Malaysia Forum 2011 just ended – an annual event that a bunch of Malaysian students in the US have been working extremely hard for- and I can finally sigh a sigh of relief. We’d been on our phones and computers for almost three months, religiously checking and replying every mail, painstakingly promoting the event and getting incredibly inspiring speakers and coordinating a million and one things, and I dare say that this is probably the most well organized MF we’ve ever had :)

MF is an event that I’m very passionate about, mainly because I really believe in all the core values and principles. The premises are simple, create a platform for Malaysians in the states (and globally now) to actively discuss anything and everything related to Malaysia, and through discussions, try to encourage everyone to go out and make a difference in Malaysia or from abroad.

After four years of attending MF, and after four years of being abroad, it really makes me question my identity and role as a Malaysian. I was coerced to be on the panel to speak on my aspirations for myself and for my country (which I think I did very poorly, super unprepared T_T) so I thought I’d just share it with everyone here!

Before I came to college, I too shared similar ideals with many others who wish to be accomplished overseas. I imagined myself to be more of the ambitious, business-suit-wearing financial analyst/investment banker kind of person, making lots of moolah for the sake of helping my family and providing myself with material wealth. I knew even before I came here that I was going to major in Economics, and tailored my first year to finish my major as soon as possible.

Now, a month before graduation, I just dropped my Econ major, and I’m planning to go home to teach in high-need schools (if I get accepted to TFM, that is)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that chasing for material wealth is wrong at all. After all, we all want to pay our family back for what we’ve owed them, and we all want to live comfortably. It’s just that in these four years, I’ve changed my ideals and aspirations so much that I think I want to talk about how it’s totally okay to not conform to the usual stereotypical way of being accomplished and successful.

Being in a liberal arts college has really taught me to look at things very differently, and to challenge my former very rigid perceptions of how things work. Perhaps it has also made me very idealistic, but if idealism is the only way we can change things these days then I’m going to hold on and protect this part of me with all my life.

Someone asked me at the forum: “Why do you still want to go back when there are so many fundamental barriers, so many constitutionalized discrimination, so many political hindrance?”

I think that’s where people are quite mistaken when I tell them I want to help the country. There are lots of obstacles yes, but we don’t have to change the entire country overnight. There are many many small things you can do, small changes that will benefit whatever community you’re in. I think people are too quick to say “Aiya cannot one lah, you see all the corrupt politicians blabla” just so they have an excuse and something to blame, just so they don’t feel bad about not being proactive.

Actually coming to the states made me realize that no matter where we are, we will always have a million and one things to criticize. I used to look at America as the great country of democracy and proponent of free speech, and yet I see so many disgruntled Americans arguing about how bad things are. Granted, there are so many other pros of being in a developed nation, but my point is there is always something you don’t like – what’s more important is if you are going to do anything about it.

Going back to MF, I think one of the many small changes you can make is to first change the mindset of people around you. Instead of complaining about things and saying “aiya that’s how things are, cannot change already one”, try to encourage people you’re with to provide constructive criticisms. Talk about what you can do as an active citizen, go out and look for ways you can change the system, starting from the bottom.

I was so inspired by the other speakers at MF who talked about youth activism, and how they decided that it’s time they do something about the injustice and inequality they see in their everyday life. Be it buying books for orang asli kids, or building a platform for activism in their community, or writing about how to challenge youth to be more proactive. And then I was inspired even further by all these other people who’re also going back home and who want to do so many things given the limited resources they have.

I think this is what is lacking back home – a platform for active discussions. I was once the uninspired, apathetic student who didn’t think changes are possible because I didn’t actively reach out of my comfort zone, until I came to MF and met all these amazing individuals. One of our panel speakers, Johnson, put it quite aptly, “It’s not apathy that’s plaguing us, it’s thinking that we’re alone in this”.

There needs to be a paradigm shift, and not just one of those loosely used “anjakan paradigmas” we end our karangan with when we talk about gejala-gejala sosial. Start with talking about it, end the mindset that nothing can be done without even being involved in the action ourselves, then find other likeminded people who share similar ideals because there are more of them out there that you think.  And if we fail, at least we failed knowing that we’ve tried our best.

Hopefully one day we will all do great things and make our home a better place to live in, and ask the people who will then come back home where have they been all along.

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p.s: my liberal arts education has also prepared me to see both sides of the coin, so i know exactly what the counterargument might be. “you don’t know how hard things are because you haven’t been back for long and haven’t worked here” – i know it’s hard trust me, i hear friends and family talk about this all too often. my point is we should try challenging and pushing perceived boundaries first, before admitting defeat due to complacency.

“i know we should all be proactive and change the world, but basic necessities should come first, we need to have enough money to feed ourselves etc etc” – i think the point i’m trying to make is not we should all be patriotic and go back home despite having better opportunities elsewhere. there are so many ways we can be proactive, we don’t have to all quit our jobs and be superheroes. eg: supporting a cause in many ways, engaging in constructive discussions, not succumbing to the mob mentality or jumping on the bandwagon all too quick when it comes to criticizing the country.

actually i can talk forever about this lah. i just want the country to be a better place and wish everyone would believe that we all have a role to play in this too, be it small or big.