I Studied Abroad Once


About studying abroad. (Taken from my old Medium account)


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There are plenty of programs offered for students to explore themselves in a foreign world. As we wander on somebody else’s land, we will find ourselves again. Whatever we find there, it’s a chance we grab to help us learn about ourselves.

Before going too dramatic, allow me to share why it’s a necessity for you to consider while you can. I made this list according to my personal experience as an exchange student to the US two years ago, on the other hand, feel free to add more on your own

1-cOqmSAUxRwEYI8iHtYujJwLeft-Right: Me, Hafiz, Artsi, Claudya, Fatir; on a trip program to D.C.

It is not about travelling

If you ever apply for an exchange program and expect to travel, forget about it. I know how travelling can enrich your knowledge but travelling to new places is just the bonus. Before I was an exchange student, I was so influenced by some great people who were previously in the program I was interested in being part of. There I had my ‘List of Places To Go’ written down. The first three months, I started to hear my fellow exchangers crossing the visited states off of their list. And it all began. Those shared pictures and check-ins, as if to challenge the others. Then I discovered something: despite my eagerness to explore the country, travelling does not necessarily achieve the primary objective of the program I was in. Me being 17 that time believed that I should be the ambassador of Indonesia or anything else I have written in my essay when I applied.

Perhaps, that played a significant role in getting myself on this mission: fixing the misconception between the two extreme worlds — Muslim and non-Muslim. These are big words. But really, it was all about a learning process that humans are just the same regardless of race, religion, color, political belief. Travelling too much on my own wasn’t how I should treat this opportunity at the time. I literally have a lifetime to conquer each corner of this world and be the real world traveller after this business is done.

One day, I looked at myself busy fixing dinner with my host mother for a big family dinner in Upstate New York. Because I cooked Asian foods well (it was nothing but the mix of rice and everything I found in the kitchen). A family whom I shared my stories with in every dinner we had, they became the important part of my life until this very moment. I am glad that I have always been a part of the family. I am truly glad that grandpa, while he is sick, still remembers getting me an American girl to be married with. It’s nice. But not happening. Yet.

My days. I forced myself to be involved in family activities as much as possible to really learn what it takes to be accepted in a completely different environment. If you have accepted every difference you find along your journey and are widely welcome by the environment that once looked so strange to you, I guess you have just hit your homerun ball. Again, I left that travelling plan in the trash can of my bedroom. I’ve discovered something that was so expensive that I almost can’t afford today: good family dinner.

1-7pORHdAfSMs9em1kjNysYAA bunch of foreigners on American soil

You Have Friends From Everywhere

It’s certain that we can benefit largely from our network with these people who find as many difficulties as we do while on an exchange program. An array of cultures and countries will always beautify the experience. Accepting foods that aren’t my taste, catching up with some sports I’m not very good at, being the target of people around me with questions I never expect being asked about my country, they all are because I simply come from a part of globe they’ve never known existed. But you get to laugh together about questions like “Do you sail to go to school every day in Indonesia?” or “Can I ride a camel as a girl in Middle East?”. And today, it’s crazy how you keep receiving messages about great things these good friends have done in their country. Either somebody started an organization in Pakistan to empower young girls or a good friend fighting for LGBT rights in east Europe or someone who is deeply involved in youth diplomacy to shape the Ukraine as a nation its people wanted it it to be.

In the future, whatever you want to achieve in your life after completing the program, you get a lift sometimes. Welcome to the smaller world! You have invested a great capital to your future because I have seen distinctive qualities in these students. And I’m sure there are more out there.

Travel abroad vs exchange program

Trust me that it will never be the same if you visit a place as a visitor than truly being a part of it. The time committed to have blended in the culture and swallowed the same food will broaden your narrow perspective on approaching the broad world. This world is too complex to be broken down. Even one language has too many different dialects and accents where one word can mean so many things. World is dang huge man. What about something bigger than just a language? From here, we’ll soon arrive at conclusion that we are required to use different lenses to see things we wish to understand. The world desperately needs this problem-solving approach. Man, it’s scary to watch people kill others to prove one is damn correct about one thing.

Another advantage: language

Really though. I embrace the fact that almost everybody knows the English language. To me, since it was the US where I wanted to go to, English was a vital component that I have to at least understand. I find that it is the most universal international language. Some of my friends who went to other parts of the world had gained this advantage to master some other language that would seem to be impossible to be mastered in less than a year. I need to confess how different almost English what I knew before I started to imitate the American accent with my voice. The result: “still sounds so Asian” (because I am one and will always be?) but it helped me to understand the proper use of many words and improved my diction level because at certain point, English can be a very difficult language, especially when you are expected to use it as your first language when it’s not.

To compare the two different worlds

Coming from a developing country would be another plus if you really have a great intention to give back to where you came from. By living the American values, it gave me insights on how to not simply call something ‘wrong’ just because, you know, ‘we don’t do that in Indonesia’ thing. It is not very seldom that I find myself lost in my assumption when I did things differently than I would some long time ago. This comparison in everything I did, I saw or felt, made me discover what I wanted to do in my home country. Hopefully, we all have that feeling to look back to be reminded that all these privileges could mean nothing but a chance to give back. Wherever we are.

Great self-determination process

Of course you will have moments where your beliefs — political, economic, social, religious, norm — are in real doubt when certain circumstances force you to act completely different. This allows us to think and see ourselves from the other end. All happened by challenging our belief. Good, good, it’s really good to possess this skill when you grow up. You do this to develop yourself, just yourself. So that you can be certain about helping others after helping yourself.1-os1dkp0bNLHdjmT1PWXjJQPhoto Credit: A staff in the office of HoR of NY State in D.C.

Precisely, study abroad isn’t just a compilation of picture-taking moments. It is a complicated process where you keep finding yourself lost and confused simultaneously. I wish I could write more about this to inspire any future exchange-ers (this sounds wrong). But yes, big things start somewhere out there.

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