Dilemmas of a Malaysian Student

Running in the theme of #WhyMalaysia, LoyarBurok presents Aerie Rahman’s “Catcher in the Rye”.

On face value it would seem that I’m stuck in Malaysia for the rest of my life. As a law student in a local, affirmative action university, it would seem that my career options are limited to practising law in West Malaysia (I’m neither a Sabahan nor a Sarawakian). So, the question of “Why Malaysia?” would beget an answer that I’m living in Malaysia not out of choice, but because that is the only option available. I can’t practise law in Singapore as they don’t recognize my university’s law school.

I think you can already predict my career path. I’d graduate (hopefully), work in the public sector, maybe land a job in the Attorney-General’s Chambers as a Deputy Public Prosecutor, live on a meagre but stable salary, mix with bureaucrats and retire with a pension. Advise kids about the exciting life of a lawyer in court when all these kids want is to find a job which utilizes mathematics minimally. I’ll develop a penchant for a conservative worldview. I would also realize that the concept of justice is just an idealistic notion for hopefuls. That in reality, justice is merely a facade to forward self-interests. I don’t want to believe that…but reality will set in…eventually…

It isn’t fun being a student in a local university. I blame myself for not studying hard enough and getting an education in the West. You see, my family isn’t part of the bourgeoisie. We cannot afford a tertiary education in the UK. I felt like kicking myself when I flopped my SPM. SPM was a gateway to studying abroad. Obtain a scholarship and you’re on your way to a glittering student life. I was a fool back then, putting instant gratification such as fun and games over latent gratification like my studies. Results are everything, kids.

It’s hard, really. In the West, you enjoy more freedom and rights. Rankings would show that the West have universities which are way better than ours. You swell with pride telling others that you’re from Oxford, Harvard or Sydney. Better job opportunities for you. Hooray. You get to experience freedom, a liberal society and even winter. Study in those really ancient castle-like universities, where great men once trod. Seronok gile kan?

Ye, nampak seronok sangat. | Source: NYUs U-Hall blog

Ye, nampak seronok sangat. | Source: The Common Roon, NYU's U-Hall blog

Contrast that to us in local universities. To start off, there’s always a stigma. People always look down on us. Complain pasal kita tak pandai speaking London lah. That we’re a product of an education system which spoonfeeds and is heavily textbook-based. Conventional wisdom rules and to a certain extent dissent is discouraged. The detractors do have a point. And on the balance of probabilities, if you were to choose between a graduate from Bristol and a graduate from a local university, I bet your bottom dollar that you’d opt for the latter. People seem to look at where you come from instead of who you are nowadays.

It’s sickening, really. To live in a controlled environment. In a climate of fear. Fear of getting in the wrong side of the law. So to err on the side of caution, you don’t take risks or explore. Ridiculous laws and tatatertibs coerce your conformity and solicit your submission. Literally speaking, my university life is micromanaged. Thank God we have such a caring campus administration. What colour shirt should I wear tomorrow again? Black, right? Just checking.

Compound all that with the fact that I’m reading law in Malaysia. You not only have to compete with local graduates but also those from the UK who’ve just finished their Bar exams or CLP. More cut-throat competition. The production of law students by law faculties is intensifying. Have you been to my law faculty? It’s a Malthusian nightmare!

The International Islamic University (IIU) alone churns out 500 graduates per batch. Did I tell you that the legal profession is hierarchical in nature? Takes you quite a while to go up. And with all this talk about a Common Bar Exam which every law graduate would have to sit, in a nutshell, we’re screwed.

I sound pessimistic. (I wonder what pessimistic people think of heaven.) But I must admit that there are merits of being/staying in Malaysia which override all of the above.

You see, I view us local students as agents of change. Yes, change. I sense that the winds of change are coming. I sense that a new era is going to be ushered through. Generation Y youths are more vocal, inquisitive and bolder. Local students are planting our own flags and carving our own names in the Malaysian landscape.

No, not THAT kind of wind of change. | Source: rockandpop80s.com

No, not that kind of wind of change. | Source: rockandpop80s.com

We have been in a controlled environment and lived in limbo. We know what is needed and I think local students would be a catalyst for change. I don’t see things from an ivory tower like some, or dine on wine and cheese, but rather take the meagre bread and butter.

I understand the roles of a local student in Malaysia. The constant need to forever prove yourself. The stigma faced. I wanna shine. I wanna be looked up by others. So I work as hard as I can. So I do my best. So I read as much as possible… With the hope that one day we break the stigma placed on where we come from. Let’s work together and make our local university the best in the region. Instead of coming from somewhere prestigious, we make our place prestigious.

Challenge accepted!

I’ll never leave Malaysia. I’ll never migrate. I hope I won’t. I don’t want to forsake this land of mine, no matter how much it hurts. I’ll march on through, whatever the costs and whatever the consequences. And…in the fullness of time…I do hope we can make home, a better place.

