Far Away From Home

Far Away From Home

There are more than 100 Indonesians living in Pittsburgh. They are students, young professionals, and families. Indonesians, me included, like hanging out over home-cooked foods. The title of this article is a lie; I never felt far away from home.

I came to Pittsburgh in 2012 to pursue my PhD in Materials Science & Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). While I had offers from other universities, I eventually chose CMU due to its engineering reputation, its alumni network, and its location (Pittsburgh). To me, these were my top three determining factors when I was weighing all the pros and cons among all of my choices. My advice to all of those who plan to go abroad for college is to come up with your own top three determining factors. And for you to come up with your own top 3 determining factors, you have to roughly know what you want to achieve in life and your future plan 2-3 years ahead.

Reputation of the university I went to was important because it basically means what most people would think of first when they hear the name Carnegie Mellon. This place is very well known in engineering and its computer-related stuffs. CMU also has great pipelines in sending its graduates to companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, etc. Its alumni are doing well and spread out in these high tech companies. Some have also founded their own companies or gone back to home countries for their startups. This means that the bridges to these places are already there for you when you look for opportunities after graduation. Remember the quote “you are the average of five people closest to you”? At CMU, I was surrounded by tons of smart and ambitious people. To keep up, I had to work really hard and collaborate with my classmates here. On Saturdays and Sundays, whenever I have nothing going on after I skyped my family and girlfriend, I went back to campus to work. Having said all these, my PhD advisor could tell I was working hard and I always managed to deliver before the deadlines. I always got his permission to go back home to Asia for a month every year.

Since I was joining the PhD program at CMU, I knew that I would be spending at least three years of my life in one city. I was very happy with my choice since I found out that Pittsburgh is a great place to live. Geography-wise, Pittsburgh is 6 hours drive from Chicago, 7 hours drive from New York City, and 4 hours drive from Washington DC (what I am trying to say here is that it is pretty close to other major cities in USA). It is a college town and you will see many students and young professionals here. This is important to me because I like feeling young! Infrastructure is good, rent is affordable (I could save up quite some amount from my PhD salary), spring-summer-fall is excellent (winter is cold and snowy, but I prefer this rather than humid and hot), the city is relatively safe, and the people are friendly. I made a lot of new friends here and I also met many Indonesians here! In my first two years here, I ate crazy amount of Indonesian foods (at first, I thought they were hard to find and I would miss them like mad in USA). We hang out and chat a lot. The annual Indonesian Independence day celebration is a big party here! These things made me forget that I was far away from home.

Going for college is a big investment in your life and career, more so if it takes up few years. You will far away from home and your comfort zones. But you will grow stronger, your horizon will be broadened, and you will appreciate what you have more. For me personally, I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have and I am very eager to share my experience to anyone who is about to embark on similar path. I will be more than happy to talk to you if you have any question. Good luck with your next career move!


Life is about courage and going into the unknown” – Secret Life of Walter Mitty


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Photo Courtesy: Author’s Collection

Michael Kurniawan is currently a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. He has done research works in the area of solar cells, OLEDs, power transformers, electric motors, and sensors. Michael received his PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015, and BSc in Physics from Nanyang Technological University in 2009. He worked at Nanyang Technological University as Research Officer from 2009 to 2012, studying the energy conversion efficiency of organic solar cells. Michael enjoys learning new things, making new friends, and chatting over good coffees.
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