Indonesian International Student Mobility Awards (IISMA) is a scholarship from the government to support a mobility program for Indonesian students to study at top universities overseas for one semester. One of the awardees this year, Nadia Maula, tells her story about her life as an IISMA awardee in one of the prestigious universities in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University. Let’s read further about her journey as an exchange student abroad.
Registration and Preparation Things
One average day, a lecturer in my department indirectly approached and encouraged me to register for IISMA. If it wasn’t for her, I definitely wouldn’t have signed up, let alone knew about it! The registration required an English proficiency test certificate, whereas I didn’t have any by then. So I signed up for the closest IELTS exam. Unfortunately, it was canceled due to the Larangan Mudik policy that has just been applied. They gave us a refund and I had to search for another alternative.
I then decided to take the newly established Duolingo English Test, which actually had the most limited university options (NTU wasn’t on the list), but it was the most possible. Long story short, IISMA announced an updated version of the host university requirements. Alas, NTU started to accept DET certificates! I was very happy because due to some circumstances, my parents limited my country choices to only Singapore, Malaysia, and Turkey. I was only interested in Singapore and Malaysia, because the courses offered in Turkey (specifically METU) were either not interesting to me, or sounded too complicated. Thinking back at it, it’s actually quite funny, because like METU, NTU was also a ‘Technological’ university. For IISMA Awardees, NTU offers mostly business and environmental courses. Hence I chose NTU with the interesting business courses in mind.
The announcement day finally came. I’m a pretty laid-back person, for sure wasn’t one of those who sat and stood in front of their devices to check the announcement the second it came out. I even forgot that it was announced that day and got reminded because of my friends’ reactions in the IISMA registration group chat. As soon as I saw the result, I told my parents.
Does my IISMA beginning story end there? Nope, not at all. Nearly all the IISMA Awardees who chose to go to Asia had to hear bad news when the COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose again. The border to Singapore from Indonesia was closed. The final decision from the committee was that our exchange will be deferred into the next semester. This became a huge dilemma especially for final year students (a.k.a those who signed up in their 6th semester and are just entering their seventh) including me, since postponing the exchange might mean another semester in our respective home universities. With full consideration, IISMA gave us the chance to choose whether we would like to proceed or not. By the end, one out of 25 accepted registrants decided not to go.
Like every other overseas program, I try not to hope until the very last second before departing, because we never know what’s going to happen, and if we will actually get there safe and sound (yes, this is an expectations management tip). My fellow NTU IISMA Awardees and I kept interacting with each other in a Telegram group we made, which I think played a huge role in my today’s closeness with them. I do believe the deferment made it easier for us to befriend each other, mainly because we’ve passed the ‘awkward phase’ of friendship beginnings online. Of course, this may not be the case for everyone. But for a pretty extroverted person like myself, it certainly was.
After the long and complicated processes, it was at long last D-day. The first-ever awardees meet-up, the plane ride, the view of Singapore at night from feet above, the sight of Changi airport… It all felt so surreal. Before checking into our halls (dormitory) in NTU, we had to quarantine for 7 days at a hotel and do a couple of PCR tests. It made us naturally yearn much more for our arrival at NTU. Thankfully, we all tested negative and didn’t have to prolong our quarantine. There goes marking another surreal trip, from our hotel to NTU.
Friends from here or friends from home… Why not both?
I did not really know what I was looking forward to at NTU. I was kind of nervous about academic life because of the stories and stigmas I heard. What I did know, though, was my enthusiasm for participating in CCAs! I was eager to join NTU Muslim Society, very excited when I knew I actually could. I chose an Adhoc called Seekers’ Garden, responsible for holding sessions like seminars to enhance spirituality and linking it to contemporary issues. It’s really nice to dive into the local Muslim community and learn first handed-ly how it feels like to be a Muslim in Singapore. Not to mention the warm kindness of the people! A sense of familiarity always resides whenever I meet up with them, even by the time I just knew them. A little fun fact: during my visit to Singapore in 2019, I randomly wished to spend my Ramadan in Singapore, not sure why. Just imagining having suhoor and breaking fast in this country made me curious and excited. I guess it’s because of the different vibe, frankly to this day I still don’t know. However, Ramadan is just around the corner! Who knows what kind of experience awaits me…
There’s one thing I’m still dumbfounded by. My affinity with the other awardees. I really don’t know how we managed to be so close in such a short time! And this is something some of them openly admitted, too. All these new relationships I’ve been forming in the past few months with them are unquestionably one of the greatest things of my exchange. Various activities offered by NTU as well as its student communities and organizations that I’ve joined without exception are always fun to go to, no matter who you’re going with, be it Indonesian, local, or international friends.
I can never choose what I love the most from going on this program, there’s too much!
Editor: Stephanie Triseptya Hunto