Before You Ask
“Malu bertanya sesat di jalan” (“If you are too shy to ask, you might lose your way”) – says a popular Indonesian proverb. Like most kids, I grew up being told in school not to ever be shy to ask or to ask for help. What the proverb and my early education often fail to impart, however, is the fact that one big part of maturity and independence is the ability to decide when to ask for help and when to roll up your sleeve and figure things out yourself.
Internet has made it easier for us to do exactly that. Young Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles had to go across town just to learn how to play B7 on a guitar. Today, typing “B7 guitar chord” on a Google search bar literally takes 2 seconds. Heck, I’m working at a company that answers questions like “What do blind people see?” or “Which Disney Princess embodies feminist principles, and why?” Never before in the history of mankind has knowledge in the world been this open and accessible – the world is adapting fast, and you should too.
How does this relate to Indonesia Mengglobal, you might ask.
For one, this is one of the biggest adaptations I had to make transitioning from high school to college, from Indonesian to American education system, and later from school to work. For many prospective undergraduates, this might be your first experience living away from the comfort of home. For some of you, it means being away from the safety of private cars or the convenience of housemaids. You will no longer share your teacher’s knowledge and time with 30 or 50 students, but with hundreds or thousands of students and his/her research projects. Most of the time, your lecturers will have limited time for you to ask questions – remember, these people might be some of the busiest and most important people in the world. Five minutes of their time are precious, and those questions better count.
This means one thing: extra effort before and while constructing your questions. At a minimum, do a quick Google, Wikipedia or Quora search about your question. If you want to ask about a particular school’s application, take an hour or two to browse that school’s website. As a rule of thumb, never, ever trust anyone when it comes to something as important as college application. Always ask multiple people, then recheck what you heard with the original, authoritative source such as the school’s website or College Board. Rules change all the time, so you cannot always trust alumni or current students.
It is usually obvious whether the asker has done his/her homework. Here is a typical conversation / email thread that I have every once in a while:
Q: Is it hard to get to Stanford?
A: Uhh… Yes?
Q: Could you tell me everything about getting scholarship to the Stanford?
Q: How can I register to SAT? When is that?
Q: I really, really want to get into Stanford. How do you get there?
A: Where should I start?
Don’t get me wrong – I love answering questions from fellow Indonesians about the US application process, or anything else that I could answer. I would love to spend 15 minutes or half an hour to answer, for example, questions like:
Did you take an SAT course? If so – which one and did you find it helpful?
I’ve tried putting on a draft application essay, but I’m not so sure whether this topic is the way to go. Could you take a look at it?
This and this are my current situation. Do you think I should go to community college or to apply as a freshman?
I got accepted into this and this colleges. Do you have friends from those colleges that could advise me? I’d love to learn about their first-hand experiences in those colleges.
Research before asking, be concise, and be specific. Not only would people be happy to answer you, they will respect you for respecting their time and you will get a fuller understanding of what you want to know. Don’t stop asking, though – learning to ask good questions is a continuing process for everybody, and only by starting to ask questions, good or bad, will we learn how to ask better questions. After all, college will not teach you everything that you need to know. It will, however, teach you what to do and how to learn when you stumbled into things you don’t know. There are a lot of people who are excited to help, so read, learn and ask away!
Veni Johanna is currently a software engineer at Quora. She graduated BS MS in Computer Science from Stanford University, California. In high school, Veni is the first female Indonesian representative at the International Olympiad in Informatics, where she received a silver medal. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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