Ten Thousand Miles Away From Home: A Boundless Journey of Self-Discovery

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Cornell University
Cornell University (Source: Cornell University Official Twitter)

Being the first in her family to be blessed with the opportunity to attend a university abroad, Marsella had to battle her doubts and fear in reaching for her dreams. When her mother initially objected to her plan of going to the United States to study more about real estate, Marsella had to remind herself of the real reason she had to pursue higher education. Her journey is one of the many examples of young Indonesians who embody the theme of Indonesia Mengglobal’s 10th anniversary, boundless possibilities amid bounded times.

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Destiny is a subtle coincidence. It makes you stop and say, “Well, isn’t it funny how that worked out?

Hey, everyone! I’m Marsella. I’m currently doing a postgraduate degree in real estate at Cornell University. Studying 10,000 miles away from home, what will follow is my reflection on my education and what I’ve learned over years of the process. I hope it encourages you as you embark on your journey, but if anything I write here can make you smile just as you remember your process, then I’ve done what I set out to do with this story.


Marsella, spending her summer in Central Park, NYC (Source: Personal Documentation)

How It Starts In A Nutshell

Before coming to Cornell University, I did my undergraduate in architecture at Universitas Indonesia. Studying architecture sparked my interest in real estate, which led me to a career in Property and Assets Management. My five years of experience as a property consultant allows me to explore various responsibilities in the company I worked with, JLL, including business development, building design review, and operational planning. This exposure to the industry deepened my understanding of properties, not only from design strategy but also from a commercial perspective, to ensure a maximum return over the life of the investment. I find the interdisciplinary nature of real estate appealing and speaks to my intellectual curiosity. Besides, construction and real estate account for top sectors which highly contribute to the GDP of our country, and with the plan to relocate Indonesia’s capital city, the prospect of development of this sector in our country is still high as ever. So, realizing my passion for the industry, I started to prepare for my postgraduate study in 2019. I didn’t do all this knowing how I can make it out there, I simply began and trusted my process. It humbled me to receive a scholarship and get accepted into the university in the same year. My initial planning was to conduct this study in London, but fate brought me to New York instead (Lesson learned No 1: life catches you off guard!). I deferred my admission to 2021 due to the pandemic and the rest is just history.

What’s Your Study Abroad Process? Here’s Mine!

Financial has always been a challenge in every step of my education. The fact is I only made it this far because people gave me chances. I remember the fight I had with my parents the night before I left home for the first time for my undergraduate study. My parents, neither of whom had been to college, perceived my decision to get a degree as rather disappointing and that I should have just looked for a job. I made it through undergraduate only by the sponsorships from the Tanoto Foundation and The Ministry of Higher Education and Culture Indonesia. I also did some internships to ensure I would graduate college with enough experience to get into the professional world. Long story short, one of the companies where I had my internships, JLL, hired me for a full-time position. My life was pretty stable for a couple of years until, after sleepless nights of studying for interviews, IELTS, and GMAT alongside my full-time job; my dream to study abroad suddenly became real in 2019. Do you see? Dreams, when broken down into concrete goals, become achievable plans. And that hard work and commitment to a vision will reap results!

Now it’s just the start. While I’ve witnessed many of my most resilient friends go through ups and downs in their scholarship hunting process, I was lucky enough to receive an LPDP scholarship, passed all tests, and get into all universities that I applied to, all in my first attempt. On this note, I think determination helps as it distinguishes you being not only one out of so many talented candidates, but also you become the one who knows what you would do if given a chance to study with the scholarship. I didn’t convince the scholarship committee by pretending I was anything other than what I was, but I was able to weave the story between what I had, how my past experiences were relevant and equipped me to succeed in the study; what area of expertise I want to develop, which leads to why I need the study; and where I can add value in the future after all the learning.

Marsella and LPDP PK-155 during community service project with children of Kalibaru Village

The Biggest Challenge: Face Your Fear

Don’t get me wrong, my journey wasn’t all rainbow and roses. In this case, my biggest challenge was the fact that I didn’t have the guts to tell my mother I was leaving. At that time, I had lost my father and my mother wasn’t exactly in a good health. I kept on planning my departure and discussing family arrangements with my relatives, fully knowing none of it would work if I kept ignoring the big elephant in the room, the biggest hole in my not-so-perfect story. Eventually, it was 2021, and I faced what I had to, and despite everything that happened between the day I told my mother and the day I left, she gave her blessings for my study.

I’m sharing this because, sometimes, in celebrating our achievements, we share just the best part of our story, but we fail to highlight the importance of the process that brought us where we are. In my case, though, I find the most crucial part that makes me highly value my education are, in fact, the struggles and the knowledge of sacrifices needed to enable it. And this has been my constant source of strength to deal with whatever problems coming in my way to get my degree. You might encounter a different kind of hardship in your search for higher education, but rest assured that, usually, if you unveil the surface, none of us who gets the privilege of pursuing our dreams, made it through without any sort of setbacks. However, if you persistently rise to the occasion, show up when it is not convenient, and stay true to yourself even in the fear of rejection, you will see the starting point of incredible things in your life. 

New Chapter in the U.S.: Rediscover My Passion

Time flies and now it’s almost a year since I started my life from scratch in New York. Cornell University’s Baker Program is one of the leading real estate programs in the U.S. The 2-year program offered the best opportunity to explore my academic interests, participate in extracurricular and build my network. Besides, the small cohort allows for a tight-knit group, and the internship program within the curriculum enables me to learn about the industry in both school and professional settings, the best of both worlds.


Marsella with fellow Cornell Bakers of 2023 during Real Estate Trek (Source: Personal Documentation)

Studying at Cornell University has allowed me to broaden my knowledge not only of the issues relating to real estate but also of economic development. My courses have provided me with the tools I need to conduct more rigorous assessments of the impacts of development interventions. The emergence of ESG investing amidst the pandemic disruption has demonstrated the opportunity to build a more resilient economy by shifting towards a sustainable trajectory. And now, as I’m progressing with my study, I’m aspired to contribute to the world’s economic development, especially through impact investment and sustainable finance in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs).

A Lesson Learned: Trust Your Process

To those of you who are in the pursuit of your dreams: educational enrichment, ability to give your family a better life, or whatever yours are: You are now traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. So, trust your process, and please just allow yourself to make the journey.

Marsella with fellow Indonesian students (Source: Personal Documentation)

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