Research Fellow(ship) at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government – Part 1


Yunetta Anggiamurni, Indonesia Mengglobal’s Editor (for Europe), met with Nelden Djakababa, an Indonesian Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The conversation she had with Nelden is written in this article, which is the first part of two, which will introduce the readers with Nelden and her perspective on “what it really means to study abroad.” The second article will dig deeper on her study area and the fellowship program she got enrolled into. 

It was a sunny Boston day, which turned brighter when Nelden Djakababa joined me in a coffee shop by the Harvard Square. People were out and about: tourists and students alike, mixed by with a group of and hipster-skater boys and girls.

We sat down and ordered herself a couple rounds of coffee, while Nelden asked for tea. The conversation that followed, which was mostly about living in Boston and studying being a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, was far from merely being about: Oh wow! You studied are a fellow at Harvard?

How fancy? How did you get in there? Any tips and tricks?

Here are the short excerpts of the “interview” :

Me: We’ve heard of so many reasons of why one should study abroad: better job opportunities, career improvement, stronger stand to negotiate salaries, etc…. But really, what’s your take on this “you should study abroad” – phrase?

Nelden: If one has the opportunity, I think it would be such a precious experience to gain. When we lived in our country of origin (Indonesia), we live within our comfort zone. Nearby, we have our family, our old friends we went to school with, our network that we have built from our hometown outwards. We know the roads and shops. All is well, and we tend to take things for granted.

When one studies abroad, one gets out of one’s comfort zone. Most of our family members will be far away, also our friends, our hometown network, and everything that were familiar. This is when we have the opportunity to explore new places, find new friends, learn about different ways to do things, deal with a different climate. This is when we can realize what and who matter to us most: our family and friends who are now far away, our cultures and traditions that we used to expect automatically but now have to consciously recreate in a foreign place in order to experience it.

At the same time, we are exposed to new experiences that we did not encounter in Indonesia. These experiences can be very challenging and also very enriching.

Me: Now, should one apply to just any scholarship or any school or should you always aim high and to apply for only the best universities abroad (the Ivy Leagues in the US, top schools in Europe, Australia)?

Nelden: I think that there is no clear-cut answer to this question. It depends on what you are aiming for. So before searching and applying for schools and scholarships, the potential student should first have a rather clear picture of what their aims are, and in which academic fields they want to further their studies.

In terms of which schools to apply to: it depends, on whether they have the program(s) that fit your field(s) of interest, and whether the quality of those program(s) would challenge you enough. Another factor that can be important is whether the location fits your personal preference. This also includes climate preference / tolerance. For example, someone who loves snowy winters would do well in New England, but someone who can’t stand cold weather may prefer the southern states of the US.

Me: Now here’s the catch: if one couldn’t get a scholarship to study abroad, probably it would save him/her some money to enroll to an online university that is LOCATED abroad. S/he will have a graduate certificate from a foreign university, with a fraction of the cost. What do you think?

Nelden: I think there is nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of good online programs out there. But of course there are some trade-offs. While the diploma / certificate will be from a foreign university, they will not gain the real-life experience of living in a foreign country. This is a significant difference.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the interaction with your instructors and fellow students will inevitably be not the same as being physically present in the class. Many of the good online programs include live streaming of the classes, and the online students can interact with the professors and fellow students via a real-time chatroom. Some individuals are fine with this setting, but some may need more real-life interaction to be stimulated enough. Know your own tendencies.

Yet another thing to consider: to participate real-time in live-streaming classes, you have to really take into account the time difference. See whether the classes’ schedules would fit with your daily activities.

Me: What’s your educational background? How do the courses that you took throughout your study get interconnected with each other?

Nelden: I am a psychologist by training. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and my Master’s as a Psychologist from the University of Indonesia. After a 3-year stint as an assistant lecturer at UI and also teaching at Atma Jaya and The Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ), I went to Belgium and gained my Advanced Master’s degree in Cultures and Development Studies. Back in Indonesia, I worked intensely in trauma recovery and community-based intervention. This field of work eventually connected me to an offer to my current research PhD program at the University of Amsterdam, which focuses on the psychological effects of natural disaster on humanitarian workers. I then continue working on this as a research fellow under the HKS – Indonesia Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Innovation and Governance, Harvard Kennedy School.

Me: Now, the million-dollar -question: Why did you think Harvard accepted you?

Nelden: You’ll have to ask the selection committee about that. But my wild guess is that it has to do with the location of my research (Indonesia), there were relevant policy questions that can be raised on the topic, and the fact that my study on disaster response fits under the general interest of a program that is also at the Ash Center, namely the Program on Crisis Leadership, and that they were interested in the approach I am taking to the field of disaster studies.

I was initially accepted as an Indonesia Research Fellow under the HKS Indonesia Program for one year. And then, I continued for another year as a Rajawali Research Fellow. Both are organized by the Ash Center.

More information on the Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program:

Stay tune for more information about Nelden and her fellowship program – part 2 of the article will explain these topics further.


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Yunetta Anggiamurni
Yunetta managed international development programs for several years at the United Nations and the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, before moving to New York to work in financial services. She earned her M.A. in Political Science at KU Leuven, in Belgium, with an Academic Excellence scholarship from the Inter-University Council for Development Cooperation. Yunetta enjoys writing and has published her work at the Jakarta Post and Asia News.