Career Guide

Life after SPM

Throughout my secondary school years, it was the accepted understanding that after SPM, I, along with my schoolmates, would progress to do our A-Levels or foundations at private colleges nearby before moving on to a university somewhere overseas to complete our education.

This expectation came true for many of my classmates; however, my own plans were derailed. When I was nearing the end of my SPM, my parents told me that the most cost-effective education option was to do my A-Levels in the form of (the dreaded) STPM. Form Six?? I was horrified. Another two years of school uniforms and waking up at 6 am? I couldn’t bring myself to demand the “cooler” alternative of college, not when my parents were explicitly telling me that college was an expenditure that the family funds could not cover. I note with some interest, that my immediate concerns were with school uniforms, not the difficulty of the STPM course! At 17, I was many things, but thoughtful and deep were not amongst them.

The gap between the end of SPM and the beginning of Form Six spanned almost half a year, so I filled it with work experience in the form of touching up portraits at a photo studio. This temporary job ensured that I became comfortable with the Photoshop programme, a familiarity that proved its usefulness many times over during the course of my university years as well as later at work.

Eventually, I put on my school uniform and headed off to Form Six where I found, much to my delight, that I could take English Literature at STPM level, like I did for SPM! I also met amazing friends and teachers (Holla, Puan Joyce) who shaped my life in ways that defy definition. The effects of their influence still resonate today.

Lim (third from left) and classmates in Form Six Lim (third from left) and classmates in Form Six

Form Six was definitely an experience I won’t forget anytime soon. There really is no such thing as dropping a course and switching to another programme. You can, like I did, switch from Science stream to Arts in the beginning of the school year, but there’s really no option like quitting halfway through and starting fresh with a new intake. With that in mind, Form Six students generally take things a little more seriously, because for many, STPM is the only way to a tertiary education. There is no safety net in the form of taking another programme or just quitting to study privately. If they fail their STPM and don’t get accepted into a public university, a degree may just be impossible.

My friends and I soon finished STPM and moved on to our respective colleges and universities. While many went on to public universities, many also moved on to private institutions (STPM is accepted in all tertiary institutions in Malaysia, and is generally accepted internationally as well, especially within the Commonwealth of Nations and the United States). I was one of those who went on to a local public university: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, or UKM.

The National University of Malaysia, as it is known in English, was the second public university to be established in the country, and was only one of four universities in the country to offer an English Literature degree programme (the programme is currently not being offered, sadly). To say I was ecstatic is an understatement – I was over the moon at the prospect of being able to delve into Literature and explore new worlds. The programme in UKM was quite well-rounded in the sense that we dabbled in media studies, with a bit of sociology and even dramatic arts. There was less of “ye olde English”, and more of contemporary writings by people like Buchi Emecheta and Shirley Lim, with some manga to make the learning fun! In our Performance Arts module, we produced a play from scratch, from script-writing all the way through to managing costumes and lighting which is, in all sorts of ways, super awesome. Until that class, I had no idea I could write a script, and one that could make the audience laugh, at that! My classmates and I suddenly realised that we were actually capable of putting together a production, with all it entails, and that experience was an education in itself, I can tell you.

Lim (left) and university mates dressed up for a historical re-enactment Lim (left) and university mates dressed up for a historical re-enactment

Since it was quite a distance from home, it made more sense to live on campus. Nothing enforces real 1Malaysia spirit like living in close quarters with people of every race. You soon become familiar with subtler cultural nuances you wouldn’t have been privy to had you only met in the lecture halls. Living with a Malay roommate ensured that I soon learnt the importance of not touching her after she had taken air wuduk and maintaining absolute silence while she performed her prayers. I dare say she also ended up quite familiar with lots of Chinese customs and superstitions by the time we moved on to different roommates. How’s that for culture-sharing?

Honestly speaking, I started off my journey a little unsure about my path (Literature is hardly the doctor/engineer/accountant direction in which most parents want their child to go) but now that I’ve travelled further down the path and am doing what I love – writing! - I am more sure now than ever that that this journey of mine has taken me exactly where I needed to go.

Lim May Lee hopes that everybody will be able to do what he or she loves. Log on to today to apply for the job you love!