Why the US? – Syairah (University of Texas at Austin ’15)

Syairah Ridzuan (University of Texas at Austin ‘15) finds a shift in focus in her academic journey: discovery and learning over letter grades.



For the first eighteen years of my life, I never dreamed of visiting the United States, much less living in that country. In fact, I knew nothing about the other side of the world, and I had no desire to learn more about the countries on that continent. My focus was fixed on Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM); it was (and still is, sadly) the gatekeeper that largely determines the career paths of many Malaysian youths. Not getting straight A’s will significantly lower your chances of admission to the top academic programs in local universities. Hence, my focus had to be singular at that time. And I came through – with results that met societal expectations of academic excellence. I managed to secure a scholarship that covered my entire undergraduate studies in the United States.

Whoa, what? The United States?

Nobody said anything about studying there.

I thought I had applied for a scholarship to study in the UK.

Yep, that was how I reacted after reading my scholarship offer letter. From that moment onwards, the learning curve began to steepen. Not only did I have to learn about a different higher education system, I also had to learn about other, equally important matters like the culture in the US. I was going to do more than study in the United States, I was going to live in the country for the next four years of my life. On my own. It was both an exciting and a scary prospect for me.

And I’m glad I went with it.

The University of Texas at Austin has taught me more than just economics models and theories; it has guided me to discover more about my interests in computer science, architecture, psychology, and theatre. More importantly, UT has taught me that academic excellence is important but not paramount in my life. Rather, the institution has demonstrated to me the importance of giving back to the community, whether it is through conducting research or doing weekly volunteer work. Good grades don’t matter that much. They become mere alphabets on a piece of paper called a transcript that attest to your ability in certain fields and help you land a job that hopefully pays you more than enough for you to survive. Apart from that, those letters don’t say much about you as an individual beyond the realm of professionalism. Therefore, strive for both academic and personal growth.

The United States will be a fine place for you to grow up and strengthen your own roots. Challenge your beliefs in all its forms, Compare them with the foreign culture you’re exposed to in your university and examine them in a new light. You’ll come out a whole lot stronger – as a person and as a believer in whatever faith, ideology, or cultural practices that you live by.