Why Malaysia? Because I’m part of her.

Aerie Rahman is a law student. As a student he feels the pinch in the rising costs on water, housing, food and petrol. He is interested in restorative justice for juveniles and the concept of Truth & Reconciliation. He would like to pursue an internship at the Ayn Rand Institute in the USA and observe laissez-faire at work. Can you help? He can be contacted at Twitterjaya @aerierahman

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Posted on 19 March 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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22 Responses to Dilemmas of a Malaysian Student

  1. Roz Chung

    I enjoyed reading your thought. Do connect as i am linked to the Common Bar Course and would like very much to hear your thoughts.

  2. Fondon

    I was close to tears when i read this article. Most probably because i'm sort of in the same shoes as Aerie. Except the fact that i have yet to embrace our local universities, after the countless blogs and articles related to local universities i've read on the net. Living in denial much. Sigh.

  3. voster

    You've got a great outlook and a way with words.

    I just hope that after you've done your time with Ayn Rand, you would settle neither for the invisible oppression of central control nor the hyper-individualism of Rand that removes context from an individual.

  4. sunshine

    Aerie,

    Stop whining. Be thankful that you are actually doing a degree in law although you flopped your SPM. Rest of us may not be that lucky.

  5. on the bed

    first and foremost,a hats off to Aerie for coming up with a voice on i believe his OWN view of how the education system has been flexing its muscles all the while especially from a law student point of view..that made a good read bro..i was always on the MISCONCEPTION that local graduates do not have to slog as much as the private college ones do(in terms of completing a law degree ie including CLP as well)..i was often critical on the local universities but u proved me WRONG mate..so thanks again for a good post.

    coming back to my point of writing this comment,i was particularly engaged with comments by emeric as i think i do have something in common with him as i am a student of UOL external degree programme..i salute him as i know its no easy to juggle between work and doing a UOL LLB degree..eventhough i am lucky as i am a full-time student but i do have friends who perform the balancing act..its awesome to hear his success story..

    my post is just to simply state that we might be from different backgrounds,race,religion,etc and etc and etc and i bet it can go on the whole day(very cliched i assume) but as Airie said it lets be the wind of change,like emeric said it,lets speak up..all our goals are one..to see our MALAYSIA to be the country that all of us can proudly say we are a part of..let us be united and strive for anything and everything that we,the MALAYSIANS have a right to proclaim..drawing the popular saying…let MALAYSIA be "a government of people by people and for people"..god bless us all!!!

  6. rahman yusof

    Dear Aerie ,

    Well said and done . We do hope the youths of today studying in malaysian universities will be the leaders of tomorrow . In any case , give a thought ! Our first PM took about 10 years to complete his law , Tun mahathair was a graduate from singapore , thoese days part of malaysia and Tun badawi was a UM graduate . Not to mention our saudara Anwar ibrahim is a UM graduate .

    At the end is not where one graduates but I truly beleive it is on each individual . We have to believe on ourself !!!!!

    A good article indeed !

  7. Emeric

    Fair enough, however you have a choice of doing an external degree the same way I did if you feel the situation in local universities are that bad.

    Regarding the salary issue, your starting pay in KL is significantly higher than that. Its only if you are working else well (I'm in Kuching, for example) that you start at RM2k. Furthermore, you did have a choice in accepting the challenge of reading law at a local university when you could have done something else (I heard accountants are in greater demand nowadays). Having made your bed, why are you now complaining about having to lie in it?

    I do support you in your efforts to change the learning environment. It is my humble opinion that the climate of fear you speak of is caused by the stifling of any voices of dissent by the UUCA. Maybe you could first look into supporting those who have already made a trail into speaking out against the UUCA by supporting the UUCA 4?

  8. Aerie Rahman

    Hi guys, thanks for the comments:

    Shyla williams: yes, I do hope Gen Y becomes the agent of change that we feel is necessary. Though most of us are idealistic, its idealism is what drive change.

    Jager: I'm glad that you are leading a prosperous life in the States. Alhamdulillah.

    Me the martian: I do not and will not deny that us Malaysians are blessed with good fortunes and a prosperous life. This article merely highlights the plight that most of us face and also constructive criticisms to the situations under status quo.

    Expat: Thanks for the positive outlook. It's true, I need to secure an LLB first. But I do hope I can work overseas for a few years, be exposed, contribute and come back in Malaysia to serve this beloved country.

    Emeric: I do empathize with your situation and do admire you working to make end meets and secure an education. However, my main concern in this article, was the controlled environment that we face (you don't get that doing an external at UOL).

    I do admit that competition is essential for human improvement. Brings the best out of individuals. And maybe this article might come across as a person who is lazy. Fine, up to you. But look around you mate.

