Why Studying Abroad Isn’t Necessarily Better

Perpustakaan Pusat Universitas Indonesia. Photo credit: Exaudi Ebennezer, Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/c63EHU)

Dalam tulisan ini saya berusaha memberikan critical review terhadap cara pandang dan persepsi kebanyakan orang Indonesia dalam memilih perguruan tinggi untuk melanjutkan studi. Saya berpendapat bahwa sekolah di luar negeri belum tentu lebih baik dari di dalam negeri. Ada banyak hal yang perlu kita gali lebih dalam untuk menentukan apakah sebuah universitas di Amerika Serikat, misalnya, lebih baik dari perguruan tinggi di Indonesia. Tulisan ini memberikan satu sudut pandang untuk melihat hal tersebut.

Growing up, many people—me, my peers, even the greater population—viewed lots of things Indonesian with a healthy dose of cynicism. Perhaps it was because I grew up during the tail-end of the Soeharto era, a time of strong national upheaval; perhaps it was a legacy of colonial times. Either way, the mindset of many people—and though much improved, this is something that still holds true today—is that anything foreign is always better.

Such a mindset has affected our views on tertiary education. To a certain extent, it’s understandable to think that being educated overseas is better than being educated in Indonesia. World university rankings, for instance, are traditionally topped by Western universities. (In comparison, Universitas Indonesia is ranked No. 310 in this year’s QS World University Rankings.)

Then again, as excellent as schools like Stanford or Oxford are, remember that there are thousands of universities in the world. Surely many of them must be—for lack of a better word—worse than many of Indonesia’s better universities. It’s always better to study at Institut Teknologi Bandung than at, say, some American universities no one has ever heard of. The danger zone comes when we revere studying abroad so much, we become non-discriminating to a point where local universities are automatically dismissed as inferior.

Of course, unlike Indonesian universities, whose reputations you sort of know in the back of your head, finding out the reputation of universities abroad takes a bit of work. You can start with academic reputation. While the most straightforward way to evaluate this is through world university rankings, be mindful that these rankings have their flaws. Dig deeper. How selective is the school? How rigorous is its application process? What sort of students does it admit? What have the professors accomplished? For good measure, check the reputation of the specific program you’re interested in.

Career-related information is also an important yardstick, especially if you plan on working in the host country after graduation. Does the school have a dedicated career office? What is the career profile of its graduates? Does the school emphasize internship experiences? Basically, aim to find out whether the school’s curriculum adequately prepares its students for life after graduation.

Finally, student life. From my own personal experiences, I find that you truly learn about a country and its culture through interactions with locals. Of course, it’s normal that we tend to group with fellow Indonesians, but there still needs to be sufficient opportunities for us to interact and work with local students, whether through class, group work, or even co-curricular activities. This is, however, hard to quantify, so your best bet is to ask someone who has attended the school. (Also: if a school has an overwhelming majority of international students, beware. Ask why local students don’t attend.)

Take note of the above when evaluating schools, and keep in mind that sometimes, it’s better to study in Indonesia. It’s true that the Indonesian education system still has a lot of kinks to iron out if it wants to truly deliver globally-recognized, high quality education that can adequately develop our nation’s young talents. And there are still many non-academic benefits to studying abroad—you learn how to live by yourself, to interact with people from different cultures, or to become fluent in another language. But studying abroad isn’t easy. You’re away from home, by yourself, in a foreign country, and most of the time your parents need to invest a substantial amount. Why go through all of that just for a substandard education?

I suppose my message boils down to this: don’t choose a school just by virtue of it being abroad. Always be critical, open-minded, and fair. Studying abroad involves so much sacrifice. We should make it count.


  1. Hi, I second your point of view on this. Indonesian education system, with its very own flaws, has produced better students than the local students. Whenever Indonesian students pursue their education in a western education class, most likely they would excel in mostly sciences, math, and even art. I myself was fortunate enough to spend most of my education life in different education system, from indonesian, french to american schools while growing up. I remember when I first moved to a french school without knowing the language, the only grade that helped me passed was math! Somehow I have already learnt a lot of equation and formulas in my Indonesian primary school way earlier than my classmates in french school. And Today, I currently live and work in a corporate American company in NY. After grad school, not graduating from an Ivy League, I thought my chances in getting a job was slim especially competing with those ivy league graduates. But it turns out those ivy league graduates are not always better employees than those who were coming from state universities or lesser known schools. I met a lot of them who are totally clueless in the work space. Another example is my dear husband, he is very proud of his Indonesian university in Bandung. He never went to school abroad, got his undergrad degree from Indonesia during the economic crisis he knew his chances in getting a job in Indonesia would be hard. So he sent out hundreds of his resume abroad, and landed on a job in NY. He had a phone interview and the nxt thing boarded a plane to NY and started his job. His technical skills that he learnt at his school in Indonesia become his powerful skills against the other applicants. He is now a strong believer that you dont have to own an overseas education in order to succeed in your career. The thing I notice these days, there are too many Indonesian students studying overseas but didnt try to hard in pursuing a career after school in the country. Im not talking abt internships but actual job, the quest in sending your application, nailing an interview, getting the job from the competition not only from the local workforce but also international candidates, getting visa sponsorship, climbing your career from the bottom to the top rank. Its a another journey that I think every Indonesian students should pursue more than getting into an ivy league school! I notice most Indonesian students after graduating from a school in the US, did their OPT then going home. And at home, they started right away with a better position, sometimes not even starting from the bottom rank as they earn their overseas degree, and climbing straight to higher position without even earning it. At the end, my point is you dont need to study overseas to get the most of your life experience =)

    • Dear Dyzyz, your comment is mind-changing! You probably should share your thoughts or experiences in working aboard as a contributor here (considering you are an Indonesian), or you probably own a blog already? (I am a student, went to NY last year and currently still obsessed to study/work in NY, it would be nice to hear your stories 🙂


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