Journey to an art school full-ride
“What was the point of writing this?” I thought to myself with an empty word document in front of me. “There is no chance of me getting a full scholarship anyway, let me just wing it tomorrow.” Those were the thoughts I had the night before my interview for Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) enrollment; I had to submit an essay about why studying abroad is a good idea, and I did not see a reason why I should even try when it is highly unlikely for the school to give a full-ride.
Let’s rewind, in late 2015 I just completed my two years of military service, I got rejected by two local universities to pursue an education, I was unemployed, and I just got out of a relationship of three years. Although I did apply to SCAD during the army; and only got half scholarship but I was still priced out of art school. My life and future did not seem very bright; just a deep dark suffocating unknown, and that brought me to the lowest I have been in my life. I had a good GPA and a decent portfolio from the polytechnic I graduated from, and a hard-working attitude but I never thought I could be dealt with a lousy hand from the game of life, like “WTF life”. Sure enough, I despaired for weeks but one day I just got sick of it.
I got so upset and furious about how local universities rejected me that I printed out all the rejection letters and pasted it on my bedroom’s wall; a constant reminder to fuel my fire to live a better life. Thus, the quest to revise my life story began and I found a new strange focus to reinvent myself and further my career in digital media. Just to prove my dissatisfaction with where I was, I made this Bender meme below, printed it out and added that next to my rejection letters.
As I was researching how to get my life together, I discovered Noah Bradley’s article on “Don’t go to art school”, a guide on making it as an artist without paying the hefty price of a college. Just $10000, you designed your own syllabus for your art and design education. Having a plan is better than none at all so I put this into practice to upgrade myself daily to be a better Motion Designer. Fresh out of the army and rusty from Adobe software usage; I decided to retrain myself by studying for the Adobe Certified Expert Exam. I printed out the manuals and studied at my old polytechnic. I was practicing After Effects and watching tutorials making random stuff. I did a course with Mograph Mentor. I tried to read Michael Betancourt’s History of Motion Graphics but could never make sense of anything. I snuck into my friend’s life drawing class in the university that rejected me. I had many things to do but often I thought to myself: “Will the effort I put in today even matter? What if it comes to naught and I just wasted my time?”. I never knew the answer.
$35 dollars prayer
In the midst of this saga, I applied for a job that opened up at Double Negative Singapore (DNEG). Just to keep my options open, I applied for jobs and schools including a local art school Lasalle. About 40 minutes after I paid the 35 dollars for Lasalle school application fee, Double Negative decided to offer me a job. My money…I mean hooray…awesome! New life plan: work for two years, grab some life and working experience then go have an education. This seems doable. My experience at Double Negative was amazing; I had the opportunity to work on stereo conversion for The Legend of Tarzan (2016) and had hopes of working on even more Hollywood films. I was somehow regaining control of my life or so I thought… After working at DNEG for 4 months, the branch closed down in 2016 late March due to a merger…
Whatever…I’m going to South Korea for a vacation.
So there I was sitting on the edge of a mountain in South Korea pondering about how did things spiral out of hand, and at the same time, panicking because I was lost on the mountain and had no idea how to get back to my AirBNB. I was going to freeze and die as sunset approaches. Clearly, I was not prepared for this hike at all. Every worry I had slowly faded away. In the face of death, nothing really mattered.
I would gladly take on all trials I went through than be dead.
All the good and the bad; only nothingness prevails. As I was having some sort of existential crisis; I met an elderly man who could only speak Korean. Using some awkward sign language, I communicated to him that I will just follow him till he completed his hike. He agreed and hand-gestured hopping from peak to peak. I was like “no way he is going to hike that much; it should be okay. Surely he must mean something else.’ This man, without breaking a sweat, proceeded to put me through a series of high-intensity Ninja Warrior hiking obstacles as we navigate down to civilization and safety. Ouch.
Welp, almost died but didn’t. I suppose life was good again; not as bleak as it seems. I thanked the man profusely and we went our separate ways. Exhausted, all sweaty, and had a glimpse of death, I went to restore myself at a 24-hour jjimjilbang, Korean public bathhouse/spa, and pampered myself in their steam rooms, donned on a clean cotton robe, and had a good meal. Rebirth ensued as I was reminded that I was alive and that’s all it matters.
Call to adventure for food?
Not long after I return to Singapore from my vacation, I was contacted by the SCAD Hong Kong Admission staff, Danny, via Whatsapp, and invited to attend the SCAD Expedited Decision Day. It is a day where SCAD goes to different countries to conduct an enrolment interview and give you an acceptance letter pretty much on the spot. Just to recap, I actually attended this event during my military service days, and was accepted into the school but only offered half scholarship. When I was in Double Negative, I have been receiving emails about this event but I ignored them thinking about how it would not work out. When Danny contacted me to go for the school interview, I was utterly reluctant to go, for what was the point? I asked him over Whatsapp if there was a possibility of getting a full scholarship, to which he said:
“You will never know if you don’t try.”
Sure enough. Why not; I have no plans anyway. SCAD always hold that event in a fancy hotel; I suppose I can get a free meal out of the reception. The reason why I am highly driven to attend that SCAD interview: food!
