Wina Tjen selalu mendengar mitos bahwa mendapatkan beasiswa S1 di Amerika adalah hal yang mustahil. Mitos ini terpecahkan ketika Wina belajar di University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), di mana Wina berkesempatan mendapatkan beasiswa melalui Teaching Assistantship (TA) karena prestasinya yang gemilang dalam kelas. Dalam tulisan ini, Wina berbagi pengalaman dan tantangan-tantangan yang dihadapinya sejak tahun pertama mahasiswi teknik kimia di UIUC.
Studying in the States is financially burdensome and an additional challenge aside from getting accepted into your dream school. When I went to the States for undergraduates, there was myth that it was impossible to get scholarship for undergraduates. Scholarships are only available for graduate studies and they are hard to get. Undergraduate students need to be financially capable to fund their studies. Without showing you are financially capable, you may not be accepted into your target university.
Flashback to my first year, I was very nervous as a Chemical Engineering (ChemE) foreign student at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign. Being by myself in a foreign country as the only ChemE Indonesian undergraduate, communicating with a foreign language without being surrounded by family, I was overwhelmed yet remained a perfectionist in my first year, aiming to get a 4.0 GPA to show my responsibility to my parents as my scholarship provider.
In my first year, I was shocked with the difference between the education culture in the US and in Indonesia. In the States, students were very active in asking questions regardless of the size of the class and the quality of the questions, which was definitely a challenge for me coming from an Asian education system. It was indeed “there is no silly question”. I remembered in my first accelerated Chemistry lecture with more than 150 students, students were actively asking questions even simple questions that may be deemed unnecessary from my point of view.
As I was very shy to ask questions in such big classroom setting, but having a 4.0 GPA target in mind, I approached my professor at his office hour consistently. Office hour is a given set of time when he is available to answer any questions from his students outside classroom hour. I always maximized this office hour throughout my undergraduate years to ask all questions that I had.
Due to my proven grades in my first year, consistency and curiosity in my learning process and acquaintance with my professor, in my second year, I was offered to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) to lead discussion/laboratory sessions for a General Chemistry course. As a TA, I will be given Teaching Assistantship similar to graduate student without salary, which means waived tuition that translated to scholarship. Due to the overwhelming challenges and big responsibilities as TA, my challenge in adjusting into the new environment, exploring all types of activities and organizations, and also the myth that scholarship is impossible to obtain during undergraduate, I did not dare to pursue the offer, which I deeply regret after enjoying it in my last semester. I never dreamed there was such a hidden scholarship for undergraduate students. I was not fully aware and did not understand that being TA means that all my tuition as an international undergraduate student in that semester is waived: no single cent needs to be paid for tuition.
In my last semester, as I felt more confident and under control to cope with all the studies and activities, I took up the challenge to be a teaching assistant for a General Chemistry course. I was a teaching assistant for General Chemistry 104 in my last semester. I lead discussions with 20-30 students twice a week. It was a very challenging task yet enjoyable and rewarding. I am tremendously grateful that I took up the challenge: apart from getting waived tuition that definitely helped my family financially, I experienced tremendous self improvement in my leadership, public speaking, time management and teaching skills that were far more valuable than what a normal course can offer. Finally, the myth I believed was broken: there are hidden scholarships available for undergraduates who dare to take up the challenge and pursue it.