“Life is not only about achieving good grades…”

By Azra Farzana Shuib

Would you work during your undergraduate studies? Would you face the fears of your life? Would you be prepared not to take a rest and lose your sleep in pursuit of excellence? And despite achieving all that, would you still have the ability to be humble and respect everyone around you?

These are among the concerns for youths nowadays. In a country where material wealth is necessary to fulfil your dream and provide you with stable life, would you be able to possess a brave heart, not doing things for money, put your moral knowledge to practice, and exercise your specialisation within the framework of your beliefs, despite losing something from it?

Excellent students should not be judged merely by their string of A’s. There are several factors in determining a student’s academic pedestal. In the realm of uncertainty and competitiveness, both skills and on-paper excellence are the main criteria to set one’s distinction.

Recently to fulfil an assignment for my journalism subject, I had the opportunity to interview Noorfarida Filzah, a student who had just graduated from IIUM to discover more about her academic excellence. It turns out she is more than just a Dean’s Lists student.

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, this 25-year old who is currently pursuing her Masters in this university, shared her experience and views about academics, skills and life.

Here is the full text of my interview with Noorfarida Filzah:

Q: Can you tell me about yourself?

A: My name is Noorfarida Filzah, you can call me Filzah. I graduated from IIUM and my major is Linguistics, but I did my minor in Communication. I have a Diploma in Journalism, and currently doing my Masters in Applied Linguistics.

 Q: What are the awards or recognitions have you received?

A: During my school time, I was awarded Best Student in Physics, Best Student in Curriculum and I have also won Sportswoman of The Year Award. Not much here, but I got several Dean’s Lists.

 Q: So you were a sportswoman back then, did you join any sports here in IIUM?

A: No, I stopped. I shouldn’t stop but I did.

 Q: What are the achievements that you are most proud of?

A: One of the best achievements that I could say is when I received the Best Student in Curriculum Award during my school time, because at that time I didn’t expect that. Here, even though I got several Dean’s Lists, I only focused on my academic. I didn’t do much sports, I didn’t join much activities. So I don’t think that I gave it all.

 Q: What are the things you are most passionate about?

A: I am very passionate about writing. I used to be a journalist with the New Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia. That’s why I took my minor in Communication, because I really like Journalism. But I am passionate about English as well, that’s why I’m into Linguistics, so I have best of both worlds in IIUM. You can’t do that in other universities.

Q: How long did you work as a Journalist?

A: I didn’t work for a long time with Utusan. It was one year. But with the NST, it was an on-off thing.  I worked there during my undergraduate study. So, it was more than two years. 

Q: Can you tell me what were your job scopes?

A: I was a junior journalist, I had to go to places to cover for press conferences, I had to search for news, so in a day I would have two to three assignments. And I would have to come back with news.

Q: What are you most grateful about in life?

A: I’m very grateful for the fact that I have real supportive parents, they understand what I need. They always put my academics first, so anything that is related to education was very important since I was young, so I am really grateful to them.

 Q: How would you describe yourself?

A: If you want to ask me about academic excellence, I didn’t really study all the time. I am a last minute person, to tell you the truth. But that’s how I study. So one thing I know about me is that I know who I am and what I want. I’m very focused about what I want in life,  so once I know what I want, I don’t easily get distracted with whatever that comes in between, if I want A, then I’ll go for A.

Q: How did you manage your time?

A: Good question. I didn’t really manage it – I don’t have a timetable or anything, but I’ll make it a point to really focus in class, and before I go to class, I’ll make sure that I read what is going to be learned. That is my strategy. And I will make sure that I have ample time to read before the exam – one week would be enough.

Q: Who inspires you the most?

A: My mum. My mum is the most inspiring person I have ever met in my life. She is serious about achieving great things in life and for her, if a woman is educated, then she can do whatever she wants. I mean, even though women can’t do everything, but she is almost independent if she has a good education.

Q: Being a woman, do you think you have your own limitations?

A: Yes, I do. That’s why we need men in our lives. We can’t do everything that men can do. But I believe that Malaysia offers great education compared to other third world countries, and women here should acquire those opportunities.

Q: Can you tell me what are the challenges in studying that you faced or are currently facing?

A: I have to take care of my brothers a lot. During my undergraduate studies, they were having PMR and SPM, so I have to go back and forth because my parents were not always here. So at the same time, I really had to manage them as well.  And sometimes I was busy with other stuffs, like working for NST, sometimes I had to go back at 2 a.m., then I had to go to class at 8.30 a.m., thus I didn’t have enough rest. Those were the challenges but that what makes me go on as a person. 

Q: Looking at your life now, are you living your dreams?

