Moving abroad can either be merely physical or metaphysical – beyond what is perceptible to the senses. Whether they are simply physical or more is determined by each individual’s choice.
When I was studying in Melbourne, 90 percent of my friends were Indonesian. I could not care less to befriend other people from other countries, because it’s always nice to dwell in your comfort zone, right?
Sadly, apart from rigorously developing myself academically and polishing my CV, my personal development in Melbourne – apart from learning to wash my own dishes and pay the bills – mostly revolved around getting intimate with the brunch culture and having constant fun with my fellow Indonesian friends. When asked about the realities of local Australians and other non-Indonesians, I was left with little to no idea.
Simple case, when asked, “What slang words do Australians like to use?” I have little clues, apart from the classic “G’day mate” or “Ta” for thank you. In short, my move to Melbourne was almost only entirely physical.
Hence, upon leaving for England for my masters, in a strange city of Leeds, I felt the vital need to change this whole game. I convinced myself that when I returned home, I would carry with me a whole new experience that I would not get anywhere else.
Thus, determined to constantly familiarize myself with humans from literally all over the world—American, Danish, Arabian, British (obviously), Jamaican, French, Spanish, German, Chinese—and very much reducing my association with fellow Indonesians, I learned that each human being is different and remarkable. They each brought stories that narrate the reality, hardship, fortune, and even satire in the life of human beings, well beyond what I had ever come to terms with. The move to Leeds was truly entirely metaphysical.
Case in point, a very close African-American friend of mine has allowed me to understand that as a human, you have to constantly be mindful of your own worth. More importantly, he made me learn about racial issues in the world, way beyond what I had come to see and learn in Sociology class. He told me that he was in tears at the voting booth right after casting his vote for President Barack Obama back in 2008. I asked him why, he replied, ‘Just to be clear here, my people rose from slavery.’ This is interesting, because I don’t remember crying after voting for President Joko Widodo in 2014. To gain such insights from someone you directly know, it really gives you perspectives. In short, he is the constant epitome to remind me that whoever you are, wherever you are from, you are worth it.
Also, not unfamiliar to many Indonesians (hello girls!), I learned about the story of my friend from South China who said, ‘I told my mother I don’t want to get married by 25. My mother then said I should never go back to China.’ She explained that in China, the derogatory term ‘leftover ladies’ is widely used for unmarried girls above 25 years old who prioritize career over getting married. In fact, they even made TV shows about it. Nonetheless, she constantly reassures herself that there is more to life beyond institutional boundaries per se. ‘It is not that I don’t want to get married, but I just don’t have an expiry date.’
After all, by opening up myself to the unfamiliar, and by coming to learn the differences during my studies abroad, I learned about life and myself more than ever. Also, I learned to respect each and every human being out there for who they are.
Don’t get me wrong. Melbourne was, and will forever be one of my greatest memories. However, I was wrong not to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone, even when I’ve always wanted to, deep down in my heart. Leeds was my second chance, and I finally got what I failed to get in Melbourne. I’ve finally learned about the essence of studying abroad: to open up myself to lives and realities that I wouldn’t ever get to experience at home.
I was lucky I had that second chance. But you don’t always get a second chance. So if you’re still out there or about to embark on a journey of studying overseas, and think that you want to break out of your cultural comfort zone, do it. It is challenging, but the eventual rewards – friendship, knowledge, unthinkable life lessons, and unforgettable memories – are truly priceless and life-changing.
*This article is a spin-off from Mary Rasita’s article, entitled “Humanising Humans”, published by Perspektif Magazine in Melbourne, Australia*
Written by Mary Rasita
Edited by Hadrian Pranjoto
All photos provided by the author