    The starting salary for an undergraduate is RM2k per month. When we start our pupillage, at most that we can expect is around RM1k. This just shows that there's an oversupply of lawyers which exceeds demand. I did mention that this profession is hierarchical in nature. So it would take some time before we break into having higher wages.

    Of course I didnt say everything is a bed of roses when studying overseas. That isn't my concern. I'm here to voice out my thoughts as a student in a local university.

  9. Emeric

    Dear Aerie,

    Reading your post on The Malaysian Insider disturbed me. A lot.

    In a nutshell, I obtained 10As for my 'O' Levels including for Malay, a B3 for Higher Malay though. Was rejected by UM, UKM and UIA from doing law because "tidak ada SPM Bahasa Melayu". Intended to sit for the BM paper alone but was told I couldn't do so because I have to sit for the 6 core subjects, not only BM and moreover, I would have to wait a year to do so.

    So, I enrolled for a External LLB Degree from UOL. Worked during the day to pay for exam fees and continuation fees. Studied my ass off at night. Got through as fast as I could and came face to face with the rock that is the CLP.

    Sweated blood and tears over the absmysal passing rate of the CLP. Somehow managed to get through in one year. All the while looking on enviously at the local law undergrads who pay cheaper fees, get more opportunities and get a "Pass" card when it comes to the CLP.

    Your intention may be actually to spur a change in standards of tertiary education in Malaysia but please think before you whine about competition in the same post. The essence of any improvement in standards is basically competition and your bleating about having to compete with English grads and the like conjures an image of a whiny pathetic brat in my head.

    Take it from me, less than half of the people in my CLP class actually came back from the UK, most of them did the good old UOL LLB External Degree, the majority slaving away at a day job while they did it.

    Oh, and basically the hierarchy of the legal profession can be leapfrogged. You just gotta have balls and take the cases no one would touch with a 10 foot pole. Good luck.

  10. Expat

    Hi there..

    Im a malaysia and working overseas. Coincidently in legal profession.

    Where u graduate doesnt matter. How u take life matter most…

    The world is borderless with technology n cheap flights… You can go anywhere and do anything with God's will…

    I can assure you. You just need to open your eyes. I met a person telling me abt how his child went to study law after watching the criminal prosecution on international leader. This child when to work in pakistan to help women under UN and now granted scholarship to study in oxfard.

    Your LLB is your gateway to your future. There are so many things you can still do and contribute to human kind not just in malaysia.

  11. why malaysians are so bitter amidst their good fortune, i wonder. nothing will ever be good enough, right? those who study in local unis gripe about low standard the institutions are, those who managed to go overseas keep merengek about not being accepted to local unis. grow up people!

  12. why malaysians are so bitter, i wonder…

  13. Jager

    I wasn't accepted to local universities, so I went abroad to persue my study. I wasn't good enough for local u, but good enough for some states u. Same thing, I am not good enough for local co, now I am working here in the States. Alhamdulillah.

  14. Shyla William

    I like the last para best of all; echoes my sentiments for staying back.Gen Y- I really hope you do become that the wind of change.

  15. Aerie Rahman

    Hey guys. Thanks for the comments.

    dewdrop: yeah, I would love to be a journalist….a travel journalist lah. haha. or maybe one of those journalists embedded within a military squad and update on wars. Should be cool stuff.

    fir: thanks fir. I like to look at the realities of life. The mainstream media doesn't give a rats ass about our plight. And why should they? It doesn't sell. Thank god we have alternative sources like LB to voice our concerns.

    Alan: thanks for the thoughts. Yes, most people (my parents especially) concurs with your view on LLB. It's nice to have optimism when your surroundings are bleak with repression. See you in court!….if I make it lah. Haha

    Adrian: thanks adrian. In my opinion, the status quo in Malaysia is rather bleak. But I see a light…

    Norizzatiz: thanks. It means alot

  16. norizzatiz

    Nice ending ahah

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  19. Alan Tan

    Hi aerie,

    Things may not be as pessimistic as it seems. We generally feel that the grass on the other side is always greener. True enough the society and culture in the west is more liberal, I have more freedom compared to when I'm in Malaysia and I get to experience the 4 seasons but it doesn't make me a better lawyer. A LLB is a LLB. It's just a qualification. When it comes to being a lawyer, it's all about practical.

    I've had the honour of being the acquaintance of a number of local graduates who are amazing lawyer and excel at what they do. So hold your chins high and prove those with the stigma wrong. Hope to see u I'm court soon!

  20. Adrian

    I love how the article started off with such a morbid tone which changes towards the end to a more optimistic and hopeful one.

  21. Fir

    An article I can really relate to. Thanks for voicing out the sentiments and hopes Im sure shared by many other local undergrads/ grads. Good piece!

  22. dewdrop

    the way he writes maybe he should have considered journalism rather than law!