wasn’t a great day. Things weren’t going my way.

A couple of months before, I sat in front of the computer with my fingers crossed and breath held, fervently muttering, “Please no, please no“. Alas, alack, the universe fulfilled its role of plan-wrecker and horror-monger that day. The great, glaring “Tahniah, anda berjaya dipilih!” felt like a netball had hit me between the eyes – and trust me, I know exactly what that feels like. A couple of seconds later, I thought, to put it mildly, “Shit.”

So there I sat on the National Service bus to hell, struggling to record the horrible day I was having in my journal on the über bumpy ride to Paya Indah Camp while stealing furtive glances at the disciplinary nightmare of a schoolmate that sat two seats in front of me. I distinctively recall having rolled my eyes quite a few times. This was going to be fantastic.

Indeed, it was anything else but fantastic. My first day involved my luggage going bust, my locker malfunctioning, people getting my name wrong and getting lost on the way to the lavatory. I didn’t understand what was going wrong. Did I not pay my respects to the local deities (or spirits, or demons) before settling in as recommended by the witch doctor (read: Chinese medium)? Did I not smile and try to make friends? But that day, no matter what I did, the food remained bad, the bed stayed hard, my back was stiff and I was perpetually miserable. In a nutshell, my first day at  National Service camp sucked.

You know, it’s funny how well you remember your first and last days of something significant, but everything else in between just seems to blend into a big, soupy mess of recollections. Two incidents do stand out, however, from the multiple gaping holes in my terrible memory.

First off – a little backstory. I was born into a bi-religious family. I woke up each morning to the scent of sandalwood from my father’s Buddhist altar permeating the air and felt the radiating warmth of the candles from the shrine dedicated to Jesus and Mother Mary as I prayed before I slept every night. So while I sat there as our trainer sorted us our respective religious groups, I put up my hand and asked him, “Sir, is it possible for me to go to both the temple and church?”

There was a short debate that followed (one that I’m not proud of), with him being stubbornly steadfast in his decisive “No”. However, that wasn’t what hit me the hardest.

“Having two religions is bad for you.”

I sat down, feeling horrible for some reason. I didn’t get it. Was it wrong practicing two beliefs? Did that doom me to hell? Screw the dooming; did it ever affect me adversely? If a man likes both chicken and fish would the police detain him? If someone wanted to sing Justin Bieber then follow it up with a rendition of Phil Collins’ You’ll Be In My Heart, would Hades condemn him to Tartarus? Although, I would agree that putting Justin Bieber anywhere near Mr. Collins is a punishable offence…

That night I went to bed, frustrated, angry, confused and determined to hate that particular trainer for as long as I lived. If my recollections are precise, I even wrote a lengthy entry in my journal that night, fuming about how close-minded people were and that what he thought mattered less to me than whether or not Kim Kardashian had buttock surgery.

What I’m going to talk about next occurred while I was half-blind. I had no spectacles on, having had them confiscated by a trainer as glasses were considered dangerous. Apparently, the game we were playing could result in bodily harm. I didn’t believe that claim until much later when a fight broke out between two of our groups.

The game went like this: each group was given a small area of the hall. Our duty was to elect a king and protect that area of hall ‘with our lives’. Having lost nearly all my eyesight, I groped around, trying to lead my group without speaking as per the rules. We made an origami crown and presented our king to the trainer in charge – and he grabbed the crown off our king’s head. We were baffled. Did we miss a step? Definitely not, we’d done everything to the T. The trainer told us to put on a martial arts performance. One by one, each of us went up and did whatever we could think of, but to no avail. He kept that increasingly annoying beatific smile on his face and held on more firmly to our crown.

I couldn’t take it. I knew we had missed something. I picked the directions off the floor, put it right at my nose, squinted at it and read the Times New Roman print once again. There it was. Lantik seorang raja dan tabalkan baginda. Elect a king and crown him. No mention of asking the trainer, no mention of having to put up a ridiculous performance.

I groped my way forwards, grabbed the flimsy crown from the hands of the trainer and promptly placed it on the head of our group’s king. Then all of a sudden, we’d won the challenge. Strangely enough, I feel much better about the heated argument concerning my religious tendencies compared to the crown-grabbing fiasco. While I didn’t experience any particular epiphany, I saw that what others thought of my choices mattered less than how I conducted myself when I dealt with my personal theology, and yes, it was less important than whether or not Ms. Kardashian had buttock enhancers embedded in her gluteus maximus. One day, I was going to choose one belief over the other – or maybe I’ll pull a Pi Patel and continue going to church each Sunday and still recite the Triple Gem before sleeping every night. I’ll probably get a lot of flak if I do that, though… On the other hand, the crowning incident showed me things about myself that I’d rather not remember – my eagerness for success, my ambition, and how impulsive I was when pressured.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of the things I learnt from both incidents, you would hardly expect the circles to overlap. This time, however, that teeny probability of imbrication came to fruition and dang was it one heck of a lesson. I don’t think I’m eloquent enough to put it into one sentence, but I will mention this Dr. Seuss quote: You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. Yeah, I know. It’s terribly cliché, but it’s also freakishly precise. I’m pretty sure that if you want something, you’ve got to take the first step yourself. You can’t expect someone else to crown your king. You cannot sit around allowing others to define how you see religion. Many say that a man’s actions define who he is, others claim that it is the contents of his mind. I say it is your thoughts that guide your actions, and who you are inside is for those most precious to you to discover. That’s why we have our brain safely encapsulated in our well-evolved skulls, and not jutting out of our head as a magnificently gruesome bodily piece on display, yes?

I think I went home not vastly changed, but perhaps with a slightly better understanding of myself, and of people. Whether or not this qualifies as life-changing? It’s up to you. One thing’s for certain though – the copious amounts of chicken curry I consumed and the endless hours spent marching under the blistering sun definitely did some permanent damage. I wonder when the effects will set in…

Posted in Education, INTEC, Random Stuff

This Wasn’t My Idea

If you ever have the misfortune of sharing a prison cell with me, rest assured that your social and psychological care are in the capable hands of dedicated Potterhead, professional weird-outer and source of spasmodic passionate conversations on everything Game of Thrones, Lillian Lau. My academic intelligence, however, remains questionable to this day. As you sit down awkwardly next to me and we grudgingly begin a conversation, you discover that I’m facing lifetime imprisonment for defacing the internet with a deluge of anime and Percy Jackson. Weapon of choice: a WordPress blog. So you ask me, “Why write a blog?”.

First thing’s first – let me clarify that this blog is not the lovechild of me and my undying love for writing. In fact, publishing a blog was the last thing on my list, right behind jumping head-first down Niagara Falls. Secondly, if I even remotely remind you of your Aunt Sue twice removed, no matter how nice or pretty she is, let me say this: NO I DO NOT LOOK LIKE YOUR AUNTIE. The sentiment, however, is appreciated. While walking towards the canteen for a welcome but unsurprisingly disgusting lunch, you pick up the courage to inquire, “May I read it?”. I snort and say, “Sure. If you have a phone.”. Setting down your tray dripping with grey goulash you grin covertly and pull out a cellphone you managed to sneak in. My eyes widen as I see the local thugs approach you from the back. You, being happily oblivious, continue tapping enthusiastically on your iPhone’s aluminium silicate screen. Finally realizing a menacing presence, you turn nervously. Your living daylights are promptly knocked out of you. Oh yeah. That reminds me. I haven’t answered your question yet. So why this blog? Once you’ve come to your senses, read on and find out 🙂