Sit Back, Relax…And Enjoy The Ride

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The purpose of this somewhat short article is just to provide some or all of you, readers of Indonesia Mengglobal, food for thoughts on why it is also important to also be able to sit back and relax …when the process of applying to schools and for scholarships abroad get you up high on a roller-coaster ride!

Okay, so you have it in your mind. You would like to study abroad. Maybe you want to study engineering in Germany. Or, you’d like to study in a business school somewhere in the U.S. You’d like to learn more about fashion merchandising in France. You’d like to study politics or economics in Australia. If possible, with support from a scholarship program. Oh well, why not?

These thoughts were also lingering in my mind for so long. The desire to pursue my “academic, adventurous experience” remained strong as I probably have always wanted to study abroad for as long as I can remember! Back in the days when I was a teenage girl, I always thought that it would be super cool if I could study and live in other country, make friends with people from around the world, experience their cultures and all that. Call me naïve, but maybe I was one of those people who think that the grass is greener on the other side. Everything about ‘abroad’ seemed cooler at that time. So for the sake of being cool, this 15-year-old girl decided that at some point, she would want to pursue her education in other country. Yup, call me immature.

But then time passed by… I took my undergraduate study at a university in Indonesia and I got my first “after-graduated” job afterwards. The desire to pursue an academic experience abroad, however, remained strong. It stayed strong for a completely different reasons.. for more mature reasons: I wanted to study abroad to feed my brain. I wanted to get a better job and I believed that having a degree from universities abroad will not only improve my career options but will also grow me professionally and personally as a person.

Besides, I have been living in Indonesia for all my life. I am of a Malay descent, a moslem, and I’ve been living in a country where the majority of the population are moslems. I wanted to feel how it is like to be a minority. Some say that in order to give more respect and understand the minority, you have to at least experience living as the minority yourself.

The opportunity to study abroad DID knock on my door three years after I finished my undergraduate degree. I finally had a chance to embark on my new life as a Master’s degree student at University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Since the purpose of this article is just to give a kind of “kick”…. rules of thum that anyone can apply and relate to when pursuing a goal of studying abroad, I will not discuss my own experience of studying in UK in greater detail. Partly, this article is written to answer a common question asked by my friends,”What are the things to be considered or to put in one’s mind before one chooses to study abroad?”

Rule of Thumb #1: decision, decision, decision.

First, do you know what is it that you want to learn more? What is the major or subject that is most interesting to you?Unfortunately, the answers are not that simple. There are soo many options out there. Even one study program can lead to several branches of majors and minors. Engineering or Science have their own specific programs. So do International Politics, Economics, Social Sciences and so forth.

So have a starting point – what is the “general” subject that appeals to you the most. Then, have a little research on the study programs offered under that specific subject. Find what specific program that you feel is most interesting. Take further steps by contacting several universities and getting the curriculums of programs that you find interesting. Study them. Get as much information as possible, so you’re convinced that you would be able to make a well-informed decision.

It is also useful to have discussion with several people, parents, friends, or alumni from that specific program or university. Find out what the alumni of that specific program is currently doing in terms of his/her professional career. What type of career resulted from a specific study program. Then, you can also research further on whether there are any scholarships or partial funding supports available for an Indonesian, for that specific study programs that you are interested in.

I chose to take a Master’s degree in Risk Management at the University of Nottingham. It took me quite some time to decide that I wanted to do this major. I did economics for my first degree, which obviously did not include an in-depth study on management, let alone risk management. So my decision to study Risk Management came from a lot of researches that I had previously done. The world had just undergone a financial crisis that seemingly stemmed from the lack of good risk management in business practices. Previously, the subject of Risk Management did not get  a lot of attention. Obviously after the crisis, calls for sound risk management practices in business, especially in banking, made the subject more important than ever before. Experts in this particular field are highly on-demand and they are sought after by companies and industries everywhere, yet their numbers are still relatively small. Mostly because of this reason that I decided to choose this major of study.

So absolutely, before making a decision, you will have to do your homework. Do a thorough research. Consult people. Contact the universities. Contact the Scholarship Bodies. Be informed.

Rule of Thumb #2: mapping.

I experienced the confusion and overwhelming feeling as a result of my own research that I decided to break all the information I got into a simple mapping project by creating “a map” that has list of requirements from each university I was interested in applying to: their admission deadlines, their scholarship programs and other information that I deemed necessary.

I must confess, this stage was the most time-consuming but also the most fun! 🙂 I got to seat in front of my computer for countless hours staring at the screen opening hundreds of websites of various universities…. it was intense but at the same time, I got to find interesting and useful information that was really helpful for my mapping and decision-making processes.