That very morning before my SCAD interview, I applied to Lasalle art school yet again(!) and paid my application fees of $35. This time for sure I thought, I was never going to SCAD anyway, at least I can go to Lasalle. After completing that mission, I went to InterContinental Singapore, a five-star hotel where SCAD Expedited Decision day was held. I sat lackadaisical waiting for my interview, half nervous, half dreading the experience for I do not know what will come out of this. When my turn came, I was greeted by David, a man in a brilliant khaki suit who resembled a Kingsman. Mr. Kingsman later introduced himself as the VP of SCAD Hong Kong. That’s pretty neat. We sat down in the interview room and he looked at my previous record that stated my acceptance and amount of scholarship that I previously received. The interview could have been over in that instant but I decided to be frank and said that I could only afford SCAD only through a full-ride. It might be a bold move for some but what do I have to lose anyway? David and I engaged in a discussion about how I can justify a full-ride. I presented everything I had without hesitation.
Though I was not concerned about the outcome of the interview, I was thoroughly prepared with my portfolio, website, resume, and some new accolades and achievements such as:
- Best soldier of the year award
- Adobe Expert Certifications
- My software tutorial website called nosleepcreative.com
- A national representative for an international film workshop in Malaysia
- My employment at Double Negative
The interview went great. I left the room somewhat confident. David invited me and a plus one to the accepted students’ reception the next day. Great! Now I can have free fancy hotel food with my friend. The next day I brought my friend Alvin to the hotel, and told him to just enjoy the food; never mind what is going on. Yet, before entering the reception, David greeted and spoke to me in private. What could it be, I wondered. Some sort of polite rejection to my full-scholarship request or the fact that I was underdressed?? David said that after discussing the board, the school decided to give me the full scholarship. As I kept a straight face, my mind went blank:
“ No way. Oh my god. What’s the catch? Is he going to say “Psyched! Just kidding!”?”
I did not know how to feel with this miraculous news. But it was absolutely real, not a dream or an illusion.
I was going to get an education, and the rest was history.
Fast forward to 2019, I graduated with a BFA in Motion Media Design from SCAD, made lots of friends, learned a ton about the world, art, design and myself, unlearned some cultural programming, had a wonderful relationship, and ease into employment into WarnerMedia / Turner Studios. Many days I look back at about how crazy it is that I am on the other side of the world living in this grand destiny; every mistake, trials, and effort led me to this day.
You never know how mysteriously the Universe conspires to put things in your favor and bring you where you need to be.
In the final analysis, my goal is not to write about my hero’s journey, how I slayed these metaphorical dragons and figured it out but rather I wanted to show that we often go through a life chapter that is uncomfortable, unknown and possibly riddled with crippling worries and problems but we have to accept it. Self-awareness and acceptance, however, can be a feat; for sometimes our deepest fears have permeated deep within our psyche, and purging them can be an uphill battle. Nonetheless, these uncertainties are part and parcel of life. We will always have problems, some known some concealed. Yet, we must not falter. We must learn to trust ourselves and the Universe, examine who we are, what we need, where we are and where we are going, create our own maps to navigate our way to success, and start walking in the direction you defined for yourself.
And maybe, just maybe, things will actually work out.
Even now I am still learning how to do this.
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
— Soren Kierkegaard
As I looked back on the past few years of my college life, graduation and into employment in this brave new world called America and my home country Singapore on the other side of the world, I can’t help feeling immensely grateful at this wonderful adventure I went through and the people who have helped make my journey possible. Below are the people I am thankful for:
My family who loves me unconditionally no matter what part of the world I am in: My mother, father, aunt, uncle, my three siblings and their spouses, Yinwei & Kelvin, Yun Yang & Amanda, Yun Teng.
The wise teachers and senpai-s that made me a more intelligent being: Lynus Hee, Fyn Ng, Myles Bryan, Dominique Elliot, Michael Betancourt, Austin Shaw, Duff Yong, John Colette, Karla Johnson,Kelly Carlton, Minho Shin, Matt van Rys.
People who placed trust and faith in me during my lowest: Danny Li, David Pugh, Sergeant Rennis Roy, Warrant Officers Hashim, Robert Tan, and Hong Xi Xiang.
Finally, friends who makes my life better in their own ways: James Ng, Justin Cho, Wesley Chan, Vivien Lau, Chuen Yew, Chuen Yee, Rufus Soh, Bryan Lim, Emily Rosadi, Tan Heng Hao, Tan Yong Kee, Tng Bing Rong, Thomas Dang Vu, Isla Myles, Alanna Loreto, Pamela Lai, Sean Co, Adrian Ferma, Raven Chau, Su Ann Katrina, Stephen Mok, Jovan Singh, Prakash Panchariya, Rasita Kartarahardja, Nicole Ching, Katherine Monday, Riley Williamson, Granger Eltringham, Coulter Desimone, Mason Wilkes, Diana Rex, Paola Baiz, Curtis Parker, Cole Arledge, Nestor Tomaselli, Fanny Valentina, Marcelo Meneses, Ally Munro, Sam Wu, Hunter Scully, Keegan Lorne, MOMELove, Patrick Knip, Nicole Pappas, Cat McCarthy, Claire Eby, Michelle Parry, Lauren Kittle, Jayson Hahn, Will Burkart, Daniel Whitaker, Jeff Lawson, Zeno Padin, Ryan Hopkinson, David Villa, Kaitlyn Kolesaire, Tierra Farmer, Sarah Boussy, Daniel Simmons, Paul Markowski, Jason Johnson, Ryan Mcgriff, Jeff Brody, Andrew Weiler, Lashea Echols, Patrick Rossano.
To all these wonderful people I have met in my life, I wish you all happiness and kindness the same way you guys have brought me. Live long and prosper for 2020!