3 Key Takeaways that I Learned Through My Journey Abroad that I Would Like to Pass on to 20-year Olds

Photo: The US Embassy of Phnom Penh on Flickr

3 years have passed since the first time I came to Singapore. As an aspiring diaspora back then, I felt that I am on top of the world and I see the world as a vast jungle full of opportunities. But despite the time and freedom to learn and failed that I’ve experienced in college, I too make silly mistakes in the past that affect me for the rest of my life. But this can be avoided if you build a firm foundation for your future. When the proper guidance is provided for teenagers prior to their twenties, millennials and Gen-Zs can avoid life-threatening mistakes and engage in positive activities.

With that in mind, let’s dig right into it into some of the key learnings that I’ve learned so far:

1.Plan your financials properly, spend your money wisely and do not buy things you cannot afford, stay away from credit-cards, buy your need with cash (or debit cards)

Photo: Ken Teegardin on Flickr
Photo: Ken Teegardin on Flickr

This is the most crucial part that I would like to spend most of my time within this article, as this is something that affects my life by the time I hit my twenties.

Studies have shown that bad financial planning leads to unfavorable events such as divorce. In addition to planning their education and career, 20-year-olds need to be aware of financial planning and manage them early. A recent survey by Price Waterhouse Coopers had shown that despite being highly educated, millennials show surprising ineptitude in basic financial knowledge around concepts like inflation and risk diversification. Furthermore, many fresh-grads are shown to be not happy with their financial condition, where they are burdened with debts and lack the knowledge to pull themselves out from the gutter and be financially free.

So, what do millennials need to do? Take a fictional character, let’s just call him Jim, as an example. Unlike most millennials, Jim had approximately six months of expenses in the bank account, and he was lucky enough that he had only one student loan to pay back. For most diasporas living abroad, if they do not finance their education through a scholarship, they usually take loans with an average of $30,000 in value and enormous interest rate.

Despite the debt Jim has, the most important thing Jim possessed was some serious skill when it came to managing his finances. Jim had overseen his own cash since he was 9 years old and he is well aware of preparing his finances ahead of time. Should there be any layoff happened to him in the future, it would just only be a huge disappointment, but not a financial crisis.

Next, I would suggest that 20-year-olds spend wisely and not to spend money on things they cannot afford. For example, you should not buy more clothes that you will not eventually wear. Buy clothes based on your needs, not wants. Switch to frugal mode, be like Steve Jobs during his ramen days! The ability to kick into “super-saver mode” for a stint is vital when unexpected expenses come up or income suddenly drops. I usually do this by skipping taxis and taking public transportation, bringing that auntie’s nasi lemak, buying quality preloved items at thrift shops, ride sharing, going to free concerts—whatever it takes to make ends meet.

Be tight-fisted with your dollars, as a single dollar can have incredible value. When was the last time you bought that impulsive bite of Kit-Kats? It may have been convenient and cheap, but when you add in that morning coffee, fast food lunch, and a double-stack pizza dinner that you had last night, these seemingly insignificant items can easily add up to $20 a day, $100 a week and $400 a month (which, FYI, is as expensive as the average car payment).

And lastly, sock a little bit of money away. Saving money by skipping your usual morning latte is one thing, but putting those savings in the bank and keeping your hands off it is another. Studies have shown that socking away money that you don’t touch is paramount to success. There are a couple of ways to ensure that this happens: You can set up an auto-draft from checking to savings (which is what I personally do), open a savings account at a different bank so you can’t easily transfer funds between accounts, or skip the debit card for your “don’t-touch” savings account. Do whatever it takes to make the savings stick.

2. Grades are important, but you shouldn’t waste your life worry about it

Michael Pollak on Flickr
Photo: Michael Pollak on Flickr

Parents, mentors, even your friends highly encourage you to maintain a stellar Grade Point Average (GPA), but what happens when reality strikes you in the face? I too, have my stellar moments when my grades are an all-time high, and I also have moments when my grades fell like a bungee jumper from the empire state building. From that experience, I realize that grades are important, but what’s more important is the learning experience as education isn’t a prerequisite for success, but rather a part of the journey.

But “Not worrying about grades”, does not mean that you shouldn’t care about school either. Yes, there are some cases where you might have already had spent so much of college, where you major in journalism with a wide array of B minuses in psychology modules. But that does not mean that you should give up on learning. Get what you can out of your classes, dedicate yourself to the ones you care about, and save yourself some stress on the others. Majority of jobs or internships has ever asked about GPA, at least from my experience. They just want to know that you’re sharp, a fast and willing learner, and care about your field. So, focus on honing those skills.

3. If you’re still in college, don’t rush through it to get to the real world

Photo: The US Embassy of Phnom Penh on Flickr
Photo: The US Embassy of Phnom Penh on Flickr

This is something that I learned the hard way. I used to, and sometimes I do get very competitive when it comes to career, academic performance and this seemingly significant subject of “future prospect”. I try to hone my skills every day, taking multiple internships and talk to many mentors and subject matter experts. But I finally realized that college life isn’t just an opportunity for you to explore what you’re going to be in the future in terms of your career, but it’s also the time to explore your personalities, interest, and life purpose. Your undergraduate years only happen once, and even though you plan to get a postgraduate degree, it won’t feel the same. Don’t rush through college to get into the real world. Once you’re entered the professional scene, you’re there for the rest of your life. There’s nothing wrong with getting your career going when you’re an undergrad, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying being young either.

It’s a shame to miss out on your life in the now because you’re caught up in what you want it to be like in the future. Stop worrying so much about what is going to happen in the future. Enjoy every single moment of your college years. Every experience is an experience — each serves a purpose, and no particular one is better than the other. Stress and worrying are for your post-college years. Don’t be so focused on getting a job. Take a year off, travel cheaply, and have fun. The working world will still be there when you return.

Enjoy the moment more. College is such a fleeting one, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. The future’s coming, and it’s scary, but things will work out in the end! Truly be in the present if even for just five minutes — it’s really OK to stop and not be planning and doing every second.

I hope that this sharing has been a fruitful one for you, and helps you to decide what matters most in your life. Wishing you the best of luck for your studies and all the best for your future endeavours!

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Ignatius Aditya is an Alumni and Contributor of Indonesia Mengglobal. He was the former Mentorship Director as well as the Content director and Columnist for Asia, Middle East, and Africa for Indonesia Mengglobal since 2017. With over 5 years of experience in the space and professionally in Financial Services (Corporate and Investment Banking with an American Bank), he brings a wealth of experience in Financial Literacy, Global International Payments, Asian higher education system, global executive professional education, as well as distance-based learning, for both STEM and Business areas. He's a proud alumnus of Nanyang Technological University Singapore, a recipient Harvard Business School of Credential of Readiness and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Aditya was born and raised in Solo and is now a Singapore Permanent Resident.


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