Indonesians have been exploring the area beyond the archipelago since the ancient time. The Buginese sailors are well known for their fearless adventurous spirit to conquer the ocean. They remarkably used a simple wooden pinisi to sail thousands of kilometers to Australian water to trade and left their cultural mark along the coast of Northern Australia. Since the founding of our nation on 17 August 1945 we have proudly continued such tradition by pursuing education and career overseas beyond the Indonesian border. Countless Indonesians have been successful and make our country proud. Our current Minister of Finance, Dr. Sri Mulyani is a fine example of how an overseas-educated Indonesian steered our country through the turbulent financial crisis of 2008 that brought a lot of American financial institutions to their knees. The question now is how do you prepare to be successful in your education overseas? I will be sharing some of my experience as an Indonesian in Canada to give the readers an insight on preparing for a successful education overseas.
Identify Your Goals
Spring is a time when a lot of university students are getting news for their applications. These include, but not limited to applications to other colleges, graduate, medical, dentistry, pharmacy and other professional schools. This is also the time when decisions are being made on students who will be getting scholarships. There are also students who are waiting for the decision on their internship applications. In short, it is an important time for university students. The success of a lot of these applications depend very heavily on the preparations involved. The most crucial thing that a student has to do is to identify their goal very early in their education.
It is helpful to discuss with different people on what should be your goal. Keep in mind that different people will tell you different things. For example, as a chemist, I will tell you that chemistry is what makes the world goes around while an economist will say economy is the most important foundation of any successful nation. The most important thing when selecting your goal is to go with something that you are passionate about. If you are passionate about something, you will have the drive to prepare as well as you possibly can. Identifying this goal will guide the student to decide what kind of preparations are needed. This goal does not have to be very specific. It only needs to be specific enough so that you can choose the preparations needed.
The Role of Advisor
Getting the right advice from the experts is necessary. These experts can be anyone that are in the field of your choosing. The best starting point is the professors on campus. These professors have been spending a great deal of their time in the field they are passionate about. You should ask them what kind of difficulties are prevalent in the field. Perhaps a field such as investment banking is glamorous and you can earn a lot of money, but you have to spend fifteen hours a day at work. Being aware of the difficulties will make you more prepared. You will be able to assess if your goal is reasonable and compatible with your lifestyle.
In my case, I decided early in 2005 that chemistry is something that I would like to do after I finished my degree. Thus, my goal is “Get a career involving chemistry”. I went to talk to different chemistry professors and they invariably advised me that a bachelor of science (BSc) degree was insufficient to have a good career in chemistry. I was told that a BSc degree is sufficient if I just want to have a regular and middle class career, but if I wanted to achieve something higher, I needed to pursue a graduate study in chemistry (MSc or PhD). This means that I have to get into a reputable graduate chemistry program in the country.
Know the Requirements and Make Your Application Outstanding – Extracurricular Activities, Networking, and Recommendation Letter
The first requirement to getting into the program that I wanted is grade. The minimum GPA for a graduate chemistry program in most universities is 3.0. Thus, I worked hard to keep my average GPA above 3.0. A GPA of 3.0 is by no means outstanding. They are a dime a dozen. Therefore, it is important to have other things to make my application standing out from others. This brings me to the second preparation, which is extracurricular activities.
Extracurricular activities are broad and cover a lot of areas. They can be getting involved in a student club and/or student union. They can be volunteering for a non-profit organization in the city you live in. They can be volunteering in a laboratory or research facility that is run by the faculties. They can be playing for the university varsity. The list goes on and on. I would argue that extracurricular activities are the most important preparation that you should invest the most time in. They give you a great opportunity to expand your network.
Expanding your networks will open a lot of doors both in your future educations and career beyond the undergraduate level. I was a badminton athlete for the university varsity. As a result of my involvement, I was able to secure a recommendation letter from my coach for an internship job that I successfully secured with Labatt Canada (a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev). This is a plus because most internship applicants only have a recommendation letter from their teacher. I was able to present both a letter from my teacher and coach. Securing the internship gave me a chance to expand my network and pad my curriculum vitae (CV). This would later help to put my applications to stand out among other applicants to a chemistry graduate program.
I continued to work on extracurricular activities when I returned from my internship. I volunteered to do a chemistry research with a faculty member. I secured another recommendation letter and a scholarship working for the professor at the end of the chemistry research. I also got heavily involved in a Chemistry Biochemistry Club (CBC). Through my involvement, I served as the treasury of the club and together with other management members successfully hosted a Western Canadian Undergraduate Chemistry Conference (WCUCC) in our university. This is a big undergraduate chemistry conference that involves all major universities in western Canada.
I sent my applications to chemistry graduate school programs across the country armed with not only sufficient grade, but also numerous list of achievements through my extracurricular activities. As a result, my application stood out and I received multiple offers with scholarships towards the end of my BSc. I also graduated as the valedictorian of the Faculty of Science and Nursing because the university noticed my extracurricular activities achievements. It is important to note that if I did not identify the goal early on, I would not be able to identify the type of extracurricular activities needed and hence, I would not be as successful with my undergraduate academic career.
Remember that it is essential to have more than just a good grade to make your applications stand out from your peers. The best way to do this is by having a lot of relevant extracurricular activities and preparations. However, you will not be able to get the right preparation if you do not identify your goal early on. Therefore, it is critical to identify what would you like to achieve early on in your higher education life.