Well, what can we say about Kai Syuen except that she’s been such an AWESOME facilitator! She is a rising sophomore at UPenn. If you like what you’ve read in this interview, be sure to come to our Two-Day workshop THIS WEEKEND to meet her! :)
Here we go… Let’s meet Kai Syuen!
I’m Kai Syuen and I’m from Kuala Lumpur, born and bred. I’m definitely a KL-ite through and through- I think it’s a beautiful city, litter on the roads and all (gives it character!). I’m a rising sophomore from the University of Pennsylvania and am planning to major in Philosophy Politics and Economics (mostly because I can’t decide which of the three I like best!). I did A-Levels at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur (in Brickfields- best Indian food in KL!), and went to Wesley Methodist School.
I love gaining new experiences, which is why I love travelling and learning new things about life and the world (I’m ALWAYS up for trivia). This means I have phases in my hobbies, whether in filmmaking, geeking out over video-games, or a two-month-long ping-pong craze. However, one constant in my life is definitely my love for writing; also, I enjoy philosophizing and deep thinking while dishwashing.
I first attended USApps in 2008 as an ignorant Form 4-er. While I wanted to be a facilitator last year, timing wasn’t right, so this year is my first year facilitating. It’s been great and the best part about it hands down is meeting all the US-bound Malaysians- we all have a tinge of (good) crazy so it is always fun to hang out!
What did you do in high school?
Even though being a prefect is the benchmark of the Malaysian over-achiever, I never became one because I couldn’t make sense of my school rules enough to uphold them (you’ll understand if you go to my school). So I focused on developing valuable experiences, and developing my interests and passions. One thing I did was not limit myself to just participating in activities within the school, with all its teenage petty politics on gaining positions in clubs/societies. Instead, I went volunteering for NGOs in Malaysia. I also developed my writing and joined writing competitions. One major experience was finding a cause I was passionate for, after ‘shopping around’ a little- the environment. I spent a few years volunteering for environmental NGOs and did some environmental awareness advocacy work.
One thing I learnt in high school was not to just follow the ‘conventional’ path to success in high school (a string of Presidencies, prefectship, etc.), but to follow my personal interests and cultivate my passions.
Do you remember much about your college application experience? Tell us a little about it!
I remember rushing my college applications because I had NEVER thought of going to the US- I was in love the UK the whole way. I only started doing SATs very very near before the deadline, with no time to retake it. So I actually took a day off during a holiday in London to do my SAT subject tests in an international school outside London- time was that short! I only started my essays 2 weeks before the deadline- that’s because unfortunately, I am the kind of writer who can only write when the feeling hits me (because of my diva-esque inspiration), so I rushed my essays.
DON’T DO WHAT I DID. It will only cause you the worst 2 months of your life.
All said, my personal experience has led me to believe that the US college application experience is as life-changing as meditating on the meaning of life in a Himalayan mountain. It really causes you to re-evaluate your self, and your place in the world, and your hopes, dreams and plans for the future. It’s a truly valuable experience that really develops you as a person, particularly during your time as an insecure teenager.
Of course, even though you feel you’ve figured yourself out after the experience (like I did), going to university after that messes you up again, for the exciting journey of figuring yourself out again.
Why did you choose to apply to the US?
Like I mentioned earlier, I had never thought of going to the US- I was in love with London and the UK and didn’t even conceive of going to the US. However, as a Form 4-er attending the USApps workshop, I could tell that even if I DIDN’T end up going to the US in the end, the applications process is a great learning experience and a growth opportunity. So don’t look at the tons of forms/essays as a chore- it’s an adventure!
I applied to both UK and US universities. In the end, what made me go to the US was the applications process itself. US universities administer such a tedious process because they actually care about you as a person and how you would fit into their community. They don’t just care about your academic knowledge, but whether you can grow and develop as a person in the 4 years you spend at their institution. With the liberal arts curriculum, US education is really for broadening your perspective, giving you an education for life instead of just the tools to do well in your career.
In the end, I chose the US because it wanted to feed my soul, in all its intellectual and creative yearnings, instead of just honing my mind.
Give three areas you feel you’ll be able to give advice on:
Essays, getting the most out of US education, and Malaysian Scholarships applications for overseas study
Tell us about your favourite college class?
I’ve only had one year of classes so far, but I’ve found every one interesting in its own way, and life changing in their own small ways. They all added something to my perspective towards life. However, my favourite class so far is definitely an English seminar on fantasy novels (at Penn, seminars are particularly small classes of less than 20 students, and more discussion heavy than just conventional lectures by professors). The class analysed books like George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones, Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, as well as fantasy films like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It allowed me to indulge in my inner fantasy geek, discussing the books and understanding them in a totally different level. It may be difficult to believe, but some things I learnt about fantasy in the class are definitely transferable to real life!
Favorite country? Favorite Malaysian food? Favorite bands/music/books?
Malaysia- we may have our faults, but when I’m here, even walking on the (sometimes littered) streets of KL, or riding on the ever-late LRTs, it feels like home.
Choosing my favourite Malaysian food really causes super rambang mata! But my favourites are definitely Cantonese boiled soup (any type!) and our tropical fruits (durian, mangosteen, rambutan, everything).
I gravitate towards indie singer-songwriter music, from home-grown Zee Avi and Najwa, to Kina Grannis and Imaginary Friend. I tend to like songs rather than artistes or bands, so most of my favourites consist of specific songs rather than favourite bands. However, I appreciate any good melody, so I can appreciate Eminem and Flo Rida, as long as an excellent melody and meaningful lyrics can be found.
My favourite books are anything that adds to life’s meaning, and has emotional resonance. Like my interests, my taste in books is highly according to phase- I had a phase on Indian authors, and now I’m having a Haruki Murakami phase. I have a constant fascination for fantasy novels (of the Philip Pullman and George RR Martin variety). I’ve never had a romance novel phase, though (except for a Cecilia Ahern chick lit phase). Two of my (constant) favourite novels are To Kill A Mockingbird and The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nightime.