Humans of UD: Kieran Teh

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

Junior business major Kieran Teh aspires to fulfill his goal of self-mastery in everything from karate to studio art, and even in his writing and production of rap music.

Born in Minnesota, Teh has relocated homes about 11 times since then. Even though he was too young to remember, Teh spent three years in Ireland while his parents were in medical school. 

Teh also lived in Australia when his house in Houston was hit by Hurricane Katrina. “My cousins lived there so we stayed with them for a couple months,” Teh said. There, he got to try some foods that most Americans probably would refuse to eat. “I’m a big fan of kangaroo …it’s naturally sweeter,” Teh recalled.

Since sixth grade, Teh has lived in San Francisco, California and calls the state his home.

In San Francisco, Teh began practicing karate when he was about 10 years old. When he experienced bullying at school, Teh sought it as a means of escape and progression. “I wanted a way to defend myself. It wasn’t so much a physical aspect … it was much more of a mental journey to help me grow and be a lot more confident in myself.” 

His discipline paid off. “I felt like I had the courage to talk to the people I was usually scared of and it was more so me being able to put myself on their level.”

Teh continued karate for over eight years, earning his black belt in his senior year of high school. Between working 40 hours a week and practicing karate 20 hours a week, Teh was exhausted. “It was incredibly tiring on my body because I was doing track at the same time, and wrestling.”

Regardless of the pressure, Teh was motivated to stick to the discipline for the sake of self-mastery. “I was incredibly attracted by the idea of self-mastery and balance,” he said. “I figured [that] this was the best way for me to improve my mental state and [find] the best way of life. It was a desire to accomplish something that I knew would be really hard.” 

Earning his black belt was indeed hard. In his dojo, the test was so difficult that everyone else in his program failed. Teh was the only one who passed. “It was more motivation because I knew that there was so much room for failure,” Teh said.

Now at the University of Dallas, Teh isn’t able to practice karate anymore, but he pursues his desire for self-mastery in other ways. Since his freshman year, Teh has been taking art classes every semester. “I didn’t plan to be a studio art concentration when I got here, but I liked the program so much that I decided to commit to it.”

“It goes back to the whole mastery thing. I want to be proficient at every type of art,” Teh said.

Although he was originally undecided on his major, Teh took a variety of classes at UD until he settled on business, and is invested in learning more about the business world through his classes.

In his free time, Teh continues to pursue proficiency in the arts by writing and producing rap music. “I personally don’t think it’s incredibly good, but at the same time I do really love the artistic side of it,” he said. “There’s a certain type of skill that goes into it: being smooth with your words and being able to really speak your mind.”

“I want to have a way to express myself that I didn’t have in childhood. Living in a traditional family, I wasn’t always allowed to speak my mind. This is a way for me to put my words out there because I don’t have that platform as a person, but I might as an artist,” Teh explained.

“It’s a more creative outlet that I really enjoy pursuing. I hope to really reach people with what I’m saying.” One of Teh’s messages is to encourage others to find their own methods of self-mastery and proficiency. “I don’t want people to be limited by themselves. I think that everyone has a great amount of potential that they’re covering up. At some point you just [have] to do your thing and it doesn’t matter if people like it or not. Do it. And you’ll be happy with yourself.”

“You play for the odds and sometimes you lose but that [doesn’t] mean that you should give up,” he said. “Try as much as you can. I try.”

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