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The basics
THE USA: Before you leave

Malaysian SVA Alumni on studying in NYC [INTERVIEW]

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Ryan Chong is a Malaysian student who currently resides in the United States. He is an alumni from the School of Visual Arts, where he took his Bachelor's.


In this interview, he provides a very honest and raw insight on what it's like living in NYC as a Malaysian.


Also, if you're a fan of Final Fantasy VII, check out a cool picture of him below with an awesome piece of art inspired by the "One Winged Angel"!


Tell us a bit about yourself.

ryan chong


"I'm Ryan Chong, and I was actually born here in New York City 25 years ago. My parents are Malaysian and I pretty much grew up in Kuala Lumpur. I came back to the States after graduating from secondary school at Victoria Institution. I received my Bachelor's of Fine Arts from the Computer Art, Computer Animation, and Visual Effects department at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) here in New York City last year and I am now currently a freelance CG artist."


Why that specific course and that university?

one winged angel


"Growing up, I remembered wanting to be an artist but I never really knew what kind. What eventually made my mind up into going into this field was watching Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children all those years ago and being awestruck at the visuals. That being said, I wasn't looking to leave New York City, and after doing some research, I decided that SVA offered the best course when compared to the other art schools in the city. It helps that most of the films accepted into Siggraph's MetroCAF, a college level computer animation film festival open to schools within 60 miles of NYC, are from SVA. Plus it's the cheapest private art school on the East Coast yet has facilities that rivals and are even better than a lot of studios here."


What do you like about the university besides the academic side of it?

"Most probably it's location. NYC is a hotspot for commercial and visual effects studios in the States. The other being California. It means that we have a lot of opportunities over the course of 4 years to create our  network of professional connections more than when compared to other schools."


What have you learned so far from living/studying in the U.S.?

ryan chong

"This might be a little hard to answer in terms of how broad it is. I have to say though that one of the things I learnt was in being independent whether or not you live with your family. Then again, it does come with age. One of the other things I've learnt is to be more open and tolerable to new cultures."


Tell us a bit on how your course will/has helped you in getting to your career path.


"Like I mentioned before, the location is pretty great. Another is the faculty: in order to teach at SVA, you have to be a working professional with at least a certain amount of years of experience. None of the instructors are teaching full time and they all come from a variety of backgrounds. I have had teachers that are Oscar winners, others who are working for the Emmy and Visual Effects Society award winning companies, and some who own their own companies. The department chair, John McIntosh, and the rest of the staff are extremely helpful as well in giving advice and providing a network of connections that is global from here in the States to as far as Malaysia and Japan."


What are your living conditions like?


"I currently live with my family in Queens and I help with paying some bills for the family. However, I use my own income for my own general use rather than asking my parents. I know I mentioned before about being more independent but rent in NYC plus loans are just too much to handle this early on out of college."


What is the biggest difference you notice from studying in Malaysia and studying in America?


"The system is different. I've read before that students from Malaysia are more inclined to study in Australia and England rather than the states because of the education system in those countries are similar since they're derived from the British system and credits transfer easier between those countries. Correct me if I'm wrong but I heard that you don't have to study subjects not related to your major in British and Australian universities. While I was in school here I still had to study history, social sciences, literature, math, and so on in addition to my core classes. Speaking of math, everything here is in English so I had some difficulties in the translation sometimes (I was the last batch to learn science and math in Malay before they changed it to English) . That being said, I believe that the Malaysian government's decision to change it back to Malay is a huge mistake."


What do you do in your free-time to take a break from studying?


"I laughed a little at this question because when I was in school, the only break I had was when I wasn't slaving away in the labs, and that was only when I got home. But I'm usually playing video games when I'm at home. When I'm in the city I usually go somewhere to eat with my friends. One of the great perks of being in New York is that there are so many types of foods to choose from and to discover."


What advice would you give to Malaysians who are planning to go and study in the US?


"Having an open mind and being wary that what's socially acceptable in Malaysia might not be the same here, and vice versa. When my cousin moved here, I had to remind him that calling people a "n*gga" might get you beaten up or shot. (Contrary to stereotypical views, New York is pretty safe. I feel safer here than in KL. That being said, there are certain areas you'd still want to avoid). If you can, get the student visa that allows you to work off campus, might be easier that way to get a job/internship while still in school."


Your 5 favourite things about studying and living in the US?

ryan chong and friend


"Oh this is a tough one. The food definitely as I've mentioned before (NYC Restaurant Week!). The people I meet is another. I've met Israelis, Russians, Australians, Brits, Canadians, Central Americans, Koreans, Japanese... There are too many to list in such a small area but it's great. If you think Malaysia has a lot of ethnic races, you haven't seen anything yet. It's like there's a little part of the world everywhere here, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (I honestly don't go there as often as I should since the Met is pretty much pay as you want to enter).


The next thing I'm about to say might sound weird, but I like the commute I take every morning by subway into the city. Sure, at times it's frustrating as hell but it makes me feel like I'm part of the city. It also gives me a spectacular view of midtown as I head to and fro on the 7 line.


Finally, the fact that I can still get my dose of Malaysian foods and snacks whenever I want, as there are a bunch of Malaysian restaurants (one which my dad opened some 25 years ago and is still running well), and as well as a grocery store that sells Malaysian groceries like Maggi Mee, sauces, Malaysian snacks, and the like."


Were you able to get what you wanted out of your time studying abroad?


"To those who believe that people who decide to major in art do so because they think it's easy should know that I've seen a lot of hard work and effort go into creating their works of art. They are among the most hardworking and dedicated people I've ever met, and I've seen students who'll stay for days on end in the computer labs in school without going home to work on their pieces. Sit down and watch how much work goes into creating an animated movie, or how much work goes into creating visual effects for a movie and you will understand.


When I started off, I had wanted to work in Japan for Square Enix. As the years past, reality kicked in and knowing how tough it is to even get a work visa there without knowing anyone there would be a bit too unrealistic. As of the time that I'm doing this interview, I'm currently working at an Academy Award winning visual effects studio in SoHo."


Anything you want to say to encourage students to study abroad?

"While I'm  definitely not a fan of the term "YOLO" which is used too often by people who try to justify stupid and idiotic actions, it works well in this context. Do it. It's rewarding, challenging, you'll get to meet new people from other countries, see new places, and so on. However, there is the reality of funds. It isn't cheap. Make sure you get the funding to do so."


If you're interested in doing something similiar as Ryan, then check out the links below:


Study in the US

Study Creative Arts in the US

Scholarships for Malaysian students to study in the US


Study in the USA


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