Five ways studying abroad will change you as a person

You’ve probably seen a meme on the Internet about how studying abroad leaves footprints on one’s psyche for the rest of their life. Guess what? That’s true. For example, a person: wow this chocolate cookie is good. Me: not as good as the one from Lidl when I was studying in Leeds, the United Kingdom, 30 years ago. LOL. On a serious note, the whole learning curve is massive. You change not only as a scholar, but as a person. The academic culture is different yes that’s absolutely true and you’ll learn a lot of technical knowledge and get a degree, but what’s steeper is the development on the personal level, or at least that’s what I experienced. And here are five ways how immersing yourself in new cultures shake things up a little:

#1. You will learn how to be honest with yourself

Being a little fish in a big puddle means you have to be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do. I knew that my undergrad didn’t gear me towards critical thinking and I didn’t get much research and other academic skills. My classmates, on the other hand, especially those from a developed country, were totally on the roll. But I didn’t want to pretend that I was on the same page as they were. If I didn’t understand something I asked, even when that would make me look rather foolish. I reckoned that’s the only way I would be able to keep up with everyone else. I remember one time, I came in late to a lecture. You know typical day, late night studying and seasonal depression, where’s my coffee, excuse me, coming through. But that lecture was so important that missing one tiny bit of it would give me a lot of trouble. Soon as there was a good opportunity to interrupt, I raised my hand and asked the professor to elaborate something. My question was so broad that to answer that, he practically had to repeat the whole thing. Everybody chuckled, but seriously who cared? He did grant my request and I was able to catch up with the lecture. But tell you what? During the break, there was one girl came to me praising my gutsy move. She said, oh god I didn’t understand much either at first, thanks to you he elaborated part of the lecture. And there were some other people giving me a nod too.

#2. You will learn about self-worth

When you unlearn and deconstruct a lot of things, you will start question the established beliefs, and this includes the teacher-student hierarchy. People were so relaxed about most things. I got to call some of my professors by their first name. When we were having a seminar with a visiting professor, people didn’t segregate seats, so you might be sitting next to the dean, in front of your program director, at the front row with your professors. I mean, as an undergrad student I used to sit on a bench while all the academic staff would be on the sofas at the front row. Was there anything wrong with that? I don’t know but what I know is when I feel less inferior, I start to open up and be more engaged in the discourse. Also, during the dissertation there wasn’t much instruction, but prompting. It’s almost like working with your peer. Altogether, these made me feel enabled and empowered. I felt that I could be as great as my supervisors and that’s how my self-worth kind of improved.

#3. You learn how to take a calculated risks

My experience taking up a new project taught me how to find the middle ground between what’s possible and what’s doable. I would have an idea, but along the way the idea would be shaped and moulded in many different ways and I was totally okay with that. And this got carried over in other areas of life. I started to seek opportunities, seize them, and learned how to take calculated risks. Had I not been like this before? I don’t think so. In my younger years, I liked staying in my comfort zone. I took up a project that I was sure I could do. If it’s something new I would wait for someone more experienced to help me do it, which would mean I followed someone else’s instructions. But to say that I learned this only from projects and assignments would be misguiding. Large part of this development owed to the things I did outside the classroom, such as deciding on accommodation, juggling between assignments and social life, and planning my Hajj trip. Yes you read it right. It was a bold move but it was worth it. My friends would go to Europe or around the UK on holiday, but I saved money to go on a pilgrimage. You see if you sign up for Hajj in Indonesia you will have to wait forever. But because there aren’t many people going from the UK, you could fly right away. Oh actually, I should rephrase the heading here, I learned not only to take calculated risks, but to be who I am and stick to it even though that means I go on my own. I might have been the only student flying to Mecca for holiday and I’m fine with that.

#4. You will learn how to negotiate

My impression is that professors treat students in accordance to their unique characteristics. Well, but this is human nature right? I am stating the obvious indeed but let me illustrate this statement to make my point. My supervisors allowed me to record the supervision meetings. And this was only after I asked for his permission. So the saying is right: if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. I asked and it was a yes. If I hadn’t asked his permission to record the meetings, I could have lost in the maze. I am not the go-getter bring-it-on challenge-the-professor type of person and I actually need time to reflect on things so the recording helped me a lot in writing my dissertation.

#5. You will learn that life is more than achievements

I was a little depressed during the dissertation writing. I would stay in my bedroom and avoid people. I would wait for the kitchen to be quiet before I came out to get some food. If it hadn’t been for my Taiwanese friend, I wouldn’t have been able to do it the way I did. He finished earlier then he took off to his home country. But he would be checking up on me every day to make sure that I was eating and making progress. I thanked him a lot for those phone calls he made. From him I learned that friendship is very valuable, way more than grades and academic achievements. And there are other things in life than just career and degree, like being open-minded and tolerant, loving and kind, respecting other people’s beliefs and cultures without losing yours.

An interview with Yuniar, worded by Anisa