A: Yes, I think so. I mean, there are certain goals that I missed in life, but I believe Allah has put me here for a reason. Yeah, I think I am happy with where I am right now.

Q: What would you do today, if there is no tomorrow?

A: Oh, I would spend time with my parents, with my loved ones, especially. Just spend time with them.

Q: What are the biggest things you have learned in life to-date?

A: I realised that when you go to many places, you will meet different kinds of people. And there are several people that you can trust. And the person you can trust the most is yourself. Sometimes even your friends can betray you. So, I believe that you cannot rely on anyone else other than yourself. Whatever it is, you have to be successful yourself so that you can really depend on yourself.

Q: Would you describe yourself as independent?

A: Yes. I would do things on my own.

Q: Are you afraid of being alone then?

A: Yes, I like to be among friends, but when I do certain stuffs, I can do it alone. But I don’t like being lonely.

Q: Looking at your life now, again, what advice would you have given yourself three years ago?

A: Don’t be afraid to take risks, because one of my weaknesses during my undergraduate studies is I was afraid to try new things. I was afraid if it would shift my focus. I didn’t want to join so many activities; I did join some, but not as much as my friends. But I think that I should have given it a go – life is not only about achieving good grades, it’s more than that.

Q: You were busy during your undergraduate studies. What are you busy with currently?

A: I’m busy with my Masters – so many works (laughs). Currently, I am writing a book. Nearly finished, searching for a publisher right now, yes I am busy with that.

Q: So the things that you are doing right now – do you think that they matter to you in three years, or five years from now?

A: Yes. I don’t do things for money. I do them for passion. I have been very passionate about the things I do since I was very young. There are many things I want to do, like I used to want to become a lawyer, a dentist, but then I thought, you know what? I’m very passionate about English and writing, so I should pursue this. I think I am going to be very happy in the future, hopefully.

 Q: What are your biggest goals and dreams for now?

A: I want to be an excellent student for my Masters, because it is very tough. So, I feel that it is one goal to be achieved in the short time. But for a long term, I want to work in Google Malaysia. Or be a writer for Reader’s Digest. So those are my goals.

Q: If you could do something for free for the rest of your life, what would you want to do?

A: I want to work for orphanage homes. And teach them English, and impart the knowledge that I have gained in IIUM to Muslim children. I really want to do that actually, but I do not have the chance yet. Maybe one day if I want to do things voluntarily, I would teach for free.

Q: If you have no limitations in resources; no limitations of money, and time, what would you want to do?

A: I want to travel. With my parents, especially. I feel that with travelling, you can learn a lot, about different cultures, different backgrounds, and you can go as a person when you mix around with many people.

Q: How can you make your life or anyone’s life more meaningful?

A: I’m not sure, but I always feel that you can be there for them when they need help and assist them. Even though you cannot give assistance in terms of money or material, you can give them time, or help them with your knowledge, but I think time is the greatest value you can share with others.

Q: What is your ideal career?

A: An ideal career is where I will be able to give what I have learned; I mean, I would love to be a writer, and also have time for my family. Because I know being a writer takes a lot of your time, but I think if I could do great at both – at my work and also my roles as a mother or wife someday, that would be an ideal life.

Q: You were busy with NST, now with your Masters, you’re also writing a book, and want to spend time with your parents. How do you acquire balance in your life?

A: Sometimes you just make time for them. You’ll make it a point for them – like a day, for example, I would choose Sunday, despite so much work, but Sunday is family time. And I would make a target – short term target, every week. So Monday to Thursday is for my Masters. Friday is my writing day. Saturday is my off day, and yes, Sunday is for family time. That’s how I acquire balance.

Q: Do you think that it is important to be ready in doing everything big in life?

A: Yes, it’s important to be ready. It is always good to be prepared. But sometimes, the more prepared you are, the more challenges you’ll face. So it’s important to be ready, as important as being flexible – things don’t go your way all the time. You have to be very fast in handling many things.

Q: What are your fears? How do you overcome them?

A: One of the weaknesses I have is that I don’t trust people easily. That’s one thing about me – I fear trusting people, especially men. I think I have to improve that, because it can affect my communication with other people.

Q: Imagine yourself five years from now, what advice would your future-self give to you today?

A: If hopefully, I am there where I want to be, I would tell myself to just take the challenges, and take risks, because I’m still the same person, I mean I always think about ‘what if…’. It really pulls me from the things I want to do. So, if I could give myself an advice, it would be ‘don’t be so afraid of failing.’

Q: What is your advice to future graduates?

A: Have fun in IIUM, because this is one of the best places to study. Mix around with the international students, because you can actually learn a lot from them. Although you would disagree, but you can actually learn a lot from them, at the same time improve your interpersonal skills.***

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