Universities offer different majors and subjects, some are better in particular subjects than others, so you absolutely should spend significant amount of time to gather as much information as you can. Information for studying in UK, for example, can also be found in several news websites, such as The Guardian University Guide, The Times and The Sunday Times. The information they provide, among others, are about ranking of higher institutions in UK, tuitions, bursaries and also stories about students’ lives. In addition to spend time browsing the university websites, you could also go to education exhibitions or ask questions to your friends… do things that you think could be helpful for the purpose of your “mapping” process.

Gathering all information I need definitely helped my mapping and decision-making processes. I sorted out my preferences to only three universities in the UK, based on the study major I’d like to take and the ranking of the universities, plus the student life in particular cities in UK. By the end of all these processes, I could make a firm decision to apply to University of Nottingham.

Rule of Thumb #3: those things called tests and prove of documentation ….

Yes, when you apply for a scholarship or to a university, the staff in Admission Office needs to understand why the institution should accept you (as their scholarship awardee or as a student). Why should they believe in you? Well, this is the stage where the documents that you supply to support your application should be made to stand out — after all, you are going to compete with hundreds or thousands of other applicants, right?

Now, here’s the catch: you are from Indonesia. Indonesia is a non English-speaking country. It is obvious that if you’re an Indonesian, then you should present a proof of English proficiency. Yes, you should take the internationally-acknowledged IELTS or TOEFL test. IELTS is normally taken by those who want to study in Europe or Australia and TOEFL is for those who would like to study in the U.S. IELTS or TOEFL is of utmost importance as exceeding the benchmark of these tests will become your ticket to prove that as an international student, you are qualify to be accepted, although English is not your first language.

Since I was applying to universities in the UK, I took an IELTS test. This test comprises of four sections; reading, listening, writing and speaking. The minimum score that I had to obtain was 7 with no section less than 6. This minimum score varied for different universities, so you should check the school’s requirements. The dates for the IELTS tests have been set up for a year and the test is usually held on Saturday each month. The result usually comes out after 2 weeks.

Another important document is the Essay or Personal Statement. Some universities require interviews for their student candidates, while some will only rely on the transcripts the applicants provide, scores of the students’ English tests and their Personal Statements. For those of you with somewhat lower transcript or English language scores, having excellent and powerful Personal Statements can make a big difference!

The are no specific rules as to what makes a good personal statement. But, I do think that there are definitely some subtantial things that should be written well on one’s personal statement: (1) reasons why you would want to select a particular major, (2) explanation of why do you think that you are eligible to get accepted into a particular program in a particular university and (3) what your future goal is after you graduate.

Unfortunately, as we all probably know, composing a “killer” Personal Statement is a hard thing to do. The general rule has always been too vague anyway, that your writing should bear the style of “you are being present, with your ‘personality and strengths’ clearly stated in your writing” while at the same time “avoiding to sound too arrogant and show-off-y!”

Fortunately, you can always use the Indonesia Mengglobal’s Mentorship Program to have the much needed peer-reviews of your draft personal statements. You can also get as many people inside and outside of your family and friendship circles to review your draft. The rule of thumb is to just keep on writing and writing and writing… until you feel that your statement is perfect and ready to be sent.

There are also various resources on how to create a winning personal statement, over the internet and in book stores. Study them. Don’t get nervous about the fact that you need to write the statement in English, which is not your first language. The most important thing is to know, realize and understand what you would like to present to “your audience” about yourself. What are the things most important to say to people about you. Who are you? What can you do? Why are you THAT good that the university should ACCEPT you?

Be creative. Be humble. Be interesting. Be yourself.

Rule of Thumb #4: Embrace Your Own Good Luck Charm…

Last but not least, try to always maintain a positive attitude throughout the whole process. Applying to schools or for scholarships abroad can be such a daunting process you would want to scream out loud from time to time.. just like when you are riding a roller-coaster. You might encounter rejection after rejection from various universities before you finally get accepted to one. Remember, the whole process is like rolling the dice. You will increase your odds to succeed if you keep on trying.

Having gone through all the process, finally I was accepted into the University of Nottingham, UK, majoring in Risk Management in 2012. Now I am in my final year and  I am currently working on my dissertation. I am having the time of my life here. It is worth all the process and hardwork that I put in to get where I am today.

I hope you could get something from this article and if you do really want to pursue your education abroad….. well, always work hard, aim high….but also don’t forget to have fun, enjoy the ride and …. sit back and relax, too! Good Luck!

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