“Hi, there! A pleasure to meet you. I am Ifa. A first-year undergraduate student from Jakarta, currently pursuing a degree in Politics, International Studies, and Global Sustainable Development at The University of Warwick, United Kingdom. I am one of the many awardees of Beasiswa Indonesia Maju (previously known as Beasiswa Prestasi Talenta). Before coming to the UK, I graduated from the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize-nominated global network of schools: the United World College (UWC). Representing Indonesia alongside students from 80+ nations in its branch school at Hong Kong on a mission to build a peaceful and sustainable future.”
The above seems like a rather heavy and intimidating personal introduction that sometimes I hope I do not need to utter to my conversation partners when they ask. Because, at times, I am still unsure how to receive the flattering reactions well. So, while no one is asking for it, I’m stating it first this time.
Nevertheless, the obvious thing I would like to share is how ‘heavy and intimidating’ the process of being able to introduce myself in those particular sentences. Yet, the one thing that keeps me going forward, and not many people know, is actually just some pieces of paper.
The start of daring to dream…
My motivation to study abroad stems from what I learned during social studies class in 6th grade. As I was introduced to international cooperation, I understood that Indonesian workers might have to face fierce competition due to the ASEAN 2020 free trade area agreement and that foreign workers will dominate the job market. Thus, it provoked a thought that if I want to have a competitive advantage, I should also obtain an education with quality that can compete internationally as early as possible. At the time, I commonly saw people going abroad for a master’s degree. Then, when I moved to secondary school, Maudy Ayunda was an exemplary example of going abroad for undergraduate study. Hence, I concluded that I needed to start even further: starting from high school.
Being at the right place, at the right time…
To fully understand how someone can accomplish big things and achieve success, we need to know their unfair advantages, as explained by the MILES framework. One of the elements that constitute it is Location + Luck. Regarding that, I would like to dedicate this part of the story to my middle school teachers, who give endless support and encouragement to their students to dream.
I vividly remember how I was repeatedly shown videos, narratives, and evidence of the success of those people who wrote their dreams down. Each year by year, they managed to cross off what was written on that piece of paper. And of course, being the twelve/thirteen/fourteen years old me, I naively replicate the practice. Only years later, I figured out the empirical evidence of this practice. Nevertheless, my personal experience entails that writing down my goals helped me achieve them. Making the first thing I see every time I am about to walk out of my room helps me be motivated and focus for the rest of the day—taking these progresses daily. The photos below show some goals I managed to cross off during middle and high school.
However, the important thing is to keep it flexible. The life story I made was back in June 2018, in which I did accomplish some goals, including being part of UWC, yet it was in Hong Kong, not Maastricht. I managed to get into a university abroad, not Johns Hopkins but Warwick. The purpose of goal setting is supposed to keep you motivated to push through, not to dictate that no matter what, you have to go on the course that you have decided.
Envisioning her dreams in the visual form of a life story. Source: Personal Documentation
Getting lost is normal…
Moving on to high school, I am not sure why I decided to go to a public school. It was such a counterproductive idea to achieve my study abroad goal. I remembered it being one of the darkest days as I saw the plans I had written slowly slipping out of my grip. Yet, little did I know. It provided me with exceptional leadership and organisational experience as a student representative.
Alongside focusing my energy on organisational life, I also tried several study abroad opportunities. For instance, MOE ASEAN Scholarship to Singapore and KL-YES. I failed. But I learned. As I proceeded to each stage of the written application, subjects test, interview and group dynamics, I was collecting blocks of knowledge crucial for my success in my UWC selection.
What gets me through the seemingly lost, dark and full of failure days? Goals. Paper. Room.
Make or break moments…
Chinese Cultural Evening 2020. Souce: Personal Documentation
Proceeding to UWC, I had tons of fun. Having wonderful roommates, getting to know friends from diverse cultures, and trying to live together despite differences. We would have a cultural evening celebration every few weeks where the culture group showcased their culture. Everyone gets to try the traditional dress and cuisines. Going out and getting lost in Hong Kong. It was to the point where describing it as extraordinary would be an understatement.
Nevertheless, my main focus was still getting into university with a scholarship. It also does not help that the IB curriculum was very rigorous and demanding. For the first few months, I struggled a lot to articulate my thoughts in answering essay questions when I am used to the Indonesian style of multiple choice. The several next months were when COVID-19 started, and I had to do online learning for 8 months. When I returned to Hong Kong for my final year after quarantining for two weeks, I remembered being really frustrated with my academic performance. It does not seem to improve no matter how long the hours I have spent on revising.
It came to the point where I was jealous of my friends who did not seem to hold themselves to a high standard or plan to take a gap year. At the time, I did not have the privilege to do so due to my financial situation. My parents urged me to finish my degree as soon as possible so that I could help with relieving the burdens faster. At some point, I was even tempted to give up on regularly revising due to the minimum progress I had made. However, I am glad that I decided to persevere and held my initial goals of embarking on this journey closely.
“Your skills don’t improve consistently (linearly or exponentially), but in steps. Like stairs’ steps. And when people hit a wall (of the stairs’ steps), they want to give up. Because they think (hitting the wall), it will last forever.” – Na Hee Do, Twenty-five, Twenty-one.
The above quote from my favourite k-drama illustrates the outcome of my consistent, hard work. When the IB results came out in July 2021, my grade fell into the top 9% of IB students worldwide. The number I achieved was something that was never even once predicted by my own or my teachers.
When opportunity knocks on your door, always be willing to take a chance…
When I graduated in May 2021, I was firmed to continue my undergraduate education at a liberal arts college in Ohio, United States of America, with an 80% need-based scholarship support from the Davis UWC Foundation. Although it was such an enormous ‘discount’ for getting the quality of American education, it was still a considerable amount for my family.
Not until the end of May when the Ministry of Education, Republic of Indonesia, announced that it had a new scholarship scheme for undergraduate studies—something that they had not done in the past few decades. Yet, looking at the requirements, I doubted myself a lot about whether I satisfied them. Ranging from having to win a competition to securing an unconditional Letter of Acceptance (LoA). At the time, in the list of universities, I was admitted to only two in the list of this Beasiswa Indonesia Maju. I decided to not waste the chance and proceed with the University of Warwick despite having just a conditional LoA.
And the rest is exactly what it looks like in the first paragraph of this story…
While there is much more to come in my journey, I hope this short narration and experience can become a companion to younger peers who perhaps undergo a similar journey. Being terrified to take your dream seriously because it looks too big and daunting for you to conquer. However, as long as you have that little faith in yourself and your goals: No dream is too big. No challenge is too great.
What if you don’t have it? Don’t worry. I will be the one who places that faith in you! Wishing you the very best of luck on the journey.
If you are curious about the details of my overall education/university application process, feel free to visit the video I have made !