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Essay: Should we study abroad?

Donny Syofyan

The Jakarta Post

Victoria, Australia  /  Mon, June 5, 2017  /  09:16 am
Essay: Should we study abroad?

While the comfort of living and studying in your native country and not having to leave behind all your family and friends are real benefits, going overseas is certainly a bonus one may enjoy for several important reasons. (Shutterstock/File)

A friend of mine, a lecturer at a state university, asked me recently: “Should I go overseas to advance my studies?”

I had a hard time fielding his question, not because I am currently doing my doctoral degree abroad, which would have easily led me to say “yes” about the necessity to study overseas.

Rather, it goes without saying, especially if one aims to go for a doctorate, that what matters is whether one can find a professor as a supervisor and a research group relevant to the research. Studying abroad is no longer a big deal thanks to abundant learning resources and their easy accessibility at one’s fingertips.

While the comfort of living and studying in your native country and not having to leave behind all your family and friends are real benefits, going overseas is certainly a bonus one may enjoy for several important reasons. First and foremost, doing a Master’s or a doctoral degree provides you with a global experience. This is not merely a matter of spending your time studying, visiting the library and conducting research on campus. It is more of the internationally real off-campus life.

You will not understand what the experience is like unless you’re in it. Cross-cultural prejudices and stereotypes wane as one is immersed in an East-meets-West environment. People are encouraged to be more multicultural as they befriend people of other nationalities, especially if they have to collaborate on practical things.

Read also: Why pursuing a master's degree abroad is important

Although global connectivity could be established online, the global experience should be more physical. A better comprehension of body languages, ways of thinking and culinary arts, for instance, will improve as people with different backgrounds and history communicate directly.

Quite often, particularly for international students, physical exposure to a new culture and lifestyle will transform homesickness and loneliness into independence and responsibility. Thus, being an international student is the first step to being a multicultural citizen of the world.

Second, living and studying overseas provides you with professionalism. In Indonesia, we continue to struggle with how to raise awareness regarding good management. Poor queuing etiquette, half-hearted public services and reckless driving are still rampant since various attempts to improve public sector management tend to be wordy, yet actionless.

When studying in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Japan, for instance, a student might find the act of queuing, efficient public services and obedience to traffic laws to be a normal circumstance in the lives of regular citizens. In developed countries, the system was established with a view to developing public character, while people are apt to misuse it for their own sake in our home country. No wonder many Indonesians living abroad become more disciplined, but starts breaking the rules again when they return home.

Read also: The bittersweet symphony of 'merantau'

Studying abroad endows the students with the best practices of any particular system, which seems to be theoretical in many places across the archipelago. It is ironic that we simply listen to the best practices in the classroom instead of putting them into practice. In contrast, studying in the developing countries helps you practice common social gestures. The best practices are so much about experience, not mere stories.

Third, kids enjoy a much better and more progressive education for students with families. Many Indonesian children speak good and fluent English by the time they go to primary or high school in English-speaking countries. Despite their zero English competence prior to going to the schools, they do not need a couple of years to have an English-speaking ability like native speakers. My daughter only needed six months to speak English like a native speaker when she started her first year in primary school. She often corrects my spoken English every time she thinks it does not make sense.

In Australia, for example, the primary schools aim to build the students’ confidence and character. You will not find kids being crammed with lots of homework. Rather, they do not hesitate to express their voices creatively.

I am not trying to say it is better to study overseas than in Indonesia. This is particularly true since not everyone has the opportunity and ability to study abroad. Yet, studying abroad has its own added values that would certainly benefit both the students and the country when they move back to Indonesia.


The writer, a lecturer in cultural studies at Andalas University, is pursuing a Ph.D. at Deakin University, Australia.

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