“The best things come when you least expect them to” is the quote that perfectly described how I felt that afternoon, when I had to checked a lab report in the plant physiology laboratory by myself. Suddenly all of my friends came with a smile on their face, congratulated me and asked me to look at the announcement board for further explanation. I checked it and saw my name in the second place among the other 9 friends of mine. I looked at it a couple times to make sure that I didn’t get it wrong.
That day was the day I received a scholarship from ASEAN International Mobility for Students program. I was selected to be an exchange student in Kasetsart University in Thailand.
Well, we all have fears and weakness, I was afraid of many things when I decided to go abroad. Since I hate being vulnerable, sometimes I shut myself from people. I build my own defense so I don’t get hurt and I choose tp stay in my comfort zone. I let fear wins so many times, let so many opportunities pass by just because I was afraid of losing and being rejected. But this student exchange experience has taught me to accept my weakness as it is, investing fully in people and risking emotional feelings. Since then, I can live my life to the fullest and also feel excited and joyful. Some struggles were unavoidable, yet the amount of love that I got was tremendous and it was worth it.
ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) is a program to cultivate globalized human resources around Southeast Asian nations. Several universities participates in the program in various study majors – for example, agriculture sector, my major. The universities involved are Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Universitas Sebelas Maret (UNS), Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB), Universitas Sriwijaya (UNSRI), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Hanoi University of Agriculture in Vietnam, and Kasetsart University in Thailand. Each university has their own requirements for prospective exchange student to join the program, usually through general knowledge test and English proficiency test. Normally, the process was started a year in advance. Applicants need to fill some forms, then they are selected based on GPA and interview sessions to verify their English proficiency. After being selected, we joined an international class with other foreign students for two semesters in order to polish our communication skill. Lastly, a committee will rate our grades for those 2 semesters as a consideration for our final interview. The final announcement is set at around a week after the interview.
From my knowledge, this scholarship is partially funded by each associated country, for example: in my experience, Indonesian Ministry of Higher Education and Technology covered the living cost including airfare and visa, while Thailand’s government, covered tuition fee including university’s facilities, field trip, and all additional fees for practicum and activities. In other words, the scholarship itself is sufficient, assuming you do not have other expenses.
At first, it felt strange being an exchange student, to live on your own and it got more challenging every day when I had no idea where to start. I had to adapt in a quite new environment, I was a thousand miles from home without my parents. I cried a lot as I was saying goodbye at the airport to my friends. Sometimes it also got me frustrated when it came to language barrier. Slowly, I was totally fine and getting used to it.
In Thailand, I took only 4 courses since I couldn’t find any on the list that was transferrable, which meant I could spend more time to get to know Thailand better (travelling) since I have a little time to discover the most amazing places. One of the classes that I took was Japanese language class. Learning new language itself was already hard, and in that class I had to learn it from a Thai teacher. Thailand people is known for its unique accent, making the learning process more difficult.
Other courses provided lab work and field trip, of which the lab work was set in the afternoon (after class). After the lab work, there would be a short test regarding the material previously discussed or performed in the lab. Generally, there were no big differences regarding education system between Thailand and Indonesia, it was pretty much the same.
During the class, the teachers allowed the students to eat and sleep. It was a pleasant thing, especially for morning class. Many Thai students ate instant noodles or even a proper meal in the class and the slept after that. However, I and other exchange students from China, Japan, Nigeria and Vietnam preferred not to do that. The exams for each class were conducted twice: mid-term and final exam. After final examination week, we had a field trip for refreshment. We went to a province by bus and it was fun. It felt awesome that at the end of the trip we got so much closer to each other. The students in the field trip committee were also considerate, for Moslem students they provided halal food.
Talking about halal food, I had to accept that finding halal food was not easy, even in Kasetsart University which had more than 6 canteens spreading on each point in campus. There was only one stall providing halal food and it was quite a walk from my faculty. When I went to the canteen to get my meals, I met one or two Moslem students and they were very helpful. We got acquainted to each other and they even invited me and my friends to their trip in the province during the weekend. They also invited us over and cooked some food for us, apart from giving us a campus and city tour. They were really helpful and I was grateful, to the point that I am keeping in contact with them and arranged a plan to meet again.
My Unique Experiences
Ned Stark of Game of Thrones used to say that “we find our true friends on the battlefield”. This is a quote I wholeheartedly agree. Being an exchange student in a new place is a lot like a battlefield, when you had to live by yourself in strange places with strange people. Second day after my arrival, I had to report to Indonesian embassy and so I had the chance to meet other Indonesian students, as well. We started to have some activities together after, such as planning a trip. Moreover, we also participated as dancers, volunteers, singers, in the events held by Indonesian embassy, such as symposium, gala dinner, and international conference. We bonded and get emotional attached to every single memories we shared. Last month, some of us met in Jakarta, catching each other lives and spent the night together as. We kept laughed over our stories, about want to give up the track at the 12th level of waterfall in Kanchanaburi since it was so far (but we made it), or about how hard we had to practice Indonesian traditional dance that we did the rehearsal in front of a mall in midnight. Through this opportunity too, I had a precious experience of learning Indonesian traditional dance and performed it in front of important people like Anies Baswedan.
I also consider one of my greatest nights was a Saturday night when we performed Saman Dance in Chao Phraya’s riverside at Thammasat University. The students and all of participants united together and started Indonesian’s traditional dance; Sajojo. The experience was moving, seeing students from different countries danced together.
Another thing about Bangkok is the shopping experience. Since I frequently visited Indonesian embassing, I loved going to nearby shopping malls and markets such as Platinum and of course the well-known Chatuchak Weekend Market. Platinum is an indoor version of Chatuchak market, located in the centre of Pratunam and it was a very convenient place to shop (aircon!). There was a big food court on the top floor, in which there were some Indian halal foods for us Moslems to eat. The Indonesian embassy itself is located nearby halal food street in Bangkok, so it was convenient for us to have delicious meals as well as did our prayer because there was a mosque in the street. The first time I went there with all of my friends, we met Indonesian’s civil officers and they paid our bills since we were students!
At first, I wasn’t sure if I would put myself outside my comfort zone again, being in a strange place, but now I would totally do it if I have another chance. This experience also gets me to reflect on myself a lot, about my strengths and weakness. I come to a conclusion that I am stronger and I am capable, more than I previously thought. And home, home is often not about the location itself, it is about where your heart is. So take the chances, seize the opportunity while we are young, and do not wait for anything because life goes on, with or without you.