International Student, Local Goals
When Shirleng Tan finished high school, college was not an option for her.
“My family’s financial situation wouldn’t allow me to go to school, so I went to work,” she said. And work she did. Shirleng spent 10 years at the same firm in Malaysia—a Japanese firm—and later took a job with a Swedish company.
“I learned that English is an international language,” said Shirleng, who explained she may use three languages in the same sentence when having a conversation in Malaysia. “English is a career path. I quit my job and came to the U.S. for this reason. Many people questioned my decision, but English is important, and the educational system in the U.S. is very good. If I ever go back to Malaysia, I’ll have an advantage over other candidates.”
When Shirleng arrived in Minnesota on a hot July day in 2012, her sister—a resident of Minneapolis—picked her up at the airport and drove her around the city’s lakes to keep the jet lag at bay. “When I first told my sister I wanted to go to school, she immediately suggested MCTC,” said Shirleng. “She took the time to bring me to MCTC for a visit, and the first person I met was one of the advisors. He helped me fill out my application.”
At MCTC, Shirleng took advantage of student resources in order to get the most out of her education. “Part of why I stayed at my first job for 10 years was because I was afraid of the interview process.” She sought out the MCTC Career Services office, and later competed against other students for a Career Ready Scholarship. “It was a great experience,” said Shirleng. “Career Services really helps students understand what they need to do in order to be part of the workforce of the future. After the scholarship competition ended, I had the courage to apply for work-study positions.” Shirleng’s hard work paid off: She received two calls about work-study positions within 10 minutes. “I took a position in the Business Services office because they were the first to call me back. I was so happy. I hadn’t been without a job since high school.”
Shirleng works diligently at her studies—especially English. “In order to receive my visa to come to Minnesota, I had to take an English proficiency exam,” she said. “I studied for a long time, traveling an hour after a full day at work in order to study with a tutor for four hours. I would get home at midnight, and then do it again the next day.” Since coming to MCTC, Shirleng has taken advantage of opportunities at the College: English as a Second or Other Language classes and tutors in the Learning Center offer assistance to international students. “My English still not perfect, but I’ve improved a lot—especially in my writing,” she said. “At the start, I went to the Learning Center every day. Now I’m only there two or three days a week.”
“Education is important in all industries. Even with my 15 years’ experience, I don’t have a degree, so my options are limited.” It took courage for Shirleng to leave her career and move to another country for schooling. “I went from financial freedom to the financial life of a student,” she said. “People in my culture think I’m too old to go to school, and many of my family and friends objected to my decision. When I look back now, I know I made the right decision.” Shirleng plans to finish her associate degree and transfer to the University of Minnesota or Metropolitan State University.
“MCTC is very good to international students. I pay the same tuition as Minnesota residents, and if my grades are good enough, I have access to scholarships. It’s just one more opportunity for me.”
Published July 2014
Edit: Shirleng is excited to finish her last semester at MCTC and complete her transfer to Metro State University in the fall of 2015!