Redefining the Past: How I Got Into Berkeley’s MBA Program

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I grew up in a poor suburb of Jakarta, in a broken family, perpetually threatened by debt and violence.

You come from a family with a mountain of debts. You’re not smart or talented enough. You’ll always be average.

These negative seeds were planted on me since childhood. For years, I let these seeds take root and bloom. Not really sure how to, or confident that I could surpass my situation, I was satisfied with my average grades and never dared to think that I could achieve goals that are beyond my means.

The turning point came when I was nine years old. My school friends talked about getting punished by their parents for flunking their classes.

When I got home, I asked my mom why she never got angry when I brought home bad grades. She just sighed and said that I was a big boy, and knew the best decisions to make for myself.

Even as a child, that moment made me very sad. My mom risked her life and her dignity every day for me, and yet I was wasting the opportunities that her sweat and tears had made possible.

I was an underdog, but I ran the extra miles at school. I studied hard and surrounded myself with positive activities. When the boys in my neighborhood experimented with drugs and other self-destructive habits, I kept myself out of trouble because I could not bear imagine the consequences they would have on my family.

As I grew older, thanks to encouragement from teachers and friends, as well as my mom’s continued sacrifices,  I slowly uprooted these negative seeds and persisted to learn how to replace them with confidence, passion, and a collaborative spirit. With a past like mine, no one would have predicted I could graduate at the top of my high school class, receiving the valedictorian title. As I went on to study Industrial Engineering at the University of Indonesia, I survived college by doing my assignments in the library computer and earning extra money as a tutor to support my mother and younger sister. In the end, I fulfilled my parents’ biggest dream by being the first person in my family to graduate from college.

I moved on to a career in Accenture and Google. It never crossed my mind that I would have a chance to make impact at these great companies. After working for almost 8 years, a dream remained: to continue my graduate study in the US.

In June 2015, I got the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) scholarship to pursue MBA. Previously, pursuing an MBA would have been a far-fetched dream – an impossibility for me. As the family’s breadwinner, I have to take care of my family.

Business school application process was very challenging for me. In the last one year, I had to come early and stay late at the office to study the GMAT, prepare essays, and solicit recommendation letters.

The road was not smooth. I experienced a lot of failures and rejections. I had to retake the GMAT seven times, and the TOEFL three times, to get my target score. I was also rejected from several schools that I applied (I applied to seven schools in total.)

In March 2016, I expected to hear the admission results from the three schools that offered me an interview. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the news that I so badly anticipated for. I was wait-listed in these schools.

The fight did not end there. Being waitlisted does not mean that I just sit and wait passively for a decision. What it meant was that I had to prepare additional materials (i.e. more essays, more recommendation letters!) and wait several more months, without any guarantee that I will get accepted.

It was a very stressful time for me. It crossed my mind many times to just give up. I was burned out, my spirit was almost crushed.

When I was about to give up, I heard this sermon. The preacher said that the most important discipline of life is waiting. Not passively, but waiting with alertness, discernment, concentration and readiness.

This message gave me a new strength and hope. I learnt to walk by faith, not by sight.

May 16, around 9:45 PM, I got a call from Berkeley Haas School of Business – informing that I’m accepted to its full-time MBA program for the Class of 2018.

That night, I shared this news with my friends, mentors and colleagues who had helped me a lot throughout the process – from building the essays, giving recommendation letters, to sincerely encouraging me all steps of the way.

While there were so many people who had helped me, I would like to give a big shout out to: Elisabeth HoHenky PrihatnaAlexander LukmanRado Yanu Ardian,Tiffany RobynKezia SaraswatiAmanda ChanArtricia RasyidStella SuharjaAriana AlisjahbanaErica Pramesty UtamiAkhmad HidayatnoBen KingKwan SynsatayakulDwi ChristantiJason TedjasukmanaShinto NugrohoHendri Gunawan. I could not thank you enough for believing in me.

Lastly, I wish all the very best for those who are aspiring to continue their study abroad. As I look back on the years of struggle, I realize that the idiom “your past does not define you,” should be revised. Your past does define you, but only you alone have the authority to decide what kind of definition it would be.

The road might not be easy now, but it is going to be worth it.

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Ricky Tjok
Prior to enrolling in Berkeley's Haas School of Business in 2016, Ricky worked at Google Indonesia as Analytical Lead with focus in Finance, E-commerce and Travel industry. Before Google, he had worked as a management consultant at Accenture for 5 years – with focus in Operations Excellence and Resources Industries (Mining, Oil & Gas, Utility). He received his undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Indonesia, where he was awarded the Accenture High Performer Scholarship.
  • Marshella Novenia

    Your article simply made me put a star on my screen, marked as favorite. Definitely the one I’ll revisit everytime my fight seems lost.

    Juggling between family, work & many issues in your age wouldn’t be easier (I feel ya). And just like my devotion for today said: “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” -Proverbs 23:18

    Best of luck for your study! The attitude that you have is what the generations need to learn from.

  • Zetmon Tato’ Paembong

    these stories of you Gave me that No things are impossible for God and person who wants to struggle. . .
    sir, i want be like you would be b4, , sir, would u help me? do u wanna be my tentor , please?

  • Nofry Henry

    Saya sangat terinspirasi dengan kisah hidup karena kurang lebih saya memiliki kesamaan dengan kisah hidup ini,,,thx you so much now i’ll chase my dream to apply post graduate program. such an honour to read and know this bless, Jbu.