We have a little bit of a problem at MACEE. When trying to convince students that the US really is a great place to go to college, we have to overcome several obstacles. The first is that America is "so far away" compared to the UK. It’s only about 3 hours longer to LA than London, and once you’re past 12 hours on a plane, adding a little bit more doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Another problem is the, "I went to the UK for college, so I’m sending my son/daughter to the UK for college" excuse. That plus the, "what if they get married, stay there and never come back" arguments seem kind of weak to me, but what can you say? That they’re just as likely to get married to a Brit and never return? They’ve usually stopped listening by then.
But I think that the biggest problem we face is that it takes quite a bit of time and effort to apply to and get into college in the US. It’s a big process for Americans, and there are even more obstacles for international students. The education system here leads nicely to the UK and Australian systems, and the kids are all familiar with those colleges and applications. For both of those countries, there are common applications (none of this each school has their own separate application) and there are more services that just match up kids and schools. We of course can’t do that though, so when they come in expecting to get everything done in 30 minutes flat we have a problem. On numerous occasions, I’ve had parents on the phone or in person asking me for THE list of scholarships, and then getting really mad at me when I tell them there is no list and they have to look around on their own. Another problem is the visa process- granted the forms are a little bit complicated, but never in my life would I expect to call somebody up on the phone and go through every single question on three forms with them. But I’ve spent much of the past month talking people through the forms question by question when I can hardly understand them because they are in a car and have bad reception. It’s like they can’t do anything by themselves at all sometimes. One of the advisors from our other office has been doing this for years and has given up. She just tells them that they better figure it out on their own and deal with it, and that they better get used to doing things on their own because nobody is going to hold their hand in America.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not the case with everyone I meet. I do also get to talk with some delightful, highly motivated students of all levels. And one thing that Malaysians are very nice about is thanking you for your time. No matter whether they are arguing with me or listening and asking very good questions, they always thank me for my time.
While spending all this time on the phone, I’ve slowly realized that phone etiquette is somewhat different here than at home. I always answer "Good afternoon, MACEE" and then pause. Almost every person will introduce themselves, and say where they are calling from (often where they work, their position, and the city that they are in). Then they stop. This is part where I get confused. Sometimes they expect me to know them because they’ve called before. Sometimes I think they are waiting for me to introduce myself, but they invariably start talking before I’m done with that. Sometimes I just say hello, and they say hello back, and we go around in circles for a while until they decide to ask me a question. It’s highly entertaining.