Malaysian fulfils dream with three scholarships

Priceless: The scholarships gave Lee the opportunity to live abroad and earn degrees from foreign universities.

FROM young, Lee Say Wah had a goal in mind – to continuously score good results in order to land scholarship opportunities to achieve her dream of pursuing her tertiary studies abroad.

It was a goal she pursued in earnest as a secondary school student as she knew her family would not be able to pay for her tertiary education, let alone afford an overseas education.

“My father was a lorry driver and my mother was a tailor who earned just enough to feed me. I had to work hard to find ways to support myself,” she told StarEdu. Having successfully completed her studies from undergraduate to postgraduate level – and benefited from three overseas scholarships to boot – the recent Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) graduate in journalism and communication can take pride in having fulfilled her dream.

But her journey had been far from the straightforward pathway she had envisioned for herself.

She thought she was on track to realise her dream when she scored straight As in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) and the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.

Her hopes were dashed, however, when she could not secure the tertiary pathway she had wanted.

“I was not able to win a Public Service Department scholarship to pursue the A-Levels along with a bachelor’s degree, nor land a spot in a matriculation programme.

“As a result, I had to take the longer pre-university route, which was to study for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination,” she shared, adding that at this juncture, she decided to switch from the science stream to the art stream to study economics and commerce.

Upon scoring a perfect cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.0 in the STPM, Lee gained admission to Universiti Malaya (UM), taking a loan from the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) to pay for her undergraduate programme.

But she had to finance her studies on her own when she switched programmes midway, from law to business.

“I was told to settle the loan in full before applying for another loan for the new programme.

“I didn’t have the money to settle the loan, so I supported myself throughout the rest of my bachelor’s programme teaching secondary level subjects part-time as a private tutor, earning RM30 to RM60 per session,” recalled Lee, who eventually graduated with a first-class honours degree in business administration.

“I still had to repay the PTPTN loan I took for the earlier programme. It couldn’t be converted into a scholarship because the loan was not for the programme I graduated from,” she added.

Even while she was pursuing her undergraduate studies, Lee continued to look for opportunities to broaden her horizons abroad.

Her persistence saw her winning a scholarship to attend the one-year Asean Millennium Leaders College Student Exchange Programme in South Korea.

“I was really delighted to receive the award. It allowed me to travel overseas for the first time in my life,” she gushed, describing South Korea as the “perfect destination” for a first-time foreign student.

“I could experience living through four seasons in the beautiful country filled with vibrant cultures and sceneries,” she explained.

After graduating from UM, Lee went on to pursue a two-year master’s programme in management and business administration at Xi’an Jiaotong University and a four-year PhD programme at Shanghai Jiao Tong University – as a scholar under the Chinese Government Scholarship-Asean University Network Programme and the Shanghai Government Scholarship, respectively.

“The scholarships were very useful as they gave me financial security. I could focus on my studies overseas while being able to travel around during my free time.

“Furthermore, I didn’t have to repay the amount or serve any bond. The experiences I gained from studying and living abroad, as well as the degrees I earned from the foreign universities, were priceless,” said Lee, who has recently found employment as a lecturer in marketing at UCSI University Faculty of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts.

For students looking for avenues to pursue their studies abroad, Lee had this to share: look for scholarship opportunities online and apply according to the requirements and procedures.

She also said one should always anticipate the amount of time needed to fully prepare a scholarship application.

“When I came across a scholarship opportunity with a tight deadline, I had to set aside everything else just to prepare documents for the scholarship application or I would miss it.

“I once begged a university officer who was in charge of collecting applications to give me one more day to submit my documents,” she said, pointing out that some of the documents take time to acquire or complete, such as recommendation letters from professors, certified copies of certificates and research proposals.

She also encouraged students to have more confidence in themselves.

“Do not doubt if you are good enough for a scholarship. I have met students from around the world who received the same scholarships as I did, and who came from different educational backgrounds, with different qualifications and language proficiencies.

“Nobody is perfect, so just be confident of your application.”

Li Lian, 17, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to

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Lee Say Wah , v , higher education , Brats , Star-NiE


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