This unforgettable incident had happened to me 15 years ago but I never thought it could change my life forever.
Let me go back down the memory lane and recall what really happened back in early May 2002. Just like any other freshly hired employees, I had to participate in the compulsory orientation program at the training center. It is normal for big companies to conduct a similar program for their new employees.
I was excited considering the prospect of networking. It was also an opportunity to have a better understanding of the company. The highlight of the program was going to be the “session with the Vice President (VP)”.
I realized that the majority of participants were younger and energetic. They were very ambitious and confident too. Most of them were graduated from the overseas, but there were some from locals. I was lucky to be there with Jawwad, Naim, and Rozali who were my former colleagues when we were students. I felt a little bit calmer and more confident to begin my journey at the company.
Things were not so easy in the real world. When the session with the VP had started, I could sense the excitement in the air. The employees were respectful and remained focus listening to what he was saying. He wanted to know more about us the newly hired executives! Nothing so surprising about that. But wait!
When it was my turn to talk, I felt shaky and nervous. I could not talk calmly and I was in a great dilemma whether to speak in Bahasa or English. I knew if I had spoken in English, it would be a huge embarrassment because for me Arabic would be much easier. Even speaking in Kelantanese dialect would be less painful.
It was like going back to the kindergarten days! I felt so small thinking that probably they had made a wrong decision bringing me in as an employee. So, in the end, what I said was, “Boleh saya guna Bahasa Melayu tak Encik?”
The VP was so surprised! He could not believe what he just heard. He then asked a mocking question. I can clearly remember the exact line until today.
“How could we hire someone who cannot even communicate in English (to be) working in this organization? Where is the Director of this program?” He said frustratingly looking in disbelieve. He shook his head and then he looked at me.
It felt like being struck by the lightning. I could not even speak properly, even in Bahasa. Then he asked me again, why did I prefer to speak in Bahasa? I told him about my background, and he did not have much choice but to let me speak in Bahasa. He grumbled and then seen whispering to the Director, probably asking her to reprimand me for that silly mistake. I would rather call it a weakness than a mistake though. The only mistake at that time was, I thought – their decision for hiring me.
Later that evening, almost all of my friends came together and decided that they would prefer to speak in Bahasa rather in English during the whole course of the program. We even performed in Bahasa for our final dinner’s performance night! It was a sensation! Albeit the Director became upset for we chose not to use English as the medium of communication on the stage that night.
Despite all that, I was not feeling happy. I knew that this would be only trouble. Unless if I decided to change and improve myself. And that was exactly what I did!
In the following week, after I came back to the office, I immediately enrolled for the English course at British Council. I was surprised that the tuition fee was very expensive! But I had no choice. I felt that going to British Council would be more productive for me as it was located nearby my office.
The first day of my English class was simple. A British teacher gave the students a test to determine which class should we be on our course. I was hoping that I could get to the Intermediate level or at least the Low-Intermediate, so that would save me a lot of money (considering how many more levels I had to go to reach the minimum requirement as a professional)!
But when the results came out, I was sent to the Low-Beginner level where I had to go to the class full of school children and some senior citizens. I felt devastated!
I had to go back and forth to the classes quietly and secretly because I was so embarrassed by my own weaknesses. But the pain that I took to improve myself had really paid off.
In 2008, I tried my luck applying for a place at the University of Sheffield. The only condition that I had to overcome in order to get the place was getting an IELTS certificate. The bare minimum score to overcome was 6.5 band. Thanks to Allah the Almighty! I passed the IELTS tests with 7.5 score which was unbelievable considering my background and weaknesses. There was no turning back. My confidence level grew and I felt an urgency to change.
Then, after I came back from Sheffield in 2009 – I decided to change, and since then – I was a completely different person than I was in 2002. I chose to stop all the bad habits (due to the lack of faith in my own strengths) and in 2012, I completed my MBA – alhamdulillah.
Now, in 2017 – I am also working with a US-based company (apart from being a home-based entrepreneur) – and communication is not a problem anymore!
My point of writing this whole story is to motivate young learners out there, not to give up hope in anything that you are doing. Do not bother what other people are talking about you behind your back, or even at your face! What is more important is your “resolute to change”. It is difficult to change others, but it is easier to change yourself.
I had been through much worse situation uttering some stupid phrases like, “he just passed away!” referring to someone who has just passed by; or even told a boss that “I left my English long time ago!” trying to give excuses why I could not speak proper English.
But that is not important. God wanted me to be a better person, not to be worse. He is still watching over us and wanting us to be a better person. We must return to Him and go back to the straight path.
So, I urge all of you out there – embrace change, and be positive (again). There are a lot more unfortunate people out there who did not have the chance to change themselves. We should do better than that. We must hold our hands together, and do our part in society, and spread the “positive words of change”!
All the best and good luck!