“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out” – Karl Augustus Menninger
Are you thinking of studying abroad or perhaps have even been dreaming about it, but still held back by that little nagging voice in the back of your mind? To make matters worse, often times there is more than just yourself to persuade, hence making the decision making process more complicated. Regardless of whom you need to convince, a psychological battle may ensue between the desire to study abroad and the anxiety about changing your entire world.
Despite having the fourth largest population in the world, Indonesia has very little of its countrymen studying abroad. Statistics show that on average there are only 35,000 (0.014% of population) Indonesian students studying abroad each year – it is a dismal figure compared to the country’s total population of 250 million. The figure also pales in comparison with those of fellow ASEAN countries such as Malaysia 55,000 (0.19%) and Thailand 24,000 (0.037%).
There are many reasons why very few Indonesians manage to study abroad. Among those reasons, the following are the most common ones: (1) lack of funding, (2) complicated application process, (3) language barrier, (4) not knowing how to choose the study program, (5) difficulty in obtaining student visa, (6) travel anxiety, and (7) homesickness. Let’s go through each of these and try to debunk them, so that by the time you finish reading this essay, you’ll have nothing but an excitement in tow!
- Lack of funding
Given the ever weakening of Indonesian rupiah, many assume they cannot afford studying abroad before even looking at the actual costs. In fact, studying abroad is affordable and in many cases even more so than staying home. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships (full or partial), discounts for things such as early registration and financial aid for students who are willing to work part-time during their enrollment. Some schools also provide student loans at affordable rates; in U.S., for example, there are schools that hand out students loans with 4-6% interest rate for tenor of 5-8 years.
If funding is an issue, then the key to solve it is to identify schools that offer the best financing scheme. Since full scholarship may be difficult to obtain (the selection process is very selective and you are competing with many qualified applicants), you may have to settle with a partial scholarship, or even no scholarship at all, and instead try to get a combination of financial aid and student loan. You can also try to get scholarships from external sources; in U.S., corporations, local communities and even individuals do give out scholarships – all you need to do is to find out through various sources (publications, bulletin boards, personal network, etc) and quickly seize the opportunity.
- Complicated application process
The application process can appear intimidating, yet essentially it is no different than sitting down to complete a paper or an exam: you just need to prepare for it and by the time you finish it, you may surprise yourself with how quickly it can be done. Just like any complex process, It is always a good idea to break down the application process into separate tasks as this will allow you to focus on each part and the overall process won’t seem as large.
Also, don’t forget to take advantage of all the people that are there to help. Your school and program provider will have study abroad advisors whose job is to make it simpler for you – you just need to muster the courage to contact them and ask questions.
There are local resources that you can tap into as well. There is a non-profit organization called Indonesia Mengglobal (www.indonesiamengglobal.com) whose volunteers of overseas graduates zealously share their experiences, provide information and mentor prospective Indonesian students who want to study at top universities abroad. If you want to study in the U.S., the US Embassy has recently launched its Mentorship Program, which is run by its EducationUSA arm (http://mentoring.educationusa.or.id). And if you want to speak to an education advisor to find out more about studying in the U.S., you can visit the Education Corner at @america in Pacific Place Mall, Jakarta.
- Language barrier
The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. And it is always a great idea to enroll in a school with few of your compatriots, as it will force you to learn to get by very quickly in a foreign language setting. Before you know it, you will know how to order lunch the school cafeteria, buy a drink at a bar, ask questions to your professor, and even flirt with that gorgeous classmate of yours. When it comes to linguistics, the adage “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” holds true.
- Not knowing how to choose the study program
You need to decide based on what you want to gain from the program: consider your area of study, the program highlights, and review costs. Reach out to your study abroad advisor (e.g., U.S. Embassy’s Education Corner in @america) who has probably vetted many programs and can share information. You can also reach out to the school alumni, as they have walked the path before and therefore can offer valuable insights. In fact the school website, brochures or any literature can never beat those personal, salient information given by alumni.
- Difficulty in obtaining student visa
This is probably the most stubborn, difficult-to-debunk reason. While consular service staff do review your visa and application and have to meet you in person for an interview, the key is to submit complete documents as per requirement, and be truthful while answering the questions posed to you during the interview. If you try to doctor up your answers or embellish the facts, your body language and facial expression may not agree with them, and the consular service staff are very adept at spotting those inconsistencies. So stay calm and consider the interview session as the chance for you to practice the language that you’ll speak once you study abroad. Remember, practice makes perfect!
- Travel anxiety
Many people consider traveling as a scary undertaking that they would like to avoid at any cost. But don’t let travel anxieties get in your way – with the advance in aviation technology, flying to even far-flung countries are doable and becoming easier. When you travel, be sure to bring items that will make you comfortable during the journey. Your basic toiletries, music player, book can make the entire journey less arduous. Wear comfortable clothing while you travel, especially if you go on a long-haul flight. Don’t be shy of slipping into your favorite lounge wear and a pair of sandals once you’re onboard the aircraft. For those of you who are gregarious, striking up a conversation with your seat mate can also be a fun alternative to enlighten your journey.
Keep in mind also that the world has become an increasingly global workplace and chances are you will be required to travel at some point in your life, so there is no harm in getting comfortable with traveling now while you are still young.
As you live in another country, everything is new. And as everything seems foreign, initially you may feel out of place for a while. Nonetheless, living abroad is a priceless avenue for self development. It exposes you to a plethora of experiences that will enrich you spiritually. As you meet and live alongside people of different background, language, culture, lifestyles and so on, you will in effect, widen your mindset and ease your way into becoming a global citizen. You will develop higher tolerance for people who are different from you, and you will be able to synthesize novel ideas based on your observations living outside your homeland.
Nowadays it is almost silly to harbor the thought of homesickness as Internet and communication technologies have practically eliminated the distance between you and your loved ones. Voice and video calls are now very affordable (or even free of charge) thanks to apps like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. And if you miss your home foods, there are specialty grocers that stock groceries from all over the world, or you can even order them online. Alternatively, you can also attend events at the Indonesian embassy or consulate general office/residence, where they typically service Indonesia food.
In summary, studying abroad is a chance to experience a new country and culture and gain a new perspective. You can meet students from that country and from around the world. It’s an excuse to travel to a new place and from that place you gain a new starting point to travel in and out of the country. Most students who studied abroad describe their experience as the most important and life-changing one they have ever had. So don’t worry, it is going to be a good experience and it is worthwhile.
Co-writer: Melinda Wiria