During my last semester as an undergraduate in Indonesia, a professor gave a talk that has left an imprint on my mind. He grabbed his chair from his desk at the corner of the classroom, brought it to the front and center of the whiteboard, and gave us this talk. He told his students that one day we are going to be leaders of the world and we are going to compete with other students from the world’s top universities. Then he said we should not be afraid to reach our dreams of going abroad and gaining all the experience that the world has to offer. One of the most important things he said is he believes that Indonesian students are able to compete with top international students, no doubts about it. This particular message was very important to me as I was about to graduate and prepare for my graduate study. It sparked more motivation to apply to US universities. I believed him wholeheartedly although I have no proof yet.
Fast forward a year later, I was accepted at The University of Texas of Austin. Right now, I am in my first semester of graduate study, and I have seen those things he said materialize. Based on my observation as a graduate student and undergraduate study experience, I know that Indonesian students are at least at the same level, if not higher, than international students that study in, for example, Ivy League schools. I have classmates that received their education from Ivy League schools, such as Stanford University and Columbia University. In terms of understanding the class materials, there is no doubt that Indonesians can have at least the same level of understanding as them, based on my comparison with undergraduate students in Indonesia. Many Indonesian students are also used to asking questions. Here, in the US, asking questions are valued highly by the faculty. In-class participation is scored transparently, e.g. 5% or 10% of total score of the class. Indonesian students who are used to being active in class and asking questions will not have any trouble in excelling in a global environment. Furthermore, during my undergraduate experience, I have seen Indonesian students with better presentation skills than international students in terms of understanding of the materials presented, systematical presentation, and presenting manners.
Indonesian students also have more advantage by bringing their unique knowledge of their home country into their academic environment. Aside from gaining knowledge from the perspective and study cases based on the geographical location of the university, we can incorporate knowledge into study cases present in Indonesia, so to expand our knowledge about the world. Moreover, we can also raise our opinion and questions by comparing cases between Indonesia and, for example, the US, therefore generating a global knowledge transfer in the classroom. Indonesian students, I believe, also have more advantage by being used to teamwork, being respectful when dealing with others, and working under pressure.
During my first semester here in The University of Texas at Austin, I was involved in a mentorship program based in Austin, Texas called Garuda Bisa. Garuda Bisa is a mentorship program run by Indonesian students in Austin that pairs Indonesian students studying in the US with Indonesian professionals in the US. I became a mentee and I was paired with an Indonesian professional that works in a Fortune 500 multinational energy company, ConocoPhillips. He received his undergraduate degree in Indonesia as well, and continued his Master’s degree in the US, eventually earned a job in the US. Through Garuda Bisa as well, I learned that there are many Indonesians that have successfully lead people through their career in the US, including in Fortune 500 companies, such as Apple, IBM, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. This is another affirmation to me that not just Indonesian students, but Indonesian resources too can definitely compete in a global environment.
Based on my experience and observation, in my opinion, the following three things are what Indonesians can prepare to compete in US schools. First, be critical and active in class. Do not be afraid to ask even the smallest of things. Professors in the US will answer your questions even if it is insignificant. Second, get used to network with people because networking will be helpful in getting the career that we aim for, it will open the door that will lead you to leadership roles in the future as well. Do not just connect with people that already established a career, but also other students such as classmates, and professors too. Third, sharpen your English skills. This particular point is very crucial in equipping students with the language that is used globally. Language is very important to convey your thoughts and interact with people in a global environment.
What my teacher said has gradually come true. Indonesians can absolutely compete in a global environment with international students and become international leaders with respect to their field of study.