Indonesian vs British systems
The idea of pursuing high school education in England never actually crossed my mind when I was still in junior high school. Nevertheless, here I am living in a foreign land in hope of finishing my final year of high school.
Never have I ever gone to an international school before departing to England to pursue A-level curriculum. Thus, the difference between Indonesian and British education systems was striking to me. In my previous school, 11th year students are given the freedom to concentrate either in science, social science, or literature. However, despite concentrating in science subjects such as Physics, Biology, and Chemistry, you are still required to take subjects such as Arts and Religious Studies. On the contrary, the two-year A-level curriculum allows the students to choose 4 to 5 subjects on the first year and drop one of them on the second year. This then enables students to concentrate more on their chosen subjects.
Choosing subjects has never been easy to most people, especially if they do not have a particular interest regarding their university degree course e.g. medicine, dentistry, or engineering which demand specific subject combinations. If you want to keep your options open in regards to choosing university course, it is best to do ‘traditional’ subjects such as Maths, History, English Literature, Physics, etc. In my case, I decided to take Maths, Economics, History, and Philosophy and recently dropped History during my second year of A-level.
When I first stepped foot to my new school, I did not know what to expect from each of my chosen subjects, especially Philosophy in which I had no background knowledge at all. In Indonesian system, they emphasise on memorising the textbooks and when it comes to exam, you can ace it simply by regurgitating the textbook whether you understand it or not. On the contrary, technique like that would not be A-grade worthy in British system. You have to not only understand the topic thoroughly but also be analytical at the same time in order to form a strong piece of writing. You will not be rewarded any marks for throwing in your ideas in essays in the Indonesian curriculum, whereas personal opinion is essential here.
As most of my classes are discussion-based, it is normal that teachers would not be spoon-feeding students, instead they provide guidance. Unlike in Indonesia where teachers would dictate the notes to us. Therefore, to supplement our classroom notes, independent reading is vital in order for us to deepen our understanding of related topics.
The school hours are longer than in my old school. It requires me to be alert from 9AM to 4.15 PM everyday. Since I am boarding in my new school, curfews need to obeyed. Thus, I don’t have much leisure time during the week as I have to keep up with the homework and be involved in school activities. Moreover, taking less subjects means that you will be having at least one period for each of your subject. So, there is little room for procrastination.
I was nervous before I came largely because of friend-making issue. The fact that most of the students have been in the school for at least 4 years, it was daunting for a newbie, like me, whose first language is not even English. I was lucky that I have been exposed to English language since I was in primary school. Hence, the shock was still bearable. First impression is a key to make some friends. Do not expect for people to approach you, instead greet them first. If you come across as a friendly person to others, they will start talking to you for sure.
Studying abroad to some people is equivalent to fun times and partying all night long. This stereotypical image is prevalent due to pop culture or even depiction in films. Honestly, it is a mere exaggeration and hyperbolic interpretation. In reality, it involves a lot of sacrifices and hard work. I am competing against some of the brightest native students who don’t have to bother about language barrier in the first place. This pushes me to work twice as hard to be neck-in-neck with them. It is even more intimidating when it comes to class discussions because it was a new thing for me and it took some time for me to be able to participate to it as I was simply not confident enough to do so. There is a lot to sacrifice when it comes to studying abroad which includes distance from your home. Thankfully, I have never gone into the phase of acute homesickness like others do. However, there are times when you miss home, but in a way it toughens you up and shapes you as a person.
Going abroad when I was sixteen was definitely the best decision I have made, as I would not be able to survive if I had been thrown straight away for university in the UK. A-levels qualifications along side with the environment in a British school have indeed provided me with fundamental skills that are important in order for me to thrive in university.
Sarah is a second-year Economics student at the University of Nottingham, UK. Prior to entering university, she spent two years in Prior Park College, a boarding school in Bath, for completing A-levels. She enjoys practising yoga as much as reading books in her leisure time. Feel free to reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org