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THE USA: Before you leave

Founder of Yourshoppingkaki.com on studying in USA

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Sha-Lene Pung is the founder and blog editor of Yourshoppingkaki.com. She is currently studying an M.A. in Public Relations at University of Southern California.

Here she talks about what it's like studying in USC, but also how her business ventures got her to where she is today. She also offers some very good and honest advice for other Malaysians who want to study in U.S.A.!


Hi Sha-Lene, so tell people a bit about yourself so that they can get to know more about you. :)

blogshop, yourshoppingkaki

"I'm a social media junkie and love geeking out in the tech and digital world. Born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, I've studied in Australia and USA. Currently, I'm studying at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. I'm finishing up the first year in a two-year M.A. in Strategic Public Relations program. At the same time, I'm working as a Research & Teaching Associate at USC Annenberg."

"Before pursuing graduate study in the U.S., I did my Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Communication at Monash University and worked as a tutor in the Bandar Sunway campus. I was also the social media entrepreneur behind the Malaysian-based online shopping website YourShoppingKaki.com."


Why that specific course and that university?

university of southern california

"Upon the economic growth, and success of Your Shopping Kaki, I realized that my socio-tech tendencies belonged in the converged world of public relations, marketing, advertising and communications. I wanted a highly applied course to learn the skills that would be most useful for what I wanted to do in life, and American schools had more practical and updated programs compared to theory-based programs in other countries. USC is the top school in the world for public relations: because I came to the U.S. to learn from the best in the industry, it made perfect sense to go for the best school in the field."


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

shalene, university of southern california, usc

"The opportunities here are endless! USC's strength is in networking: the alumni network is all over the world and the Trojan family is one of the most helpful communities I've been in. We also have the chance to be a part of groundbreaking research projects and work with professors, as well as participate in student organizations. I am the president of an on-campus public relations agency -- TriSight Communications -- where we work with real clients on developing and executing real-life campaigns, so it's a great application of everything we learn in classes. I'd say you get as much out of your university experience as you put into it."


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

(1) "Speak up or get lost in the crowd: it's incredibly competitive in LA, which is probably the case in all major cities, so if you don't make yourself seen and heard, you can easily disappear into a sea of faceless students/hopeful interns/job-seekers."

(2) "You gotta do what you gotta do: whether it's killing cockroaches, learning how to react in an earthquake or juggling a part-time job while overloading on classes, the work needs to get done."

(3) "How to live in LA on less than $50 per week (for living expenses): the magic of grocery shopping, I tell you..."


So how do you think this course will help you in your career?

shoes, your shopping kaki

"My course in Strategic Public Relations is very specific in carving a career path as a public relations strategist and practitioner. We hone the skill sets that the industry wants from us: video production, visual and text-based content creation, content curation, basic design and the ability to write in AP Style. After only the first semester, I learned how to develop and execute a public relations campaign from A to Z -- whether it's a product launch or crisis communication job. I've also built a strength in research and evaluation which is increasingly important to show clients a return on investment. For example, I've learned how to use data analysis software and social media metrics to monitor and evaluate the success of online campaigns."


What are your living conditions like?

your shopping kaki, student hall, student dorm, living, accommodation, university of southern california

"I live in a bachelor apartment, which is slightly smaller than a studio apartment. It's a part of campus housing, even though I'm a 15-minute walk away from campus. But I love it: it's graduate student housing and I have complete privacy, with awesome neighbors from all over the world."


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

sha-lene, halloween, your shopping kaki

"The biggest difference lies in classroom culture. Having both studied and taught in Malaysian schools, I can safely say it is based on a top-down approach. There is hardly ever any talking back, arguing or questioning the teacher's authority. Students rarely speak up in class or volunteer to answer questions, unless it's a topic they are personally interested in. Of course, there is a movement toward more outspoken students, but for the larger majority it's still very much listening to the teacher and taking his/her word as absolute truth."

"On the other hand, in Western classroom cultures, classes are usually discussion-based and almost every student will weigh in with his/her opinion."


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

sha-lene, friends, your shopping kaki

"Shopping and hanging out with my friends! I also enjoy sketching, painting and editing videos."


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

friends, sha-lene, your shopping kaki

"I have two threads of advice: (1) build your resume and (2) don't give up."


"First, my resume taps into a diverse and multicultural set of experiences, which I think we have the opportunity to build in Malaysia. I believe my solid background in research and my go-getter attitude shown by starting my own business as a college student really helped me get into graduate programs in the U.S. -- I was accepted into five schools in California alone."

"Second, be mentally prepared to accept that the journey to studying abroad -- especially in the U.S. -- is not easy. Beyond just researching universities to figure out which programs you want to apply to, there are standardized exams you have to take, admissions essays to write, application packets to carefully put together, recommendation letters to follow up on, and all of this costs money. There's also a visa application and interview after you get an offer letter: but don't be discouraged by the paperwork. Save up, start early and stay determined: it's worth it." 


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

1. "More freedom. Any Asian-to-Western relocation is going to give you a huge change in how liberal the people and ideas are."

2. "A higher standard of critical thinking. Professors and friends here really push you to think, to question and to challenge ideas instead of just accepting everything you hear/see."

3. "Access to the latest technology. Whether it's high-speed Internet, Google Glass or research software for social media monitoring, studying here gives me access to the best resources available."

4. "Walking everywhere. I like being able to walk to campus and walk to the grocery stores and restaurants, it's good exercise and it's safer here compared to Malaysia. Even though LA has quite a bit of crime as well, there is a strong police presence in my campus area."

5. "Online shopping. As the founder of YourShoppingKaki.com, I've always been a huge supporter of online shopping. However, the Malaysian online shopping community has much room to grow -- and in the U.S., I have the opportunity to learn how giant online businesses like Amazon and eBay function profitably."


What do you hope to get by the end of your study there?

china town, chinese girl, your shopping kaki

"I hope to be able to hit the ground running upon graduation, by amassing a valuable set of skills that the public relations industry would find employable -- as well as an international network of connections and colleagues."


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

shalene, your shopping kaki

"Do it. It really gives you an edge when job-hunting, and it lends a globalized perspective to your viewpoint of the world."


Inspired by this young entrepreneur and future leader? Then check out the links below to help you with your future abroad!

Study in the USA

Social Social Studies and Communication in the USA

Study Public Relations in the USA

Scholarships for Malaysians to study in the USA

Study in the USA


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