Accomplished lecturer attributes success to education and also sheer determination in overcoming life’s challenges
FOR Dr Carolina Sandra Giang, her life has been about work and study since she was in her early 20s.
She said all she wanted as a child was to be educated.
What used to be her childhood dream, when life’s circumstances were tough, eventually became a reality; she could not ask for more when she completed her doctorate degree in 2019.
Known to many as ‘Carol’, she said the difficult circumstances had compelled her to study diligently.
When she was 12 years old, her father died of kidney failure, leaving her mother to raise four children on her own. Being the eldest child, she was exposed to the harsh realities of life at a young age and witnessed her mother’s struggle to keep going for the sake of her children.
Following her father’s untimely death, Carol accompanied her mother to people’s houses in search of work as a domestic helper. She experienced her first taste of ‘difficulty’ when their efforts were met with failures.
Her mother had not much education and when she could not find a job as a domestic helper, she had to settle for any odd jobs that came her way.
“We were fortunate that my dad had left us a house where the loan repayment was taken care of by the insurance. Nonetheless, my mom had to work hard to bring food to the table.
“It was then I learned not to expect much from people even in our worst times.
“My mom knew a lot of people, but none could help her find a job even as a domestic helper, especially when she was in need.
“Eventually, she had to go from house to house to work as a washerwoman,” she said with misty eyes.
Mother an inspiration
As a child, Carol would follow her mother to work. There, she resolved to ‘educate myself’, be a good student and excel in her studies. Her mother’s sweat and hard work spoke for themselves.
They were the reasons for her and her siblings being able to go to school, having food on the table and just growing as healthy children.
Her determination to educate herself never waned. Immediately, after Form 5, she started working as a tour guide to alleviate her mother’s financial burden. As a tour guide, she learned to interact with people and build her confidence. Apart from that, she also took up certificate courses in accounting and typing.
After obtaining her Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) for her Form 5 examination, Carol worked as a receptionist at a three-star hotel. Later, she secured a job as a clerk with the Sarawak Education Department.
“I had to work as my mom had no money to send me for further studies.”
Nevertheless, she beat the odds. Whilst working with the department, she enrolled herself at the Institut Teknologi Mara (now known as Universiti Teknologi Mara, or UiTM) in Kuching as a diploma student.
A clerk by day and a student by night, she graduated four years later. Not resting on her laurels, she went on to pursue a degree at UiTM Shah Alam, despite the fact that her earlier application for half-pay leave had been met with disapproval.
She left for Shah Alam on an unpaid study leave, with little money and without any education loan.
It was a bold decision and a venture worth the risk after all. As she met new friends at the university, she soon learned about federal student loans.
She also received news from her director back home that she had been granted half-pay leave as well as a sponsorship from Sarawak Foundation for her studies, all of which had been the result of the director’s efforts in support of her educational endeavour.
He saw her persistence in bettering herself through formal education as exemplary.
After completing her degree, she resumed her clerical job at the administrative section of the Education Department. Being on the job again reminded her of what she was and what she could be. With sheer determination as her best asset, she was able to make a difference.
Pursuit of degree
Her optimism and determination in the face of adversity reflected the spirit of a strong woman, which she carried with her. With her hard-earned academic credentials, she soon advanced to the position of manager at Centre for Modern Management (CMM), the ‘training arm of the civil service’. She took advantage of the opportunity to pursue her master’s degree while working here.
As a manager cum student, she put her work first, then studied. She coped by waking up as early as 3am for her studies.
The same pattern was repeated when she took up a post in Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus as a lecturer with the Faculty of Business, Design and Arts, whilst pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programme at the UiTM.
“Yet, as I reflect, I still can’t help asking: ‘How did I do it?’ Studying was always tough for me and not to mention having to work at the same time,” she said.
“It must also be perseverance – and the longing for a better life.
“Now I just want to be a better person, and I look out for people who go through difficult times or who are in need of help, having gone through similar situations many times myself.
“I know how it is like to go through difficulties in life when people don’t help.”
Looking at her profile, so much has been achieved by the woman herself.
Carol, who is also a certified professional trainer with 28 years of experience in the areas of leadership and management, communications, marketing, problem-solving, team-building, entrepreneurship and also women and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), has written and presented papers in conferences within the Asian region and also conducted training works for the government and corporate sector.
‘A strong, independent woman’
A portrayal of a strong independent woman indeed, she is one who does not seem to be easily shaken by the troubles of life. Even as a single mother, she shows strength. Being financially independent, she moved on from her failed marriage without much striving as she focused on work and raising her only daughter.
“The only ‘struggle’ I had was when my daughter was still at school age. Not having somebody else beside you to help in sending and fetching her to and from school, was quite a challenge.
“I did a lot of juggling, but I managed. I sort of raised her all by myself, of course with the help of my mom who is my important support system up till now.
“I never employed a babysitter – it was either me or my mom.
“She (Carol’s daughter) has no father figure and so, I strive to give her a complete life. She graduated from Swinburne and is now working in Kuala Lumpur.
“Being a staff of the university, I was privileged to get a sponsorship from the university for her studies. I consider myself fortunate for being in the right place at the right time.
“We have two lives – one is work, the other is your personal life, which is family.
“Work and family are most important – you cannot sacrifice one for the other. If you sacrifice your work by not performing well, you will not have earnings for you to support your family.
“So, both are very important.”
Carol said when she was the manager of CMM, she made it a point to help her staff manage these two lives. When it came to work, she would ask them to give full commitment, but when it concerned family matters such as someone falling sick and in need to be attended to, they did not have to ask her for leave or seek her permission.
“They would just tell their colleagues and go,” she said.
Having been exposed to the hard facts of life even as a young child, Carol never forgot where she came from. In retrospect, she saw those tough years as an agent responsible for her academic success and yet, a humbling reminder for her to be kind and caring always, to uphold family values and just be down to earth in and out of season.
Challenging ladder of progress
For Carol, it was never an easy climb up the ladder of progress, neither was it easy to rise above life’s circumstances.
“But when you succeed, it should not make us feel high about ourselves. I believe we earn better respect when we’re unafraid to be humble.
“It’s a good feeling to be a manager or a lecturer but when the work is done, I can be a ‘runner’ helping my staff as I normally did when I was a manager.”
Similarly, Carol is always willing to guide her students and teach them to be self-sufficient.
She has been self-sufficient her entire adult life, allowing her to fulfil her heart’s desire to be a good daughter, mother, sister, mentor, and lecturer.
She has taken what was available to her, education, and now, it is time to motivate others to do the same.
Carol will be 59 soon.
“Retirement age is 60,” she laughed, but by the look, it would still be a long way to retirement for her.
“It cannot be that the moment we are confident that we have so much to contribute and then suddenly, we’re at retirement age!” she said.